Monday, February 28, 2011

Tai O and the Big Buddha.

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. . .

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sushi Go 'Round!!!!

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. . .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to use a Japanese toilet.

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!