Arrogato, Kyoto!

My second morning in Tokyo I had to catch the bullet train to Kyoto. Jana and I had a bit of time to grab some breakfast and see the palace before. American breakfast is notoriously hard to come by in Japan. Luckily, we found a Dean & Deluca and had some fantastic quiche!

The palace is a big walled compound so we didn't get to see much. The shadow of this carefully manicured tree was my favorite. The rest of it looked something like this..big walls and a moat.

Off to the train station to speed across the country!

(Side note: Ron told me a funny story about safety testing the Shinkensen. Japan asked Boeing how they ensured that the glass in the cockpit could withstand an in-air collision with a bird. Boeing sent them the specs for a cannon that fired chickens at the front of the planes in their testing facility. Japan built the cannon, did some tests, broke all the windshields, redesigned the windshields and did more tests. They were unable to make a winshield that could pass the Boeing test. When they called Boeing to ask for advice, they seemed to be doing everything perfectly. After repeated tests and another phone call they discovered that Japan had been using frozen chickens.)

The train ride is smooth & fast, soon enough I'm wandering the streets of Kyoto looking for my hostel. I pass ladies in Kimonos, ancient temples and more 7-11s than I've seen since the 90's.

I get a bit lost on the way to the hostel, which is not surprising. I have no internet and I'm working off a screenshot from Google Maps and an address. I approach a group of ladies and they chat to eachother encouragingly when I point to the pin on the map and show them the address. I finally get to the hostel… I had walked right past it. I have to leave my shoes at the door and bunks have curtains around them.

Goodnight, Kyoto!

 

 

 

A peek into the lives of service workers in SE Asia.

The constant barrage of tuktuk drivers shouting out, “Tuktuk, Lady?!” combined with the “1 Dollar! 1 Dollar!” pleas of the street beggars is overwhelming. Everyone here is hustling. Because they have to. Because if they ask, you might say yes and they will have money for food that day. But this story isn't about them, this is the story of a lovely girl named KimLeng*.

In Cambodia, Kate and I met KimLeng who was proud to have a job as a hotel concierge. She booked tours and transport for the guests and showed them to their rooms. The average night's stay for a guest was $80. That is also the monthly salary that the hotel pays KimLeng. Let me say that a different way: KimLeng works 50+ hours a week for $20/week. Egad. (Policemen make $50/month!) Besides working 6 days a week (10-12 hr days) KimLeng is likely to be fired for calling in sick because there are 10 people clambering for her job.

KimLeng's father drives a tuktuk and her mother runs a shop but their family of 7 relies on her consistent income. KimLeng is also studying Hotel Management & English and every night she spends at least 3 hours attending classes & doing school work before going to bed at midnight. She gets up at 5am to set up the shop with her mother before work. Her walk to/from work is 45min.

This girl is working HARD to support her family. The same as many other people I know, all around the world. Keep up the good work, people. We're all in this together.

 

*Kate's friend, Kyrie, suggested that we meet up with KimLeng. Kyrie's family has been sponsoring KimLeng's high school and college education and have made many visits to Siem Reap to see her.

 

 

Signs, signs, everywhere the signs: Japan edition

Happy Fall! Here are some of the entertaining signs that caught my eye while traveling in Japan.
I didn't know the Japanese had Boy Scouts! That sure looks fun.
All campers must remember to put out their fires.
 

What to do if you drop your hat on the train tracks.

Seen at Senso-ji temple: where you should be careful about where you hang your laundry.

Do you want to experience the coldest water available? It's AMAZING!

I mean, seriously amazing.

OOOH!!!! TOO COLD!! TOO COLD!!!!

If you're not into freezing water, then maybe you're into sweat? (This is an electrolyte drink.)

This sign made ME sweat! Seriously, this is the subway map? Eek.

Feeling hungry? Follow Snoopy to your table!

The deer in Nara love the round crackers that the tourists feed them.

But you have to be careful around the deer, they are 'wild' animals after all!

“Who? Me?!?”

This sign is pretty self explanatory. Don't get drunk or a teenager will post photos of you.

The only thing worse than public drunkenness is MONKIES! They are so naughty.

One of the things that separates us from the monkies… or not.

I hope you enjoyed this little sign tour together!

 

 

 

Konichiwa, Japan!

The first time I called Delta to work out the details of my trip, I asked if there was a possibility of staying in Japan for a few days. I was informed that any layover longer than 24 hours would cost more Skymiles than I had. The second time I called, I asked again and heard, “Sure, how long would you like to say?”

What started off as a layover, has turned into a love affair!

You may recall, I spent my first 2 nights in a Tokyo capsule hotel in the Shinjuku area.

On my very first morning, I met an American and invited her to breakfast … later we find out that she is friends with my little sister! Jana flew into Tokyo to meet up with her husband who has taken a JET position teaching English in a rural Japanese village. Even better, Jana has a friend, Brent, who is a guide on Mt. Fuji and he’s taken the day off to show her around… would I like to come? YES!

We visited a local temple and Brent taught us how to use the fountains to purify ourselves before going into the temple. (Use the ladel to rinse your left hand, then right hand, then mouth.)

Gates to the Senso-Ji Temple and market.
For $1 you could get your fortune (Omikuji) at the temple by shaking a stick out of a wooden box, then matching the symbol to the drawer full of paper fortunes. My fortunes: The lost article will be found later. The person you wait for comes late. Building a house and removal are both good, but a half fortune. To start a trip is all right. Marriage of any kind and new employment are both half fortune and gets better later.

We stop at the everything store: Don Quijote to buy a snack and check out the strange food, like Matcha KitKats or seaweed flavored potato chips.

Next, we take a Tokyo Canal tour, ending up at a tea house in Hamarikyu gardens.

