I know, I know, it's been about a decade since I wrote anything, so this post will certainly make up for it. I also know that it has been months since I was in Japan, but some things never get old. Japan is a land of kitschy crap. Said crap can be purchased nearly anywhere and is endlessly entertaining to browse. Enjoy some of the awesome potential purchases the great nation of Japan has to offer. The above shirt expresses my greatest sentiment. If you are confused as to what this multi-colored toilet paper is for, the plastic wrap it's in tells you...it's for number deux. A certified George Bush Sr. talking action figure, sort of ironic. Evey little politicians dream. It really does talk. Believe it. Never in my life have I wished so badly that I could read the Japanese language. It is clear that one would be enlightened by the offerings in the above catalog. Take a second and really look at all the photos on the cover and you will be pissing yourself with laughter... For the avid golfer: Now you don't have to concentrate on just pooping. You can also improve your golf game at the same time! And though I'm sure this is 100% Japanese innovation, the packaging with a stupid white guy on it shows clearly who will use it. I hope this "game" comes with the warning to not actually try to poop and golf on a real golf course. YES! What little girl has never dreamed of having a purse made out of a dead toad? Special to Okinawa, Habu sake. Habu is a deadly, venemous snake on the island of Okinawa so what better than to make booze out of it. Habu sake is available anywhere curious tourists are, and is actually a beverage that is consumed. I abstained from drinking it, however not from taking photos of it.
When planning your next trip to Japan, be sure to save some room in your luggage for all the one-of-a-kind souvenirs. If there is no room in the suit case, no worries, I'm absolutely sure that there will be some ridiculous luggage for purchase.
A few weeks ago, a father brought his two kids in to the barber shop for haircuts. I was the next available to take his 9-year-old son and as soon as I called the kid's name, I could tell he was less than thrilled to be getting his hair cut. The kid had the typical shaggy hair that so many young boys have these days. The kid dragged his feet over to the chair and plopped down. I asked his father how he would like for me to cut his son's hair. Father told me that it was time to take it short, get the bulk and the length off, basically dramatically changing his look. Poor kid, he was not very happy about all of this, he didn't think he needed a haircut and come to find out he was really liking his shaggy hair. * As I began cutting and as his precious locks fell to the ground, the boy sighed in honest defeat under his breath and said to himself, "My beautiful hair...".
There are fewer joys of traveling greater than that of watching the Asian tourists. I remember my first time going to Egypt, and my first time seeing a bus load of Asians(likely Japanese)disembark a tour bus at the Great Pyramids of Giza. I had expected to see this, however the reality is much greater than the dream! Giant cameras, giant hats, giant sunglasses, khaki shorts and button up shirts, fanny packs, you name it. The best part is watching the groups being led like cattle to the watering hole. Often times the groups wear the same color t-shirt and follow a flag bearing tour guide. They pay attention to this tour guide as though he or she is giving them the secret to eternal youth. It's unintentional comedy at its finest. Being in Asia and watching these lovely tourists on their home turf is like double the fun!
Hong Kong boasts its own version of the Walk of Fame called the Avenue of Stars. The Avenue of Stars celebrates the greats of the Hong Kong film industry, and there is no greater star from Hong Kong than Bruce Lee. Not only does Mr. Lee have a star, he has his own statue. Naturally the Asians long to be as badass as Bruce(don't we all share that sentiment?). The above photo proves that nobody can possibly be as badass as Bruce, though the great effort put forth by our video camera wielding buddy deserves a round of applause. One of the funniest things to watch the Asians do is to take photos of damn near everything, and no less than fifteen photos of every single thing to boot. The three pictured above are actually taking pictures of each other taking pictures of each other. It went something like this: they stand in a triangle, pose, focus, shoot, argue in Chinese, pose, focus, shoot, argue in Chinese and again and again and again. This scene carried on for a good few minutes giving me ample opportunity to stand back and take my own photo of Asians taking photos of Asians. The best part about this, I took this photo at a street fair where there was plentiful things to take photos of. However, Asian tourists are wonderful to take pictures of and can easily distract from the task at hand. Not only do the Asians take photos with their own cameras, they give much business to the photographers at any and all touristy sites hawking their high quality prints to those needing a souvenir photo to accompany the 1500 photos they have already taken that day. I absolutely had to poach this photo of the old Chinese couple. The lack of expression and the clothing are relics of a time long past. True nostalgia in the most modern of worlds, Hong Kong. This Japanese couple in Okinawa have gone so far as to rent costumes for their own tourist shot at the Shuri Castle in Okinawa. A far cry from the real deal old Chinese couple in Hong Kong, these two just fake it to look authentic. And though they look handsome and classic, what I wouldn't give to have seen some Asians dress as authentic ancient Egyptians all those years ago! There is only one way to train a proper Asian tourist, start them young. Here we have a fine example of Asian parenting as daddy is squatting down to the level of his adorable daughter in order to show her how to make a shot that you will shoot no less than twenty-five times. As we can see, she is at the advanced stages of learning how to be a tourist as she has already perfected the look of shock and wonder. Good girl, now go out and buy the biggest external hard drive you possibly can in order to store the 30,000 photos from this week alone.
