Uncle Ho overseeing his classless socialist utopia. Commies love Ralph Lauren.
HCMC. Charlie, the Vietnamese-Australian guest barista teaches me how to use his custom hand-built kettle.
21 August 2015
Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City. De Lat, a former French colonial villa town.
20 August 2015
Vietnam. Ho chi min city.
18 August 2015
Thailand. Journey to the Chiang Mai "Grand Canyon," an old quarry into which foreigners jump.
17 August 2015
Chiang Mai, Thailand.
14 August 2015
Chiang Mai, Thailand.
13 August 2015
Chiang Mai. Anusarm night market. Same same but different. Deceptively large. Plastic tchotchkes. Thai massages. More seafood. Better (Coldplay) cover bands. More halal places. Fish that eat the bacteria from your feet. Lots of Europeans and headscarf wearing tourists.
10 August 2015
Krabi and railey beach.
8 August 2015
Last day in Bangkok. Mall shrine. Chinatown temple. Manga monk.
7 August 2015
Bangkok culture and art center. Weekend night market. Paragon Cineplex elevator.
6 August 2015
(Solid) Gold Buddha. Muay Thai boxing.
Ronald throwing up a wai. Rooftop bar. Night flower market.
4 August 2015
Kao San road.
Bangkok. Great food. Great temples. Great metro. Great SIM cards.
It's like a mix of Chinese and Desi culture that's obsessed with Japanese culture in a city of pushy New Yorkers.
(The photo of the cat stalking through the temple grounds might be my favorite photo taken so far.)
2 August 2015
House show. Qutab Mandir.
1 August 2015
Have you ever thought to yourself, "I would love to go to a New-York-Italian-style pastry shop/deli in India"? Look no further than Maxim's.
31 July 2015
30 July 2015
Gurgaon. A nearby financial and cultural (at least in terms of shopping malls) hub. Sort of a city, sort of just a suburb of Delhi. Comedy shows might be the most direct way to learn about how a culture sees itself.
Lotus temple. ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness aka Hare-Krishna) multimedia Vedic Expo with Bhagavad Gita experience. A wonderfully strange look into the cosmology of a cult, with all the cheesy appeal of a '70s animatronic Disney World ride.
Delhi is a great city that fulfills the entire continuum of my needs, all the way from espresso cafe with attached bookstore to deep fried spicy potato breakfast sandwich. Not to forget Indian craft beer and a high-tech metro.
29 July 2015
Made it to New Delhi, the last destination in India. The 18 hour train ride from Jaisalmer was surprising comfortable.
Delhi already seems like a great city (and much better than Mumbai). We're going to a Bollywood cinema tonight which should be a lot of fun!
28 July 2015
Jain temples, Jaisalmer.
27 July 2015
26 July 2015
Jaisalmer. Camel safari.
24 July 2015
Having trouble finding wifi fast enough to upload pictures in India. Standby.
23 July 2015
22 July 2015
18 July 2015
Mumbai, India. (Formally Bombay)
Met: My friend (and housemate) Kenyon, my traveling companion for this leg of the trip. Luckily, we met at baggage claim with no difficulty.
Ate: Various foods as a part of a street food tour led by the first of many Indian men named Rahul we were to meet in India. High tea in the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal Hotel.
Saw: The largest slum in Asia: Dhravi. (Where "slum" is any area where people build their houses on state land without deeds.) Colonial buildings. Horrible traffic. Honking as a way of life. Extreme wealth disparity. People hanging out of train cars.
16 July 2015
On my way to Mumbai, India!
(I'm experiencing culture shock just from sharing an airport terminal with a flight full of Thai. Very very different norms from Japan.)
13 July 2015
I'm still alive. I swear—I'm breathing and everything. For some reason my interest in maintaining this photo journal/blog dissipated once I got 24/7 internet access on my phone on the mainland. Huh. It may have also coincided with leaving the relatively sleepy islands of Okinawa, where frankly, not a lot's going on.
I'll do my best to play catch-up and share some of what I've seen, who I've met, and (most importantly) what I've eaten. Unlike the Okinawa posts, these will be necessarily terse, I'm writing from the Shinkansen to Sendai, having left Tokyo-eki by way of Osaka.
Posts will appear in chronological order.
