Sunday, January 31, 2010
Okay, you all have heard me say time and again that I would be going out somewhere one of these days. Well, last weekend I finally got to Tokyo for the weekend. That was cool and I met a guy who seems to want to get me out of my neighborhood more often so I may have a friend to show me through the train system here. Yes, that means more blogs, but it still isn't quite the same as being able to get around on my own n the system. I have a map to show me routes and the system is English friendly, but I've been putting off travelling because it scared me. Honestly, new things are scary to me, I like to be on familiar ground and hate getting lost or crowded so the train system was rather daunting. I've put off using it for about three months, prefering to hide in my neighborhood or the town I can walk in (I've been told I have an uncanny sense of direction when walking so it's hard to get lost here). Well, last weekend I went by train to and from Tokyo, but I went with friends who knew the way. I just followed them and found it surprisingly easy to travel. However, it wasn't the same thing as travelling the system on my own, neither would going with a native who is probably very comfortable on the trains. I needed to go somewhere by myself to prove to myself how simple it is, no one to lean on, no one to blame if we got lost. I needed something to be able to say I'd done it once, I could do it again in the future. I told myself all week I'd go on the trains Saturday and finally decided to go to Hase and see the Great Buddha, the second biggest one in Japan.
Well, when Saturday came around, I needed to do some stuff for work that morning so I finally got to the station about 1:30 in the afternoon here (for those of you back home, that would have been about 10:30 Friday night). I had plans to visit a friend that night between 5 and 6 so I knew I'd wasted a lot of time and hoped I'd have time. The first thing I did was put more money on my Suica card, which is a card that works like a bus pass did back home. Put a certain amount of money on your card and you don't have to worry about if you have enough money for a few trips. One can also use the Suica as a prepaid card at most convienience stores, especailly the stores in the stations. There is also a card called Pasmo that can be used to pay bus fares. I'm not sure the Suica can be used on buses nor do I know if the Pasmo can be used in stores. I should do more research... Yeah, another time. Anyways, I filled up my Suica and went through the turnstyle-like thing used here to stand on the platform and wait for the train from Yokosuka. It was three stops before I got off at Kamikura Station and transfered to the train to Hase. The smaller train was stuffed, standing room only. It was then that I started to question the wisedom of going to the major tourist sight on a Saturday: there were a lot of kids on that train. I realized my mistake when we got there and the train nearly emptied (or so it seemed) at the Hase station. Anyways, I got there at about 2 pm and walked about ten or fifteen minutes to the temple. As I walked the main road I felt like I was back in California walking down Fisherman's Wharlf. The main street of Hase seemed to be souveniour shops of some sort or places to buy some sort of food. It was definitely somewhere to spend a whole day instead of a mere hour, but the point of the trip was kinda the trip, not so much the destination that time so I tucked the info away for another day and kept walking.
The Great Buddha sat in the center of stone paved courtyard with his eyes mere slits looking down or closed, his hands folded on his lap in a way so that his palms faced upward. Older than the US civilization, he is the older, dignified version of Buddha, not the jolly one that you can rub his belly. No, this Buddha seems like a serious Asian, more like a god then the jolly laughing statue so popular in the US. The Buddha sits on a platform where peoples' heads barely reach the top of the platform. He is clearly visible to all in the temple and on the hills behind him. He is built of a form of terracotta that stood up both times the house around him blew over in the 1300s and now he's weathered enough to remind me of weather-beated copper, you know: the faint greenish-gray with brown streaks of rust. He stands at 11.3 metters tall, which looks, to my inexperienced eyes, at least three stories high, conservatively, 13.4 meters with the platform. Hmm, if 2.1 meters is about the height of a person, that would make him about 6 people high. (yay, my teachers would be so proud. I can still do math!!!) An interesting thing about the Buddha is that he's hollow and for 20 yen (about 25 to 30 cents) a person can climb the stairs and look out something high up. (there are shutters on windows out his upper back but I seem to recall some of my friends saying they looked out his eyes, I may be wrong. Obviuosly I didn't stand in the rather long line, I was running out of time.)
I walked around the grounds some but the peaceful mood that accompanies most temples or shrines or churches I visit was rather difficult to find among the screaming kids visiting with their parents but it was the weekend and they were outdoors so one can't really blame them. However, I found a small shrine, I think that would be the accurate word, that was tucked around the back wall that was built and had stood in Korea for a number of years before it was transported to Hase. The building was decorated in blue and red (I believe), the colors of the royal family there.
Hmm, it's kinda late and I'm running out of steam. That's all I can think of in Hase. I got back in time to get to my friend's house for supper and to become a jungle gym for her little boys. It was a good thing I hadn't gone to the gym that day as I definitely got a good arm workout and my legs are a little sore too. I will have remember that a day spent on my feet is not a good way to prepare for a night at their place. :)
Well, this is Li'l B signing off and wishing you all a lovely week.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Well, this is Li'l B wishing yopu all a lovely day/night/week and signing off.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
We left the hotel about 9:30 and stopped at a vending machine for a drink and a coffee shop for food. She got a sandwich she fell in love with and I got a lovely blueberry muffin. Did I mention that in Japan they have drink vending machines on every block? And instead of the American drink vending machines I was used to before I got here, these are more like the food ones in America where the empty drink containers are lined up on the cover to give the assortment instead of the small buttons with logos used in the US. The Apple Tea sold in those machines is absolutely amazing but the Peach Mango Tea made by the same brand that is sold only in convienience stores is even more amazing. (I was planning to say "to die for" but realized I wouldn't actually give my life for a bottle so exaggeration was not needed.) :) Hm, after breakfast we got on the trains and managed to weave our way through the train system to Yokosuka only asking a question once and going to the wrong platform once (after we'd gone to the right one and misunderstood the sign). All in all I was proud we didn't get lost.
