Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bangkok - I saved the Best for Last


I'm back home and that means that at least I have a good idea what I'm eating and I'm free to drink tap water again. Without knowing I saved the best for last. I had been looking forward to going to China all year long but in the end two weeks in China became something of a chore. Because of language and cultural barriers getting the simplest things accomplished in my daily solo tourist routine such as getting a taxi or shopping or even something as basic as getting a meal just wore me down.

This dawned on me when I came down with a cold and went to the supermarket to buy, among other things, a small pocket pack of tissues. I caught it before I got to the cash register, what I had actually put into my basket a small, purse sized pack of sanitary napkins. Because I couldn't read the goddamn label and for whatever cultural reasons a package of sanitary napkins in China while colorful contains no visual cues, pictograms, frilly pink flowers, much of anything to give away to someone who can’t read Chinese characters what lies within.  Chinese road manners made me fear daily for my life as a pedestrian, Chinese food in the supermarket was a daily mystery, or worse. Chinese restaurant menus were either unintelligible in Chinese or brutally repulsive in Engrish. I love Chinese food but what I found in the home office of Chinese food was usually unrecognizable to me as something I’d want to put in my mouth and made me fear, it turned out for good reason, for my digestive health. Chinglish was whip out my camera cute when I arrived but as my time in China went on dealing with and deciphering it became just another chore in my daily solo tourist life.

But Bangkok and I connected. Is there any place in Bangkok where you can't buy copied software and music? Pantip Plaza is 5 or 6 floors of IT crap and other than the counterfeits (and Pantip’s got plenty of phony everything) the prices are OK, but only if you've never done business with Newegg or any other Internet retailer in the US. In other words, for a US based shopper Pantip prices are lousy, at least for someone like me who can’t do a deal in Thai. There's a 7% VAT in Thailand on most everything but even so the prices are still high. I’ve had my ear’s eye on a pair of Sony ear buds. I bought a pair for about $50 in Tokyo, a city not known for hard shopping bargains. At Pantip Plaza they were either marked at $80 with a small golden genuine Sony sticker on the box or $11 without. In my experience the folks selling copied software at Pantip Plaza deliver service after the sale. The label on my “copy” of Office 2007 promised English but it refused to install because my laptop’s version of Windows XP isn't in Thai. I took it back and got it swapped for English but it meant going back to the Pantip pressure cooker. There's an ongoing constant amplified floor show on the 1st floor that reverberates through the bones of everybody in the place. I packed my MP3 player to successfully dampen the din.

Going shopping seems to pass for sport in Bangkok and there’s lots of it. I went to a fancy mall, MBK Center. Most of it is upscale goods but one whole wing is devoted exclusively to cell phones and copied software and music. They even sell the software and music in the food court. Oh, did I mention that prescription drugs are available over the counter at any pharmacy simply for the asking? Want that certain drug for men that's responsible for the bulk of your bulk email? No problemo, just walk right in and ask for it but don't ask for it by name otherwise you'll overpay. It turns out that there really are generic versions of the stuff, produced in India. You can't get it legally in the US without having Pfizer's lawyers nipping at your nuts but Bangkok ain't the US.Bangkok - Please Offer This Seat to Monks Bangkok and I connected on other levels. Depending on where you’re going getting around can be easy and civilized, just go up and take the new BTS Skytrain or down for the new MRT subway.