Being amongst the Asian tourists in various locations in Asia has been a real treat. Seeing them in awe so much puts a smile on my face. It's easy to get jaded sometimes at the frustrations of traveling abroad, but when I see the Asians ooing and awwing at a street lamp, and all of them stopping to snap some photos, I am reminded of the simpler things in life and appreciate where I am that much more.
Hong Kong is absolutely out of this world. However, the fact that I am saying this is sort of ignorant, since in the two days that I have been here, I have left the confines of the city for more far flung places that couldn't be more different from the chaos of Hong Kong. Today, I went with a small group of other travelers to a village on an island that lies just to the west of the city and island of Hong Kong. We met at the central piers and boarded a ferry for Lantau Island with the intention of visiting a fishing village called Tai O. Upon arrival in Lantau, we boarded a bus that weaved us through the mountainous terrain that is Lantau Island past pristine beaches with unparalleled views of the South China Sea. After the hour long ride was over we were on the far west of the island where Tai O is located. And as one will soon see, it is like no place else. Tai O is famous for its community of houses that are built on stilts above where the sea meets the land. One does not arrive immediately where the houses are located. We made our way through the part of town that is totally "landlocked" and through the market which smelled strongly of all the dried fish and other sea creatures that hang in nearly every stall. On the other side was this amazing surprise. The community of stilt houses is fairly large and boardwalks create a labyrinth within it. Where these boardwalks lead is anyone's guess and with the open air nature of the homes, we had to be careful to not accidentally walk unknowingly into someone's "living room". We failed miserably. We looked like the tourists we were but at the same time, I was grateful that two of our group who are Cantonese speakers could chat it up as though they were long time neighbors, greatly distracting from any unintended disrespect or ignorance. We carried on. A better way to see the stilt houses was from the boat tour's provided in town. At HK$20(about US$2.50)there was no passing it up. This manner of transportation showed the vast differences in the construction of the houses. The above and below examples are extreme, but nonetheless are an amazing display of how differently most of the world lives. I do believe it takes years to build up the layers on these houses. No fancy cookie cutter homes that are built in six months here. These are all ancient originals. Wow. After passing the afternoon in Tai O, it was on to another site on the island. Lantau Island is home to the Big Buddha. I do believe it is one of the largest statues of Buddha that exists and after wondering how old it was, I consulted the guide book expecting it to date back to like 900AD or something. Nope, in 1993 it was unveiled. No bother, it is a beautiful site regardless of its lack of historical importance. Being that we arrived as the site was nearing its close, we did not spend much time at the Big Buddha. We climbed the 260 stairs to enjoy the views of the sea and surrounding islands and to stand in awe of a true work of art. I have seen many man made wonders in my travels, but I have never seen a statue with such big ear lobes. I have been in Hong Kong for about forty-eight hours now. The above story is just one of those days. I feel like I have been here for a week. As soon as I exited the subway for the first time and walked down the packed streets of Causeway Bay neighborhood where I am staying, I knew I was in for a real treat, a real life changer. As I continue to tap the depths of this great city and its surrounding areas, I know I will be falling in love with it. Hopelessly in love. . .
