Saturday, July 23, 2005

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Maybe, I whispered ...

Posted by Hippobean at 11:29 AM 2 comments
The morning found us back in Ginza shopping. I ate so much noodle during the week that my stomach had finally rebelled and I was determined not to stuff it anymore, but as usual, my lame will was succumbed to my watering mouth at the sight of all that gorgeous, colorful and tempting food at the basement of the department stores. I chewed on the fish cakes all morning long, with each one more delicious than the last. M. was quite content with her fruit gelatin and sticky rice scoops wrapped in tofu skin (even though she wanted the rice steaming, but the lady at the food counter wouldnt budge). We just sat on a bench on the pedestrian only Chuo-dori (they closed off the street in the afternoon) and munched. Riding back to Narita, we crossed Tokyo Bay (hm, did I miss it on the way into Tokyo?) and unexpectedly, the high rises and overpasses begged me to return to the city with no character. Maybe, I whispered. At Narita, while I was finishing the last of my fish cakes, the terminal suddenly swayed back and forth for a good full minute. Everyone just looked at one another and I got up from my seat and slowly backed away from the tall glass windows (I was watching a JAL take off!) and continued biting my snack. Then the terminal swung again. Now everyone was talking in Japanese. Nobody was sure if it was an earthquake or what. I wasnt too alarmed. It didnt shake or tremble like the ones on the west coast. Later I found out it was indeed an earthquake, 5.+ magnitude. Japan being unhappy that it didnt measure up to my expectation and high hopes, and wanted me back for a second chance to redeem itself? Maybe, I whispered!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday, July 22, 2005

Felt cheated!

Posted by Hippobean at 9:21 PM 0 comments
I felt cheated. Didnt want to leave Kyoto. Didnt see what I wanted to see in the ancient capital where I dreamed of shoguns with topknots, samurai swords, wooden buildings with wooden sliding doors, girls in kimonos and Japanese flipflops, rickshaws and paper parasols, narrow cobbled stoned alleys lined with noodle houses with cloth banners. Perhaps there would be some other time. Two and half hours of smooth Shinkansen back to Tokyo. Someone sat on my reserved window seat and I loudly and impolitely asked him to remove himself. They must think we're so rude! No wonder Japanese dont like foreigners! The bullet trains zipped through cities and towns, and everytime a train passed by on the opposite tracks, I got thrown back on my seat, and a second later, jerked back to upright position. Is the what 280Km felt like? The weather cooled down and we found ourselves in the 4-star Daiichi hotel in Simbashi. This time on the 12th floor overlooking (again) the rail tracks. Bullet and JR trains all crossed below us but we hardly heard any noise. The Daiichi was most comfortable. Again, with hot water pot, Asian tea cups, robe and slippers, full compliment of toiletry, and a bathroom Vegas style with separate shower stall. Since we didnt see anything of the Imperial Palace, we subway'd there but it was Friday and the East Garden was closed to the public. It threatened to rain. It smelled tropical rain. Nevertheless we walked to Ginza and started sampling every shop. The Sony Center was another disappointment. I imagined it bigger and brighter and more high tech. M. felt in love with the card radio, a radio that is the size and thickness of a credit card, and she bought it even though it didnt quite make the minimum for duty free. Matsuzakaya was another well known name from the past. We sat on the 2nd story cafe at the corner of Chuo-dori and Harumi-dori, at the very heart of Ginza to people/crowd watch. No locals in blue jeans or shorts, hair always colored. My feet were hurting big time from so much walking and my ankles and legs were swollen out of proportion. I couldnt stand up any more and needed to sit but M went for cosmetic shopping. The day ended quietly with McDonalds french fries, rice cake with smoked salmon, coke, BBC News (in the London subway, the police shot a terrorist suspect), and hot green tea from the hotel room.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Osaka ... finally