Without those two the only other choices are taxi or a kind of a cross between a motorcycle/rickshaw called a tuk-tuk. Citizens of Seattle will often tell folks from elsewhere that Puget Sound traffic is among the worst anywhere. Bad yes, but it ain’t Bangkok. Bangkok traffic is a filthy, hellish Blade Runner nightmare of backed up streets and clotted intersections overseen by traffic cops wearing some kind of gray hybrid of a respirator/surgical mask. Street vendors and locals make due with disposable surgical masks. Tuk-tuks and taxis seem to run on compressed natural gas but older city buses and trucks belch blue clouds of life shortening smoke all day long. Oh, here's something from the Skytrain that you don't usually see on mass transit in the US. Some of the women in Bangkok are absolutely drop dead, heart palpitatingly pretty, like God took another crack at His failed recipe for Filipinas and got it right this time. So it’s not surprising to see a certain element in Bangkok of white men of a certain age, like mid 50’s and up with much younger local women. Some even have small hapa kids. Gray haired white guys, some balding, some with pot bellies with Thai women old enough to be their daughters or grand daughters (Less prevalent but still noticeable are older white men with young Thai guys). Perhaps she sees him as a walking wallet and with the help of a certain prescription drug for men maybe he sees himself once again as a stickman and her as a walking vagina. I've overheard some of these guys talk, some are American but many are European and Australian. They're living their dream, I guess. They’ve left their same old used to be on another continent and now they're in tropical Asia where they can spend their days drinking good Thai beer and screwing young Thai stuff. So Bangkok and I connected. It was easy, I don’t know why but not only is the defacto second language English, it nearly always makes sense. No Engrish. Bilingual signs make sense to English speaking eyes and ears. So cars are right hand drive and there’s a functional use of good English, curious since the British never colonized or ran Thailand. Then there’s the King of Thailand. It's good to be the King. I had no idea that the King was such a big deal. His picture is everywhere, he looks like a Chinese waiter and Woody Allen somehow had a son. Yes, he was born in Massachusetts and like Woody Allen he plays the saxophone. I bought 3 yellow shirts with His royal crest on the breast pocket. When they say "Long Live the King!" in Thailand (and it's everywhere, even in English) they ain't talkin' 'bout some guy named Elvis from Mississippi. Thailand’s King is like some kind of benevolent Kim Jong Il, his picture is everywhere both public and private. The King had the cover of the local equivalent of the TV Guide that I found in my hotel room. Bangkok is a great city. I barely scratched the surface, this time.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sondisa Coffee

OK, The coffee here is awful and Sondisa coffee’s URL doesn't work. In fact, Baidu has never heard of the place and Googling Sondisa Coffee just brings up this picture in this blog posting. But I like it here. There's either free WIFI of the ability to poach WIFI from nearby. The staff here is great, they even found an adapter so I could plug in my laptop. But the coffee part of Sondisa Coffee needs some work. A small cup costs a minimum of Y20, that's close to $3 US. It arrives with small container of a white substance. Milk?  Melamine?  Who knows, it has flowers on it and simply says, "ME".

This gives me time to reflect on Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province. Guizhou is a poor province and I can see that just by walking down the street. Peasants with their baskets cruise the streets looking for work. Or pick through trash. They gather in small groups playing cards between jobs or trash picking gigs or wander aimlessly and spit. Normally only Chinese men spit (and spit up a storm they do) but among the poor in Guiyang loud expectoration is an equal opportunity street activity. Like most of China Guiyang is a mixture of poverty and extravagance, only more so. Peasants pick through garbage cans for plastic and cardboard while BMW's, Jaguars, Range Rovers and the usual gaggle of Chinese knock off cars cruise by. There were fewer peasants on display in my previous stops of Xiamen and Nanjing.

Last night 2 young women approached me and asked in English what language I spoke. They explained to me that they were hungry and wanted money for food. This was laughable, they were well dressed and worldly enough to speak some English. In China that's a marketable skill although begging to gullible tourists might result in a quicker and easier Yuan than bothering to do any actual work. And those here who are obviously dirt poor peasants pay me, Mr. Laowai Walking Wallet, no mind.

Speaking of begging, in Xiamen I saw a man by the bus depot at the SM shopping center with his guts hanging out from a hole in his belly. I'm not sure whether this was some sort of parlor trick or not but I don't know how he wouldn't quickly succumb to a massive infection if it wasn't. It looked so awful and pathetic that I couldn't look twice.

Next stop: Kunming


One problem with seat of the pants wandering around lost tourism is it’s for the young and I ain’t so young anymore. All this wandering around has left me flu-ish and with sore, blistered feet. So I headed back to the drug store, a place I’ll probably be turning to with greater frequency as I age. Maybe I could score some Dr Scholl’s blister pads and keep on keepin’ on. How to explain the problem? Chinese drug stores are divided into two distinct sections with a walled divider. One part of the store is usually full of patrons, it’s the part that's solely concerned with selling soap, shampoos and cosmetics.

At times it has seemed to me that half of the female population of China is employed selling clothes, fashion accessories and cosmetics to the other half. Condoms are available on both sides of the drug store wall (my favorite Chinese condom brand names: "Jissbon" and "Six-Sex"). I've yet to see a male employed in either half of a Chinese drug store. On the side of the drug store wall where actual drugs are sold are prescription drugs, over the counter drugs (conveniently labeled "OTC") and Chinese herbal remedies. I was met on the drug store side of the drug store by three female clerks. I grabbed my left foot and said, "Ow, ow!". All three hit me with rapid fire Chinese, not a word of which did I understand. I shrugged my shoulders, pointed to my left foot and held out my left pinkie finger. My smallest toe is the one giving me the biggest grief. More Chinese, no understanding. I held out my left pinkie and pantomimed wrapping it with tape.