10 July 2015
9 July 2015
Hiroshima pt. 2
Met: A weasel carrying a dead bird across the Peace Park. Two elderly Japanese men who almost had heart attacks when I asked them (in Japanese) what sort of animal was scurrying past us. A salaryman (we're Facebook friends) at a "rock bar" playing Tears for Fears and the Beastie Boys music videos on a projector. The bartender/chief Shin-chan.
Ate: The best spaghetti carbonara I've had in a long time, made by Shin-chan. It had raw egg on top—very authentic. Pigs ears, a Japanese bar classic. It was okay. The texture is obviously a little difficult to enjoy with my Western palette.
Hiroshima. There's more to the city than its history, of course. But it's also true that its history cannot be ignored. I stayed at a hostel near the Peace Memorial Park
Saw: The Peace Museum. Awe-inspiring images of the mushroom cloud created by the explosion of Little Boy. Harrowing junior-high school uniforms tattered and melted, worn by slain children. Fingernails and locks of hair kept as keepsakes by bereaved parents. Testimonials by living survivors. I'm not easily affected by such sentimentality, but I'll admit to choking back tears—several times. I felt a responsibility to attend as an American. Although the experience wouldn't have been complete without some empathy-devoid blowhard American asshole averring loudly to his friends that, "We didn't know anything about radiation poisoning or fallout at that point! It was only after Hiroshima that we learned!" Pretty disgusting. And completely irrelevant.
Amazingly, the museum was constructed only six years after the bomb.
8 July 2015
Kurokawa onsen. Onsen are of course the world-famous Japanese hot springs, often accompanied by ryokan (inns) with rotenburo (outdoor onsen baths). A quick bathing takes place before soaking in the onsen. Modesty is best left at home. Kurokawa onsen is a small onsen town 2 hours by bus from Kumamoto. Staying at the ryokan is expensive, but as a day tripper for about $10 I was able to onsen-hop between three different rotenburo. It was amazingly relaxing and I'm hoping to do the same at an onsen town near Sapporo in two days from now.
Met: Serious-looking Japanese men horrified at my sunburnt, peeling shoulders in the onsen. They also averted their gaze when I realized I needed to air-dry in the changing area because towels were not provided.
Ate: Dora-yaki, a pancake sandwich with fillings. Some tofu on a stick thing.
Saw: The onsen. The variety of the human form in all its vulnerability.
7 July 2015
Kumamoto in Kyushu, the southern-most island of the main archipelago. Great city, relatively sleepy there's actually thing to do, such as visit the famous Kumomoto-jo, the (reconstructed) castle in the center of the city. The museum inside the castle was underwhelming but the gold-plated wood-panel doors were amazing.
Met: Drank souchu from a carton with a Korean student. Taiwanese men working as a translator at an onsen inn. Both his Japanese and English were terrible. Go figure.
Ate: Kumamon instant ramen. Kumamon is the official mascot of Kumamoto prefecture. He's a bear, which is very punny because "kuma" (as in kuma-moto) means bear.
Saw: The castle, sakura no baba a reconstruction of an edo-era village. Stray cats. Tiny urban shrines.
Japanese café are everything U.S. cafés are not. Quiet, elegant, with a small menu of three items or so, and beautiful cups and cutlery. Strangely the baristas are actually nice rather than deadeyed hipsters or underpaid wage-slaves.
Tip: It seems that in Western-style casual dinning places (donut shops and cafés, but not ramen or yakitori) all food comes as a "seto," it will come with a drink. But so far owners have been nice enough to prorate the cost of the drink I ordered first from the seto. Also, why does Japan hate napkins so much? I have to ask every time, as if only slobbish gaijin would need one.
6 July 2015
Back to Naha from Zamami, awaiting my flight to Fukuoka in a middle-aged hipstery cafe with a turntable and Japanese indie rock. Reading my first Murakami novel, purchased on a thematically appropriate whim at JFK. (Strange sexual fantasies and mysterious women have both made their expected appearances, but even with the shocking lack of cats it's still quite good.)