It is official, Japan is the greatest nation on Earth. I cannot believe it took me a whole week to discover Sushi Go 'Round, but then again, I thank heaven that it was only a week.
Upon my arrival in Okinawa, Brady pointed out a restaurant to me and told me that it was a place where there was literally a train of sushi awaiting. Where the hungry patrons can sit down and gorge themselves on any of the delights slowly passing by on fancy colored plates. I had sort of forgotten about this place over the next few days, until one evening as we were deciding where to eat, I said "Hey, what about that sushi place you told me about?". We carried on down the road to a life-changing experience. We entered the establishment to be greeted by a chorus of Japanese that the staff hollers every time customers come in. We were promptly seated at the large bar where the sushi passes by and after washing our hands with a provided wash rag, the binge began. The different colored plates signify the price of the sushi which rests upon it. The prices of the various plates range from 90 Yen up to 560 Yen(about $1.10 to $7). However the majority of the plates are in the $2-$4 price range. God bless this place, there is no ordering, no waiting, no deciding what to share and what someone won't eat, no obsessing over a huge sushi menu of rolls and nigiris. Just sitting and eating.
There is literally everything a sushi eater could imagine eating. Now not being Japanese, mine and Brady's palate for sushi is not that diverse. We mostly indulged on various salmons and tunas with the occasional tofu pocket or smoked duck. But should one so desire, there is the availability of every freaky sea creature that exists in the deep blue yonder, and then some.
We dosed ourselves heavily on the yummy raw delights before us, mine bathed in a potent mixture of wasabi and soy sauce. Brady opted for a kinder mixture of the aforementioned, but we both teared up at a couple of points, mostly due to unparalleled happiness. Every other minute or so an extremely foreign looking sushi would pass us by, and our natural reaction was to point and make faces at each other 'cause lord knows we weren't trying it.
When it was all over, one of the staff comes by with a super-tech scanner and scans our stack of plates which obviously have a magnet or chip or whatever in them that is read by the scanner. Then the tiny Japanese waitress hands us a plastic card that the scanner spits out and we happily make our way to the register. The register reads the sum of what we ate and we pay. Our first time at Sushi Go 'Round came to about $21 for the two of us, and no tipping in Japanese culture. Two huge Americans binging on sushi for about $20. GREATEST NATION ON EARTH!!!!!! Another thing offered at Sushi Go 'Round is platters to go. The above platters of plastic sushi are displayed at the front desk. That first platter is priced at 700 Yen, which is less than $10. The second platter is a bit more coming in at 2500 Yen, which is more like $30. Honestly, where else on Earth is sushi this cheap and delicious?!?!?! And a good thing too, cause sushi is like the only cheap thing in all of Japan where the average Starbucks drink is about $7, and crappy donuts are $1.50 each. Sushi Go 'Round has upped the ante in my life for sushi. I'm not so sure I can go back to USA and feel justified about spending $50 for the same amount of sushi that will never come close to to the quality and freshness of what I have had in Japan. We have been back to Sushi Go 'Round three times in four days, and I will cry when I have to say goodbye. However, until then the above picture lets me know that it's always time for sushi.
Now watch the sushi go by and dream of the day when you can become the newest lover of Sushi Go 'Round. . .
After only a few days in Japan, I am coming to realize that Japanese signage has got to be some of the most comedic in all the land. I find myself taking pictures of signs more than almost anything else. And thank heavens that there is an instructional for how to use a Japanese style toilet. As modeled above, squat like this. The Japanese use cartoon characters to model almost anything. Which is very fitting since the people here are as cute as cartoon characters. I do believe the above says something to the tune of "Look how cute we are". I mean, what else could it possibly say? There is only one supremely jackass thing to say about this sign, that's what she said. If the Japanese had any idea how much crappy fast food Americans eat, I'm not so sure they would want the wind from America. But, alas, they love our kitchy imported trinkets. Okinawa Island has a very deadly species of snake called Habu, and fittingly there is a lot of signage to warn of their dangers. In this case, it is obvious that if you should come across one, a sweet, old Japanese lady with a chopstick in her hair will shake it to death for you. How kind of her! There was debate between my brother and I as to what this sign was trying to enforce. Brady tells me it clearly requests not to pull the flowers, as I assumed it was a sign telling all to not pee in the bushes. To each his own. This sign was on the inside of a toilet seat in a bathroom I barely fit in. It is not necessary to read Japanese to understand that this is a clear instructional on how to properly use a toilet seat. To stand and pee, lift both seat and lid. To sit and pee, or otherwise, lift only the lid and sit on the seat. If only this sign was on every single toilet in the world, men just might stop peeing on the seat.Wait, certainly they would still biff it up. . .