With that I got through. One clerk took me to the part of the store where they sold adhesive tape and band-aids. There's a business opportunity in China for the Dr Scholl company. After choosing my purchases I returned to the front of the store, where upon entering I had seen a display for Viagra. It would be a shame to come all this way and go home not knowing how much OTC Viagra costs. How much? A single dose is Y125. That's just under $17 US. But like everything else in this newly capitalist world there's a discount for buying in bulk. Party time? A box of 5 Viagra tablets sets you back a cool Y499, that's around $67 US. When I popped my eyes at the price one of the clerks brought me something cheaper, some kind of kangaroo extract. I laughed. The clerks laughed. Oh, so how did my purchase work out? Tape or no tape, my toe still hurts.

Guiyang People's Square: Wal*Mart & Mao

This picture shows the state of Communism in China today in a nutshell.  It’s so illustrative that it was stolen from my Flickr page and used without attribution or permission by an anti Wal-Mart website called Wal-Mart Watch.  So much for copyright protection.

This is People's Square in Guiyang. Off to the left and out of camera range there's the omnipresent giant Mao statue. On the other side of People's Square is a large mural showing the Forbidden City in Beijing, if you look closely in this picture you can make out Mao and Deng Xiao Ping, communist party heavy hitters of a bygone and failed era. People's Square has been hollowed out, what lives below People's Square in Guiyang is the largest, most densely packed, Wal-Mart Supercenter I've ever seen.

This is mid November and Christmas at Wal-Mart in China is in full swing. Right under Mao's atheist feet the store has plenty of fake Christmas trees and patrons are bathed in Christmas music, both secular and religious. It's doubtful that any of the patrons understand the lyrics but still, Bentonville would be up to its eyeballs in lawsuits and elitist complaints if Wal-Mart played hymns about the Virgin Mary in their US stores.
Communism stumbled on from 1949 until Den Xiao Ping wised up in 1979 impoverishing and stunting lives in China. The Communist Party and Mao and never give the Chinese people what Wal-Mart and Sam Walton give them every day: variety and low prices with no shortages or rationing. Communism in China couldn't put food on the table, millions died in famines that swept this country in the 1950's thanks to Mao and his state planning comrade geniuses. Political power might flow from the barrel of a gun but Wal-Mart stacks 'em deep and sells 'em cheap. You can't eat or wear the revolution.
Here's the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Kunming:

Update: If you run an trekking outfit in Nepal don't bother to post your ad here.  I will delete the spam that you repeatedly place here so fast that K2 will melt.  If you'd like to place an advertisement please contact Google and they can run your ads anywhere you'd like.  

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chairman Mao's Revenge

This picture was lots funnier yesterday, before I ate or came down with something that might make me a patient. And how fortunate for me, it's only a mile or so from my hotel here in Guiyang. Supposedly the outdoor night market down the block prepares a mean dog but I didn't (knowingly) sample any fillet of Fido or rack of Rover. I had some airline food on my way to a layover in Changsha. The flight attendants gave out little boxes of, well, I'm not entirely sure what was in there. The flight attendant said, "noodle" and it appeared to be wispy noodles with flecks of meat.

In China meat often means pork and not only don't I eat red meat I also watch what I eat very carefully here in China. But I let my guard down and scarfed down the greasy noodles. A guy's got to eat and my problem here in China is: would I rather not know what's on the Mandarin only menu or would I prefer a menu in English? Actually, that menu would be in "English", the last one I encountered in Xiamen used delectable descriptors that I never want to see on a restaurant menu again such as "Worms" and "Clam grease". This dilemma usually sends me to the supermarket. I can't read the labels there either but I know a loaf or bread or a container of sweet corn yogurt when I see one.

When I got off the plane in Guiyang my stomach and other connected organs had formed a chorus of, "Hey! Pay attention to us! Do It Now!". So after checking in I headed to the Beijing Hualian supermarket chain around the corner and bought a 2 liter jug of purified water. I'm sure that's what the label would've said in English. The label had Chinese characters and a picture of a polar bear. Oh, I also bought some already peeled fruit. Mandarin oranges, pieces of Dragon Fruit, melon, apple and maybe a little Ecoli. And maybe some melamine. There was no label and even if there was, I couldn't read it anyway.