Posted by Hippobean at 11:03 PM 0 comments
Today we adventured out to the station and got our reserved shinkansen tickets to Tokyo and managed to figure out how to get the JR to Osaka. JR, hardly the romantic rocky and noisy Eastern European trains that I love so much. We arrived early as we wont be meeting Alex until 1PM. So we went in to Daimaru to shop. Why not? A familiar name that brought back memories of Hong Kong. And what did we buy? Givenchy towels! Alex told us about the Osaka Loop line, so we JR again to the Osakajo Koen station and waited for the dude to show up. As usual he was late and we almost gave up hope. Suddenly he materialized, with sweat all over, carrying his usual overweight backpack, a plastic bag full of fragile gifts (can you please Mom, take em home for me?), and fanning himself just like a regular Japanese. The castle would have to wait just a while longer while we lunched in luxury at the New Otami Hotel, just across from the station. Super expensive sushi we got, but hey, the place was well ac'd, on the table, nice iced green tea which the waitress in formal Japanese Kimono kept refilling, the huge glass windows offered a direct sight of the castle, perched on the hill, wasnt it worth paying more (a lot more)?

Then finally we got to the Osaka castle


and it looked and felt just like the pictures in the magazines. Twice burned down, re-built and moved, this castle had had its days! Completely ac'd inside, a tourist haven. Up on the observation deck, 360 view of the city, gusty winds blowing my sweaty hair, and I could just sit there on the railing for the whole eternity. A soft cool breeze gently brushed my cheeks and suddenly I felt like being finally in the Japan of my dreams. All around the city showed signs of vibrancy, ancient wooden houses intermitten with modern cement and glass high rises, everything, everything revolving around the hill with its ancient but rebuilt castle, that towered above it all, commanding and protecting, with its golden roofs and shiny pure snow white plasters. This was the Japanese city that I liked. Finally.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Kyoto ... where was the Japan of my dreams?

Posted by Hippobean at 8:06 PM 0 comments
The Nijo castle (Nijo-jo) was everything I've dreamed of Japan to be. Exactly like what I saw on TV and movies about ancient Japan. Built in 1603 by the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu in the Momoyama architecture, this castle offered a tour of the inside of the buildings, where we could admire every room. It is just like what we've seen in the Japanese movies. Sliding wooden doors with paper, matted floors, pictures of tigers and leopards on the walls, Tokugawa crests in gold on every door. I liked it very much indeed. The wooden floor on the hallway around the building squeaked when we walked on it. This was accomplished by having cramps under the floor that moved up and down with pressure on them, creating a friction between the nails and cramps. This was done purposely so that the Shogun wouldnt be surprised by anyone approaching. Great technique. Because of the bird-like sound, it was named the Nightingale Floor. The main building has gilded ornaments on the facade.

Nijo castle

This would probably be the highlight of the entire trip.

Next a brief visit to the Golden Pavilion, the Kinkakuji temple.


The main building the Kinkaku was originally built to be a villa for the 3rd Shogun of Ashikaga, Yoshimitsu. After his death, according to his will, the villa was converted into a Zen temple. The original coating of Japanese lacquer was replaced with a new coat of gilding with gold-leaf. It's indeed very beautiful.

Our next stop was the Imperial Palace


where we had to filled out a form, disclosing our age and shoe size, lined up 4X4 and marched into the precinct. By then it was noon heat and the place offered no shade. We couldnt go inside the buildings so we just walked around in the courtyards. I was ready to pass out in this heat. I didnt think I saw anything there. All I wanted was to get back to the air conditioned bus.

In the afternoon we drove to nearby Nara to see the enormous Buddha in the Todaiji Temple


inside the 'Deer' park, where pathetic 'unbashfull' deers roamed around and mingled with Homo Sapients, nagging for 'deer cookies'. None of them were as sweet as Bambi.


They told us these deers like to eat paper so be mindful to close the restroom doors lest they come in and lunch on the toilet paper, used or otherwise!

Last stop before retiring to the much needed hotel bed was the colorful Kasuga Shrine with 3000 stone lanterns.


The main shrine building was covered in Asian vermilion (what else!) and it's indeed much more pleasing to the eyes than the otherwise dull and dark temples.

After another very humid and hot day, I was so ready to escape back to our tiny but comfortably ac'd hotel room, with a view of the Kyoto station, where every 3 minutes a shinkansen would greet me.

Where were the sentimental, nostalgic, romantic Japanese alleys of my dreams?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Fuji, Shinkansen, Hakone and disappointed

Posted by Hippobean at 10:31 PM 0 comments
Two hours by coach and we arrived at the foot of Fuji.