It was a very hot and humid day, but the rain arrived while we were enjoying out matcha and cooled things off.

Matcha is made by grinding up tea leaves and stirring it into hot water… I’m more of an Earl Grey fan.

We rode the train out to Kagurazaka for dinner & a Shinto Shrine. The shine was much smaller than expected but dinner made up for it. The waiters wore paper hats and aprons like a 50’s diner but you ordered your meal from a vending machine! Yummy dinner for $3!

Joey orders for me and appreciates my tempura/noodle bowl.

On the way back to the capsule hotel we wandered through the entertainment district to pass by the Robot Restaurant. It cost $60 for dinner and a show- which involved scantily clad women operating these robots and other such nonsense- all accompanied by super loud music and a million flashing lights. Yikes.

Back to the hotel. I was beat and tomorrow I’d take my first ride on the bullet train!

I’ll leave you with a lovely painting from the ceiling of this morning’s temple. Her skirt reminds me of something Gustaf Klimt would paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All about Umbrellas.

The Japanese love umbrellas. They love the tall, clear ones with hooked handles. The love the paper sun parasols. They love tiny umbrellas that look like Geisha and fit in your purse. They also love not getting direct sun exposure. So, despite the weather being nearly perfect, I saw plenty of umbrellas in Japan this week.

The Japanese are a very conscientious bunch. They have the good of the nation to keep in mind. For example, when they feel a cold coming on, they wear face masks to keep their germs to themselves. It follows that they do not want to inconvenience other people with their soggy umbrellas.

Umbrella Condoms: The thing that first caught my eye, was what Brent referrs to as ‘Umbrella Condoms’. There are machines outside of stores to slide your umbrella in the top and pull it out the side with a plastic bag on it.

Umbrella Lockers: In this scenario, you lock your umbrella up outside the store.

 

Umbrella Shaking Area: This handy device was spotted outside City Hall and has a tray under it to catch the water that falls off your umbrella when you shake it back and forth.

As much as the Japanese love umbrellas, they seem to lack an American appreciation for SOAP. Yes, handsoap. They do not provide it in the bathrooms! The Japanese ladies I’ve seen quickly rinse their hands and head out. No soap, no paper towels… its pretty amazing that I haven’t gotten sick yet.

 

 

 

 

 

How to survive a night in a Capsule Hotel in 5 easy steps.

To give you an idea of what its like sleeping inside of a capsule, let’s use our imaginations. Picture two bathtubs stacked on top of eachother (lip to lip) and bolted in place. A large hole has been cut into the end and covered with a retractable screen. Inside, there is a TV bolted to the ceiling and an array of plugs and dials. It looks like someone from the 50’s was asked to create ‘the bed of the future’.
If you are ready to cozy up inside of 2 standard-size bathtubs or 1 refrigerator box, then you’re ready to stay in a Capsule Hotel! Just like ME!
Reasons to stay in a capsule hotel.
It’s usually the cheapest way to sleep in Tokyo. ($25 vs. $85!)

Free amenities. PJ’s are provided Aso, disposable slippers that smell like almond. Free towels.

All the toiletries you could ever use. (Plus the toothbrushes come loaded. Awesome. Why don’t we have that in teh US?)

Great showers! Lots of hot water. Good pressure & it only took a few tries to figure out how to adjust the temp.

The toilet lids are heated, mechanized & play music. (I still have’t figured out what all the buttons do…)
The Wi-Fi is pretty fast! (This is notable: Japan has weak/hard to find WiFi.)

FYI- This capsule hotel has a lot of rules. And rule #1 is no shoes past the entry way. They are super strict and make you lock your shoes in a locker and bring the key to the front desk before you can check in. Also, no eating in your capsule … Or the shower. Seems reasonable so far. They keep everyone out of the hotel every day from 10 am until 4pm, even if you are staying multiple days. They charge $4 to keep something threre from 10-4pm.

I really enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the capsule hotel. The female guests were Japanese business women, with a few travelers thrown in for good measure. I’d go back=

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Memories: a prediction.

Lovely LA smog.
I am posting this entry from my airport nemeis, LAX. The last time I was here I was sick (sorry fellow passengers), tired (I was arriving back from a 4 month trip) and I had just missed my connecting flight. My travel agent couldn’t rebook me until the morning but I wanted to be home so badly it hurt. I called my parents, bawled my eyes out and then deposited myself onto a padded bench with a table built into the middle of it. (It may have been an early prototype of those sleep-proof park benches.) That night sucked. It still stands as my most miserable day of travel to date… in fact – I can remember the date exactly, because it was my 24th birthday. Looking back, it was just discomfort, not danger and I count my lucky stars for all the years of safe travel between now and then. May they continue.

Now, onto happier memories… that I haven’t made yet.

*An introspective moment at a temple. (I’ll write a whole blog about ‘thin places’ where the centuries of worshipers have worn thin the veil that separates heaven and earth.)

*A unique connetion with another traveler. (ie. “No way! You were at that Beck show in Nashville this summer!?)

*An annoying interaction with monkeys. (A monkey broke into my room in Kenya & ate all my gum on the 1st week of a 4 month study abroad program. Plus, they are creepily human looking.)

*Make someone smile, even though we don’t speak the same language.

*Eat fresh Sushi, Pho (Vietnamese soup) and at least 1 fresh fruit I’ve never had before.

*Take a cooking class! (If you’re lucky, I’ll make you some Pho when I get back!)

*Awkward communal nudity at a Japanese Onsen. (When in Rome….right?)

*Riding bikes down ancient streets.

*Hiking in the rice terraces of northern Vietnam.

*Hanging out with an Asian elephant at a sanctuary.

*Visiting Meaghan’s classroom of Cambodian 2nd graders.

*Give someone a gift.

That’s my list so far…

What things do you look forward to when you travel?