So I was up all night pouring water into the top end of me and, well, you get the picture. Up all night wondering what I was thinking in coming here to China. Wanting to be home in my own bed, using my own toothbrush and if I had to be sick sitting on my very own throne. But that's not an option now. I'm off to Kunming on Monday and Bangkok on next Saturday before I come home to Seattle and Eleanor's fantastic and creative cooking. Mmmmm.

Next stop today was a drug store. I needed to stock up on over the counter meds like Imodium (Loperamide). There's a local drug store chain across the square, surely they'd have something for what ails me. I walked in and was met by a pretty clerk with an enquiring, helpful look. I patted my stomach and made a face. I patted my behind. I showed her my last remaining Loperamide tablet. She giggled and took me right over to the Viagra display.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nanjing Subway Train

Nanjing has gotten the better of me. The language barrier is just too thick and the city is just too vast.

I easily mastered riding the Nanjing Metro. The token machines have an option labeled “English”, just put in Y2, grab a plastic token and tap on a designated strip on the turnstile and you’re in. The stops are labeled in English too. As a form of sheer, brute force tourism I tried just getting off at stops at random and walking around whatever neighborhoods I happened upon. Most of them didn’t have much to offer except stares from the few locals so all I got for my efforts were sore feet. The air in Nanjing is awful. The weather forecasts have called for partly sunny but the rays of old Sol never make it past all of the particulates suspended in the air. The sky here is gray, visibility is severely limited. The air smells like concrete and it probably is concrete too. It can’t be conducive to good health to breathe here but the locals do it and many compound it and smoke cigarettes too. Then again, if the air here doesn’t get ya the local drivers will.

I’m batting 500 on my attempt to take cabs here. My attempt to take a cab to Carrefour last night went perfectly. An available cab drove down the sidewalk (!) and I showed the driver my slip of paper and got in. My attempt to visit a famous huge bridge over the Yangtze was a bust though. Every cabbie I showed my slip of paper too shook his head and gave me a funny look, like I had recited the Gettysburg address backward.

I was at a Metro station and there were about 5 guys on motorcycles. They looked at my slip of paper and gestured to me that I get on the back of a bike. Riding on a motorcycle with Chinese strangers in Chinese traffic didn’t strike me as part of a healthy lifestyle so I patted the top of my head to indicate my lack of helmet. They had helmets, one of them offered to let me wear his. I still didn’t think that this was a great idea so I shook my head and walked away.

Tomorrow I move on. I had wanted to go to a warm city in the south, close to the Vietnamese border called Nanning but there are no seats on the plane so Nanning is a no go. So I've got to make due with next best, Guiyang. I'm thinking of staying in a higher end hotel, I need some of the soft life. Jin's Inn has been OK but it's a bit basic. The bed isn't much softer than the floor. I bought my plane ticket to Guiyang on line this morning, I'm supposed to pick it up at the airport tomorrow. Where at the airport is going to be another problem, here's the email from the company that sold me the ticket. Where do I pick up that ticket again Mandy???

Dear Sir,

Thank you for choosing eLong!

Regarding your reservation 12391623, you can pick up the ticket from the:


Your ticketing address:Eastern Airline's Counter (Wanlixing window), F2 of Terminal, Nanjing Airport

Best regards, Mandy English Team of Call Center eLong Inc. (NASDAQ: LONG) Tel: (8610)64329999 ext. 6 Fax: (8610)64311239 E-mail: Address: 2F, Block B, Galaxy Plaza, 10 Jiuxianqiao Middle Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100016

Getting lost in Nanjing

Maybe my age is catching up with me. My dogs are barking. My feet hurt. I'm no stranger to walking in a big city but population wise Nanjing is 10 times the size of little Seattle and I can't read most of the signs. Oh sure, there are some signs in Roman letters but Nanjing's traffic department seems to use them sparingly. I spent today lost and hurting. This city is noisy. Driver honk their horns at everything that moves, including other vehicles. Lots of people here have scooters and they drive them wherever they wish. Sidewalk driving? No problem! The scooters also have burglar alarms. People park their scooters on the sidewalk with hundreds of other scooters. When one gets touched or a loud truck passes by all of their alarms go off together like a hospital nursery full of crying, screaming infants. There's construction everywhere; buildings, stores, a new subway line is going in a few blocks from my hotel and Chinese construction sites run two, maybe three shifts a day. It's loud, I'm lost. My feet are shouting, get the fsck off of us. NOW.