This sign makes me desperately wish I could read Japanese. Posted by the beach it is assumed that it reads something along these lines: Should one encounter shark fins, splash like a mad man after drawing a massive X on your forehead and then follow the arrows in the waves towards the Japanese writing. Thousands of lives are saved everyday by this!
I must definitely be living under some kind of rock, because I just really realized the gravity of the situation in Egypt. It has rocked my entire world and left me in tears as I have a very special connection with that very special country. No other place on our planet has ever affected me in the profound ways that Egypt has and continues to. Besides Canada, Egypt is the first country that I really spent time in outside United States. Here's how it came about.
In 2005 I was on a mission to leave USA and see and live in other areas of the world. As the dreams became plans, I signed up to take an English teaching course in the great city of Alexandria. As I searched the various locations to take the course, Alexandria stood out as one of the more obscure, thus sparking my interest. I chose to go to Egypt for the course in lieu of more comfortable and obvious options offered in Europe. That and the course in Egypt included a trip to the pyramids and one to a resort on the Red Sea after completion of the course. Free stuff, no problem.
I prepared for months to go to Egypt with no plans on if or when I would return to United States. I would take my English teaching course, travel to other areas in the Middle East, and then pursue a life in Africa. I left in February 2006 and immediately upon arrival knew I was totally in for a life changing adventure. Cairo is the first place I saw police and guards at the airport with rifles. The intensity of things I was seeing had certainly never before been matched in the well developed nation where I am from. Homeless children, donkey carts and chickens in the streets, the most amazingly bad traffic imaginable, the mosques, the staring(holy shit, the staring),the call to prayer, the population density, the air pollution, and on and on. . . Over the next two months, I would go through a metamorphosis.
I spent the first month in Alexandria taking my English course. I lived in the apartment provided by the school with my classmate Nicki, and learned how to shower in a third-world shower that spit scalding water and steam in place of anything I had ever known to come from a shower head. I made many Egyptian friends(mostly men obviously), and even went on some Egyptian dates. Perfect strangers opened their homes to me to enjoy food they could barely afford. I hung out until late at night in hookah cafés, and walking the streets and alley ways with friends and classmates. I explored my neighborhood and the sights of Alexandria, stood by the Mediterranean Sea and watched the fishermen cast their poles into the sunset, marveling at life. I battled intense culture shock that drove me to tears and had to learn how to walk away from beggars and homeless, because I could easily give all my money away in a single day. And I got stared at everywhere I went.
One weekend off of class, Nicki and I went to Cairo with our guide Mohammed and did the Pyramids and Museum of Antiquities. This day I will never, ever, ever forget. The Pyramids of Giza are a force to be reckoned with. And being that we went on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, we got to share the experience with many Egyptians. Being the proper tourists, we even did the camel ride into the desert for the postcard view of the Pyramids. At the museum, I got to stare King Tut's gold mask in the face and have yet to be broken of the hypnotism it produced.
After my course ended and I survived the intense curriculum, teaching six classes to Egyptian students big and small, old and young, we were off to the Red Sea for some relaxation. Four days at perhaps one of the most pristine bodies of water this earth houses, snorkeling at world class reefs and enjoying Egyptian culture in the gorgeous desert of the Sinai peninsula. When this trip was over, my classmates and I parted ways and I began to travel Egypt by myself.