Although the day was a bit clearer than yesterday and we could see the whole of the yama, the top was covered in clouds. Up on the fifth station, there was nothing but touristy souvenir shops (where they sell Fuji air!) and lots of tourists and hikers. Fuji loomed just above us, monstrous, large and dark but otherwise not impressive. It is not a mountain the Hippo likes.

In Hakone, we took a boat ride across the lake Ashi and then the 'Ropeway' (cable car) up to the summit. Komagatake is the central volcanic cone of the Hakone range, 1327 meters high. The area possesses a twin volcano which exploded 200 years ago and created the Ashi lake. The summit normally offered fantastic view of Fuji, but the day was misty and we didnt see Fuji.

Late in the afternoon we Shinkansen to Nagoya and then to Kyoto.


The bullet train was fast, smooth and comfortable. But it lacked the romanticism of old trains that rocked and jerked. It felt like riding on the Monorail. Very quiet. M. discovered a phone and tried to buy a phone card by inserting 1000 yen note into the machine but it kept rejecting the note. After a few more tries, she decided to use the one that had a different image on it. It bought it! Mind boggling! And so she finally talked to Alex. We will call him again the following day to make plans to meet.

Perhaps my teenage dream and hope of this land were set too high. I didnt find Japan so far to equal my expectation. I am disappointed. Perhaps Kyoto would be better?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Monday, July 18, 2005

Moshi moshi ... from Tokyo

Posted by Hippobean at 9:58 PM 0 comments
Moshi moshi, Alex-san ite kudasai? It was followed by a flurry of colloquial Japanese of which I didnt understand a single word. Eh, sumimasen, eh, wakarimasen, choto mate kudasai - go get that girl from JTB! That was our intro to Japan. Alex wasnt there. We would have to call again.

I grew up fantasizing about Kenji Sawada, Momoe Yamaguchi and countless other Japanese singers and actors. I loved their sentimental TV shows, their fashion, their music and their culture. I fell so in love with their language I even took a whole semester of Japanese at CSM. And I dreamed of being there someday. Now that I'm finally here, the magic seemed to have evaporated. I imagined being here and instantly some favorite Japanese song would spring up in my head. No music was in my mind when the plane landed.

When our friendly limousine bus from Narita stopped at the air terminal, the porters took out some of the passengers luggage and bowed to the bus while it sped away. Welcome to polite Japan!

In the morning we wanted to have coffee to go but couldnt find a single place that offered coffee to go, not even at a 7-Eleven. We finally got it at McDonalds. Sometimes, thanks God for fast food joints! The young girl at the counter gave me my receipt on both hands and with a bow. I wondered how much she made an hour working at McDonalds.

Our first stop was the Tokyo Tower, modeled after the Eiffel Tower but painted Asian vermilion. One can see the whole capital city in 360 degrees, even Fuji on a clear day. But not today. The day was misty, humid and hot. Two glass windows on the floor revealed the street below. I put my foot on one and took a picture.

Tokyo Tower

Next, was a brief glimpse of the Imperial Palace.

Imperial Palace

Then on to the Asakusa Kannon Temple


(did you know that Cannon was named after the Kannon god in Asakusa?) filled with tourists and buddhists praying, hands joined palm to palm, heads bowed, burning incense in a dangerously fire hazardous day, and shaking the bowl of fortune sticks, hoping for a good fortune that day. The temple's ceiling had very colorful Asian paintings. Next, a stop at the Tasaki Pearl where they showed us how to make cultured pearls. I felt sorry for the mollusks. You had to kill one to extract the membrane to put it into another shell. Good thing I never had any cultured pearls!