I set out this morning for the Memorial to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre. One of my tour books had it written in Chinese but every time I showed it to a cab driver they shook their head and rattled something off that I didn't understand. I think it's closed for renovations. I really wanted to see it, in 1937 the Japanese Imperial Army took time out from their busy schedule of conquering most of Asia to make a special example of the City of Nanjing. In a few weeks of true Nazi league genocide 300,000 Nanjing locals were killed in mass murders, head chopping contests, mutilations. Countless women were gang raped by Japanese soldiers or pressed into sexual slavery in the service of the Japanese Imperial Army. Brutality and war go hand in hand but the Japanese went above and beyond in visiting suffering and misery on their conquered subjects here.

I tried walking to the memorial but my feet made me turn back. I went looking for a restaurant district instead, I couldn't find that either. So I came back to the hotel and had a bright idea. I called up a few web pages of places I wanted to see, pages with both Chinese and English. I took my laptop down to the front desk, showed the clerks the pages while I said "taxi" and few times and pantomimed writing. I think it worked, I'm about to go out into the loud night to find out.

Monday, November 12, 2007


It turns out the Nanjing airport is about 30 or 40 miles south of downtown. And my suitcase was delivered to me wet. Dry on the inside, wet on the outside. Wet with alcohol or some kind of non water based liquid (industrial solvent?) so at least it dried quickly. Outside were the usual collection of cabbies that hounded me but a few chants of "boo yao" (Mandarin for "don't want") dissolved them. A bus was loading, I paid Y25 and boarded. On the plane into Nanjing on China Eastern Airlines every announcement was bilingual, in spite of the fact that I appeared to be the only non Chinese passenger. China Eastern also ran a few informational videos during the flight instructing people to save energy and cut greenhouse gasses by buying compact florescent lighting and driving less. No mention of flying less though.

But all the announcements on the bus were strictly in rapid fire Mandarin and naturally I appeared to be the only non Mandarin speaker. And I had no way of checking if this bus was even going to Nanjing. But it did. And it started to drop off passengers who'd need to retrieve luggage in the big storage compartment under the seating area, often just stopping in a lane of traffic because in Chinese traffic size and might makes right. Eventually there were fewer and fewer people on the bus and finally I let myself out. I hailed a cab and showed the driver a piece of paper with my hotel placed on a map. He shook his head no, gave me back my map and drove away. The next cabbie studied the map and finally looked up, smiled and shouted, "OK". Within a few blocks he made a U-turn and then charged into a dark alley at top speed. Within a few blocks he stopped at my hotel, the Xinjiekou branch of a local chain called Jin's Inn. Schmuck's luck, I was close to my destination all along.

Please read: I'm heavily handcuffed in my blogging here in China. Blogger is mostly off limits from within China, I can't see my own blog. I can post pictures to my account in Flickr but I can only see my own pictures that I've uploaded from China. All other pictures on Flickr, even my own pictures, are blocked by the Great Firewall of China. I am able to do these rudimentary blog entries by telling Flickr that'd I'd like to base a post on Blogger on a particular picture. I can then edit in a small box on Flickr but can't see the final product on Blogger. It's kind of a 21st century Samizdat. Fun stuff so please forgive any layout faux pas.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Getting Around in a Strange Land

Getting from place to place when you can't speak the language is exciting and frustrating. If someone can write my destination in the local language I grab a cab. If I'm on a long walk to nowhere in particular I make note of the bus route numbers and just like at home I grab public transit when I can. A ride on a bus here in Xiamen is only 1 RMB. Even with a sinking US dollar that's a little over 4 cents. Sure, the locals stare but they stare at me where ever I go.

Crossing the Street Chinese Style

Where am I? After nearly 24 hours on 3 different flights I finally got off the plane, went through customs and got into a cab. The cabbie cut off other cars, passed on the right, took a few cell phone calls, scattered some pedestrians and drove on the sidewalk. That’s right, I’m back in China! I’m in Xiamen, in Fujian province.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Made in Japan

Before I went to Japan last Thanksgiving Eleanor asked me to get her some small single edged razor blades on a plastic stalk. I picked them up at a 7/11 in Tokyo. Before I went back in April I asked her if she needed any more. "No thanks", she said. I get them at Daiso now".

We have dollar stores, the Japanese have 100 Yen stores. Daiso is a 100 Yen store and it's starting to show up in North America on the west coast from Richmond, BC to the Bay Area. For me the great thing about that is that it's mostly unchanged from a Daiso store in Tokyo. Most items for sale are $1.50 or $2 and most of the products are packaged exactly the way they are in Japan, in either Japanese or Engrish or both. In many cases if you don't know kanji you don't know what's in the package.