During the next few weeks I traveled to some oases in the far deserts of Egypt. I spent time in an oasis named Siwa, more disconnected from the world than anywhere I had previously known. I stayed in the most charming inn on the edge of town where no electricity ran and the nights were lit by candles and the views of the dunes in the distance illuminated by the full moon. I wore a head scarf out of respect and to help reduce the staring in the very small and conservative village. One afternoon, I met a young Egyptian boy whom let me through the mud brick ruins that were the center of town. We weaved our way up and through the labyrinth and finally ended up on top of a small mountain that provided a 360 unmatched in this lifetime. Views of the Great Sand Sea to the south, the canyons and salt lake to the west, the palm tree groves in every direction and the Siwa village at my feet. The Sahara had me.
At another oasis, I took an overnight safari into the White Desert of Egypt. An otherworldly place, the White Desert is an expanse of desert with strange, wind eroded white sandstone formations and outcroppings, some as small as a cat, and some as huge as a house. Waking up in the middle of the night to pee was a special moment as the white stone was lit up in moonlight and the stars were nearly as blinding.
I ultimately stayed in Egypt for only two months. Against all desire of mine, I returned to United States to deal with a nagging medical problem. However, this time was more than enough to completely turn my world upside down. In two months, I saw and felt and experienced things I could never have dreamed. I came to love the Egyptian people and their beautiful culture totally. I had stepped outside myself and had stretched my world to new horizons from which I can never return.
I have since returned to Egypt, and will again. However, in the face of the current political turmoil that has gripped the country, I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and devastation. I have close friends in Egypt whose communication has been cut and I honestly fear the future of the country. However, through my tears and sadness at the loss of the Egypt I once knew and once embraced me, I am reminded that Egyptian culture has been around for longer than almost any that human kind has known. Egypt will not disappear, it will only add to its long and colorful history where the corner of Africa meets Asia.
Egypt changed me more profoundly than any other place. I am who I am today because of my experiences in Egypt and my life's path has been greatly determined because of my time there. My heart is with the Egyptian people as they face a great transition, inshallah to a better life and greater prosperity free from corruption and in the best interest of the people. Allahu akhbar.
I've been lame on ideas for writing, so I'm going to resort to photos from my life. Above, country road in Idaho, July 2010. Cathedral in main Zócalo in Mexico City, Mexico, April 2010. Fake cocaine, or is it? Bogotá, Colombia, March 2010. Super good graf. Bogotá, Colombia, January 2010. And finally, the sunny and gorgeous Santa Monica, California, United States, January 2011. Life is great!
There is no photo necessary to describe the absolute crap weather that Los Angeles has. * I seem to be able to go nowhere to escape the cold, even southern California is desperately disappointing. Since I have arrived one month ago, it has managed to be in the 70's only a couple of times and has rained probably half of the days I have been here, including one time where it rained for a week straight. * What have I done?!?!?! And as many of you are thinking me a whiner, I don't care. It's cold here and everyone else here can confirm. Even as I write this, it's about 40 degrees and is raining. I don't know where Los Angeles got this fabulous paradise-like reputation, but I am now disconfirming any and all rumors that this place has perfect weather. So before any of you are thinking about coming here to escape the cold, let me tell you, you won't escape it here. Go to Brazil or something, I'll meet you there. * Another thing I have had enough of is people here telling me that this weather isn't normal for here. "Normally it's nicer than this", "Normally we don't get this much rain", etc, etc. It doesn't matter what's normal or not, I'm freezing ass and can't ride my bike anywhere! I am actually sitting in my freezing house right now under my borrowed and life-saving electric blanket, my outfit including, but not limited to, leg warmers, a jacket with hood on my head, and a scarf among other items of clothing. It's like I didn't even leave Colorado, being in a frozen house is just like my mom's. * With all the rain and cold temps, the Los Angeleans have also been mentioning the snow on the eastern mountains. I have been asked if I have seen the snow on the mountains by a few people. I want to slap them and be like "Why in the hell would I want to see snow when I live a mile from Venice Beach?!". Idiots! I am from Colorado and I have seen snow on mountains my entire life. Snow is no novelty to me and if I wanted to see it, I'd look up photos on the internet whilst sitting under my electric blanket, wrapped up in a hoodie and scarf since that's as close as I want to get to the real thing. * I swore I would never spend another winter in Colorado, and so far, success. But I am now learning that I will never spend another winter in Los Angeles. I can't believe I fell for it! Maybe that's why there are so many blondes in California, they are too dumb to leave the cold.