5 July 2015
Met two Scottish girls, an Italian couple living in Hong Kong, two Aussies, one Bangkoker, and an Irish Mitsubishi engineer and his Hunter College-bound Cali girlfriend who's teaching English at a Kyoto Catholic school. (They met on Tinder, of course.) Fresh fish from the port was grilled and descended on with a multitude of chopsticks. Although great company, frankly it seems that nihon-ryouri should be left to the Japanese. I experienced the well-documented existence of gaijin ex-pats who hold a superficially Orientalist hatred of the Japanese and Japanese culture. I find myself wanting to rebuke them with the the cliché, "if you don't like it, go home." It feels strange to have the same opinion as a U.S. conservative–in any context.
(I also learned why Zamami was crawling with fraty military kids yesterday. The 4th of July plus 13 hours–duh! I'm apt to be more slightly more understanding of the drunken conversations concerning the Taliban I overheard last night.)
Went to a local inn on the island to have a Gaijin breakfast of thickness toasto and coffee. I asked the owner if I could have the Japanese style breakfast instead (reservation only) and specifically mentioned the infamous natto. She was so amused she brought out some for me to eat. This being my first time having true natto (I've only tried natto maki in a sushi roll) I prepared my palette for the full-on assault of the widely disliked (by foreigners and some Japanese alike) traditional fermented soybean breakfast dish. Picking it up in my chopsticks, the stories I've heard of its stringiness were true. I closed my eyes and plunged a small mound into my mouth—and it was completely mild.
To the extreme delight of the entire inn, which by this point had turned from their own breakfast to watch me eat mine, I scooped the rest of the natto on to the rice and finished without further theatrics. I think I inadvertently made the Japanese mainland vacationers day.
4 July 2015
Zamami. Think "beautiful Southeast Asian-style island town" but then quickly temper that thought with "entirely tourism-based economy" and "obnoxious U.S. military kids having pissing contests in front of each other's visiting girlfriends."
Also enjoy Maririn or "Okinawan Hachiko."
Went out with two Frenchmen, a Norwegian, Hong Konger, Italian, two hafu Londoner brothers, and the hostel's owner last night. Orion (of course) and Okinawan sake were both liberally spilt. Between playing ping pong and getting into an argument about gender theory, it was about what you'd expect.
Off to nearby resort island Zamami in an hour on the speed ferry Queen Zamami III. I'm camping on Ama beach and hopefully I'll be able to swing a scuba diving reservation with one of the hostels there. The hafu Londoners said it was amazing.
The perennial phone conversation so far has been
"Hello, is it okay if I speak English?"
"No, Japanese please"
"I'll try my hardest."
Enjoy the requisite stray urban cat picture.
3 July 2015
Okinawa prefecture museum is closed for renovations. But I wandered into a nearby shopping mall and bought some things I don't need! Requisite shot of funny Japanese English t-shirts which associate banal U.S. locations with coolness.
Katsu-don at a tourist trap restaurant, (but all the tourists are from China or Taiwan which of course is *very close* to Okinawa. Huh, wonder if that's ever caused any problems?)
Underground Japanese navel headquarters. The site of the final battle of Japan's surrender in WWII. The navy's admiral as well as the next top three officers killed themselves with grenades in the tunnels.
2 July 2015
Stumbled upon an izakaya serving specialty Okinawan dishes. Everything's seafood-based of course. But the most surprising thing is (what I assume is) the hometown allegiance to Orian rather than Asahi/Kirin as the beer of choice.
Squid ink fried soba (イカスミ焼きそば) is a new favorite.
Made it to Monkey's Inn
Landed in Okinawa battling extreme jet lag and running entirely on bottled green tea. The first thing I noticed while touching down were bloated retro military planes that could have been taken straight out of Miyazaki's Porco Roso. With an endearingly cheesy tropical aesthetic, muggy Okinawa is half Floridian and half occupied territory. The second most common archetype after mainland Japanese tourists wearing Hawaiian shirts being that of white men in their 20s with crew cuts.
Orientalist stereotypes aside, it's noticeable how orderly, clean, and efficient things are in Japan. And it goes beyond the "toilet paper sanitizer" dispensers in the bathrooms.
Landed in Narita! Eating some soba as I wait to check in to my flight to Okinawa.
Japan Airline's specialty drink, "Sky Time" kiwi juice. ほとんどおいしいよ
First Japanese meal on the flight. Katsu curry rice