In the afternoon we ventured out to Shinkuju to find the advertised cybercafe. Instead we discovered affordable udons. Rather upscale this district was, with lots of financial high-rise buildings, not likely a place for a cybercafe. M wanted to see the Meiji temple since it looked close enough on the map. When we got out of the subway station, a multitude of young people were about. Hair spiked and dyed blond and red and purple, bodies strapped in knapsacks, denim jeans and Nike sneakers, our first sight of young Japanese. As it turned out, this area was famous for young people. After a brief visit to the Meiji temple (a long walk to the main shrine, nothing in particular to see, only empty sake barrels), we finally ran into a cheap and slow internet place in Roppongi. We got an email from Alex and finally made econtact. While waiting for M to finishing typing her emai, fighting and cursing the Japanese keyboard, I picked up a pamphlet and discovered Manbo, high speed internet, your own private booth and free drinks, just a few blocks away! Too late now. We were hungry and it's getting late. Perhaps when we return to Tokyo on our last day. After a ramen and gyoza dinner, we subway'd back to Chiyoda and got lost and couldnt find our hotel.

I think a city without street names is very romantic but hardly practical. Well, afterall nothing romantic is practical. There would be many more times when we got lost in Japan! I didnt like Tokyo. It got no character and no architecture.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Little trepidation ... too rushed ...

Posted by Hippobean at 10:27 PM
Tried hard to finish the Build Status tracker but got so tired I finally gave up. Got as far as doing the header sorting on demand, and updating all the pages, and put in validations. Dead tired! One of the goals this quarter is to learn the Mac build/deployment process. Should be fun. I want to learn this stuff. The DVD Player crashes with 'initialization failure' and Firefox 1.0.4 wont launch. Tomoli will need to take Mini to the Apple Genius Bar. Hope they can fix it and dont need to send in for disk repair. I think tho the disk is corrupted. Major pain! Got all PowerPoint assignments done and already graded. 95 pts for the midterm but screwed up in the Web Feature one. Ironic! How was I supposed to know that the original .ppt has animation schemes that wont show on the Mac? Lost .1 pt for that. What a joke that class is! Discovery's launch was scrubbed! Angus got the NASA live webcast ready on his PC (yuck!) and I was ready to go watch it at NAS on the big screen. We both were disappointed. Now if they launch on Sat, I wont be there to see it lift off live. Tom called from Oregon. Having fun with the kids (T and Isabel). Alex arrived safely and posted a quick note on his blog ( Hm, hard to find internet access in Osaka huh? I think Tokyo and Kyoto should be better. If it is so, I'll post. Hot, humid, muggy there, and rainy. Not sure if I'd like it but really (finally) looking forward to it. Just not enough time to enjoy the pre-trip bliss, and gear myself psychologically for it. Take whatever comes. Would be fun nonetheless. You'll find out how much fun it really is, if you read here ... stay tuned!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Friday, July 08, 2005

Summer ... where is the heat?

Posted by Hippobean at 10:55 AM
And so another quarter is over. I got an A in both classes. Just barely made 91pts in Travel. Whew! And so summer started and with it, PowerPoint. Actually quite fun, but a bit time consuming. Alex is departing today for Japan, and we are going next week. I need a vacation. For the last 7 days or so, I cramped Flash on him and he actually picked it up quite fast and even did a good piece on the MM commercial. I'm quite impressed. But he flaked out on me at the end, and didnt get to the clips/AS/sound portion and never got the final off the ground. Ah well, a kid is a kid. Finally completely re-installed my system at home and now Flash is once again healthy and singing. Was quite a nightmare! Work is busy, finally getting to get my hands on the builds status tracker and a draft on the DTS re-design. Ryan loves my design. Totally CSS and no tables, no image rollovers, just a nice logo created in FlamingText, CoolMetal with Blippo font. I love it. We missed June by a day in Vegas. I didnt know she and Cal were going there until when we got back and got her letter. They stayed 2 nights at Wynn and then at Caesars. We hoped around from the old Hilton Vacation Resort behind the Flamingo to the new gorgeous one across from Sahara, next to Circus Circus and then on an impulse, we stayed an extra night at the Venetian. I could never get enough of Vegas. Maria got her dream when we stayed over night at Desert Spring/Palm Springs. In the morning, we drove through Palm Springs and got lost again. Same story as last time. The Embassy Suites was very nice and the area pretty. It was a quick get away but I came back more tired than ever. I must be getting old. These kinds of road trips are beginning to take a toll on me ... staying up late, long drives, ... sigh! Summer is finally here, but it's been cold. What happened to the heat?

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