Making my way through Asia (and grad school) one adventurous step at a time.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Adventures in Japan...(Part III)

Before we left for Japan, I must admit I was a little worried about the cuisine. I'm skeptical of things like raw fish, green noodles and fermented salty plums. I needn't have worried. I was well fed during the trip.

I was terribly excited that Japan has Wendy's Hamburgers. I was happy to get a fix of Frosty's and non-McDonald's burgers. It was a treat I got to enjoy 3 times (twice in one day, my arteries are loathe to announce). Three times in ten days is a nasty fast-food wollop in 10 days, but I figure 3 times in one year isn't a bad deal...all 3 times just happened to be in one week.

I took a picture of the meal I purchased before getting on the train from Tokyo. These little 'lunch packs' are available at all train stations and come in handy when you're racing to catch a train and don't have time to stop for a meal. Even though it was cold, the beef was quite tasty, and the vegetables were nice (the brown stringy ones are bracken, not earthworms). The pine nuts on the rice was also a nice touch.

When we were in Sanda visiting Jen and Korey, we discovered a little thatched roof restaurant nestled into the woods beside a stream. It smelled so clean and fresh - like Canadian cottage country after an August thunderstorm, and as you can see from the pictures, all you could see around you was lush green, green, green. The noodles we had there were also delicious - and green, green, green! Soba, as the noodle dish is called, is supposed to be quite good for you. It was such a nice, surprising discovery tucked into the backwoods of Japan.

As tasty as Wendy's, Noodle houses and Train food were, the highlight meal was one that Jen's cousin treated us to. The restaurant itself was an incredible experience. The building was about 100 years old, and you would never know it was a restaurant from the outside. When you walk past, all you see is a doorway and a long flight of stairs going up. After removing our shoes, we were led up the staircase, down a hallway, down another flight of twisting stairs, then down to the end of another long hallway. The hallway had individual rooms along its length. We were led to a room at the end that had tatami mats on the floor, sliding wooden lattice-work doors, and a beautiful Japanese garden with a small pond just outside the floor-level window. In the middle of the room were two tables, each standing in a pit in the floor, so we sat on the floor, but our legs hung down into the pit. We sit on the floor alot in Korea, but my legs still get stiff or numb after a long meal. It was nice to trick my legs into thinking we were at a table. The meal itself was very tender beef, vegetables and tofu grilled by a skillful waitress right at the table. The atmosphere, presentation and flavours all combined to make what's likely to be the most (pleasantly) memorable meal of my life. (As you can see from the picture, I also got to drink Canada Dry Ginger Ale: another treat not obtainable in Korea).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Adventures in Japan... (Part II)

Our accomodations in Japan were always nice and clean. We stayed for a few nights in a Youth Hostel, a few nights with good friends who used to teach here but now teach in Japan, and a few nights in a Capsule Hotel. Originally designed for business men who missed the last train home - due to overwork, or overindulgence in the surrounding entertainment districts - these hotels offer everything you need for an "oops, I didn't plan to stay the night" night. While most capsule hotels cater only to men, a few cater exclusively to women, or, like the ones we stayed in, provide a 'women's only ' floor. In the picture on the bottom, you can see Jen's excitement over our unique-to-Japan (I think) sleeping arrangements and an overview of what the establishment looks like, while the picture on the top shows a closer view of what the inside of the capsule looks like. It's big enough to sit up in, and has a TV, a shelf, a light, a radio and an alarm clock. Although there are no doors on the capsules, there is a macrame curtain you can pull down and hook from the inside. The hotel provides clean sheets, pillow cases and pajamas. In the morning you can take a shower or bath in the bath house, where towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and body wash are provided. If you're really in a pinch, you can also buy a clean dress shirt, socks, and boxers at the counter downstairs. All in all, it's a clean, cheap place to spend the night. (Earplugs are suggested though - just in case.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Adventures in Japan... (Part I)

My friend Jen and I arrived home last night after a 10-day adventure in Japan. Since I still have a week of vacation left with nothing planned, my next few posts will be re-capping my trip. Right off the top, let me say that I had a fantastic time and very much enjoyed the break. However, there are a few things I hope I will never ever do again...

1) Never start a vacation in a typhoon with a pair of canvas running shoes and a broken umbrella.
Before we even reached the ferry terminal we were drenched and cold. By the time we arrived at the terminal, all the clothes I'd packed in my backpack were soggy, and we were dripping all over the floor.

2) When you board a ferry 2 hours after a typhoon has passed by and soaked you, don't think "Hey, a nice hot bath would be great right now." We were in the Japanese-style bath house onboard when we left the shelter of the harbour and hit open water. With a single heave, 1/2 the water in the tub splashed out onto the floor. Clinging to the side of the tub, we were tumbled and tossed and rocked and sloshed until we were queasy. I spent the rest of the night in my bunk willing my stomach to ride out the storm. By morning, the sea had calmed and we pulled into Fukuoka harbour around 8am, ready to catch the train to Kyoto.

3) After a night on a stormy sea, and a morning on a bullet train, don't expect your lunch menu to stay still when you finally sit down on something that doesn't pitch, toss, rock, sway or bump. By that time, my stomach was hunky-dory, but trying to convince the rest of my body that it was stationary was a bit tricky.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Adventures in Cognitive Leaping...

I couldn't sleep the other night, thanks to too much coffee, too much heat and too many neurons performing their synaptical dance. Instead of thinking of things to sooth, calm and lull myself, I ended up thinking about things that fascinate me. Not regular things like belly buttons and dryer lint, but things that really really fascinate me.

1) Cuneiform. Yes, that ancient stepping stone between expressing oneself through pictorgraphs, and expressing oneself through phonetic symbols. Imagine the cognitive leap between "I want to preserve information about a horse, so I'll draw a [stylized] representation of a horse" and "I want to preserve information about a horse, so I'll use a few arbitrary lines to represent it". In itself that's a pretty big leap...but then you've got to get all your educated buddies to recognize and conform to what your doing. Then, from that, comes the realization that by agreeing on arbitrary symbols, you can represent things other than nouns. All of a sudden you can start recording concepts like love, faith, adoration, and pride, for posterity. It's really amazing when you think about it.

2) Historical Fashion. In particular, the 18th and 19th Centuries can keep me occupied for hours. It's fun to make connections and see how changes in the political or social events of the time affect changes in fashion. Also, what moron invented the cinched corset, and why did women agree to wear it? And to think that the hoop skirt was actually considered a practical solution. Interesting.

3) Why on earth didn't I go into Museum Studies at university?