Some of the products have cultural problems. Before I went to Japan in April I stopped off at the Daiso store in Seattle (Westlake, there's another one at the Alderwood Mall) and bought some vacuum travel bags. You put your clothes in the bag, roll the air out and seal them up for a tight pack and extra luggage space. They had a bag for sale that seemed to be for underwear, the pictures showed underwear and bras going into a blue bag. When I got them home I discovered that these bags weren't fit for Bubba's britches, by American standards these bags were large blue sandwich bags. But Daiso has all sorts of Japanese cleaning supplies, cheap tools, kitchen ware. Much of the stuff is made in China for the Japanese market.

Daiso seems to have been careful to filter out many of the home market products that would have no use here but a few got through. I caught their store in downtown Seattle selling little learners signs to hang from the left rear mudflap of as car. The packaging implied that these were mandatory for new drivers. They might be there but not here. They were also selling cheap cell phone headsets. That's fine but Japanese cell phone headset connectors all seem to adhere to a Japanese standard, one that isn't used on US market phones. But many products survive their trip across the Pacific with their Engrish intact, here's a small car bag for the car that I bought at Daiso for $1.50.

When I travel overseas I love to hit the local stores. Hands down one of the best stores I've found is Tokyu Hands. I dropped a few hundred dollars there and would go back tomorrow if I could. Tokyu Hands is what Home Depot and Lowes want to be when they grow up. In Tokyu Hands I bought a replacement knob for the lid of my old Hitachi rice cooker (the original knob was cheap and had long ago stripped), some gorgeous ergonomic screwdrivers (Made by Vessel, I paid extra for the tang-thru), a pair of pliers made by a company named Lobster and another set of pliers with replaceable plastic jaw liners - pliers with a soft touch. The Japanese have a gadget for every real or imagined need so when I saw this simple tool for recycling I knew I had be the first on my block to own one. It's great! I also scored a small hand saw for yard work. In Japan it's sold as the XBeam but the US arm of Tagaki Tools or their importer changed the name here to Shark Corporation and the name of the saw to Yardshark. It looks like Crocodile Dundee's jack knife. Boy, does it ever chew through wood. Nowhere in this post have I said that anything I bought in Japan was cheap. Buying anything in Japan is never cheap, at least not by US norms. But shopping in Japan makes up in innovation and selection what it looses in price.

Friday, April 06, 2007

On the Ground in Tokyo. Again

It’s too bad that I don’t get to stay in Asia long enough to learn to not offend the sensitivity of the locals. I got off on the wrong foot right away by boarding the train to town from Narita Airport. It had just come into the station. It was the last stop and everyone on board got off so I got on. And was promptly asked to leave by the cleaning lady. It seems that the train is entirely cleaned after every run. I also can never remember to not offend cashiers in Japan. Here in Japan when one pay one is never supposed to place money into a cashier’s hand. That’s why they have a small tray, hands should never touch. I always forget this like the dumb gaijin that I am. Today I found a new way to play dumb foreigner. I had retained a 160Y subway ticket from my last trip here back in late November 2006. I had read that tickets were good for 6 months. Maybe not, when I tried to exit a station the turnstile refused to let me pass and politely told me to see an attendant. I handed in my delinquent ticket where they guys behind the desk immediately noticed how stale it was. I showed them my new Suica stored value card, it’s much like the Octopus card in Hong Kong and it’s new in Tokyo. With typical Japanese efficiency they took my Suica card, deducted 160Y and sent me on my way to get lost again. I spent much of the day hopping from subway line to train line in a futile effort not to be lost. I was trying to get from Shinjuku to Akihabara but theTokyo Metro Map looks like the floor after somebody dropped a pot of ramen. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m colorblind and even in English some of the stations and lines overlap so I never knew where I was going. My Suica card took a beating today. I think I’m just going to drain it at a 7/11 and tomorrow I’ll just buy an all day pass. But that may not work since Tokyo Metro runs maybe half the train lines, the others (JR, Toei) seem to be private or belong to some other municipal or prefectural agency. They all seem to take my Suica though. Because Blogger knows I'm in Japan it insists on giving me a Japanese interface. That’s why it took a month for this page to appear, I couldn’t find the Kanji equivalent of >Publish< on Blogger. But better late than never here are pictures from this whirlwind trip. Great views of Tokyo from the Tokyo Tower.