I realize this is a rather abridged description of the weekend but I wanted to assure you I had an awesome twenty-first birthday celebration (and finally got to Tokyo). I will definitely remember the hotel and return. The neighborhood was awesome, by day or night, and the hotel was literally a door or two from a major subway route in Tokyo. Wait til next year. I may need to be even more general next year. I may actually be comfortable enough to get in trouble. :)
Well, this is Li'l B signing off and wishing this coming year of life is as fun and interesting as the last one. Okay, maybe a little more...amusing. :)
Friday, January 22, 2010
However, the boss never said anything before I was dismissed for the day about 230 pm and my lowest level boss told me that if that needed someone to come in, they could call him in. They don't have my phone number. I left before he got furthur word. However, Alex and Brian didn't get out of work until about 4 and we didn't get out in town until well after 6. I'd called the hotel and been told that they'd hold the room until 8. Well, the other two decided on sushi for supper so we went for convayor sushi at Daei Mall. Conveyor Sushi is Japan's version of fast food, sorta. The room has one huge table surrounded by bar stools on one or thre sides, depending on room size, and tables connected to the main table on the fourth side, or some variation of design. The inner wall of the table supports a small conveyor belt that circles the table. The sue chef (sorry, that's probably spelled wrong) stands in the middle of the table and makes small plates of two individual size sushi, usually the same type, and puts them on the conveyor. When the plates come around, the customer picks up the plate and eats the sushi. If someone wants a specail plate, they can request it for no extra charge. You pay by plate, which are color-coded to say price.
After we paid for the meal, we got on the train to Tokyo. We finally got to Tokyo closer to 10 pm than to 9, well after the 8 o'clock deadline to check in.. a quick call to the hotel got no answer so Brian went on to his friend's house and we went to Roppongi, the big club area in Tokyo. We were first ent to Hotel Ibis which wad a nice location and really nice hotel, but a little expensive for us so we turned around and found the Hotel Arca Torre. It's a hotel on the same block as the subway station, it's right on the main street, and a better price. we wound up getting a small room with a double bed and mini bathroom (the tub is just big enough to sit down in if wanted and there is barely room to turn in the bathroom) but it has some floor room for us to mess up, which is nice. as annoying as it can be to live in a mess, somedays perfect order just needs to be ditched. Heaven help us if I ever get truely OCD, I will truely drive myself fully insane. We spent a few hours lolligaging around and doing hair and makeup (Alex did my makeup and my hair basically had a tussled look helped by mousse). We left the hotel about midnight to go to a club that she'd heard about. The DJs were very popular and the music was awesome but there weren't many people there and it was rather small for my taste. The room was basically a two floor room with a dancefloor a little longer than my hotel room is with a large bar by the door, a smaller bar by the stage, and a few tables people were playing musical chairs with. We met some friends of hers that were fun, unfortunately one thought he wanted to get with Alex and was already nearing drunk when we got there. I learned that although I can tolerate more alcohol than I thought I could, I can't pick up other people's rythym. I can move to the music, but when one of her friends tried to dance close to me and teach me how he wanted to dance, I couldn't follow. Happened before with my ex. I just can't work on other people's beat. It took me many months to learn to march with others and that is as they shout out the rythym.
Anyways, we left about 230 am when Alex was starting to weave standing up but not before the guy had proclaimed his undying love for her. apparently allshe needs for guys to love her (or get obsessed) is to ignore them and tell them she doesn't want them. Lucky girl.
We left to realize the trains shut down at midnight so we took a taxi back to the hotel to realize it had been close enough to walk to then decided to get some sushi for snack. there was a sushi shop on the corner so we got food and went to bed earlier than she had panned but she slept 'til 930 this morning so it wasn't too early. We got up and went looking for brunch. We found a good restaurante that served mostly soup with thick or thin Odon noodles with a little meat and a few spices. It was actually pretty good, a quiet but good flavor and filling noodles. After that we went back to the hotel to be told that the room was getting clean and could we return in ten minutes? so we went to a nearby bookstore that was an interesting blend of English books and Japanese books. It is now 330 in the afternoon, Alex is sleeping on the bed behind me as I type and I am munching on the raisen clusters my mom sent in the latest care package. Hmm...is there anything more divine than chocolate covered raisens? Well, the candies designed to taste like chocolate covered strawberey shortcake is pretty good... Hm, there may be a challenge coming.... :)
Well, That's all so far, check again tomorrow for what I do Saturday night. This is Li'l B signing off to do more explorations.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
The trip into Veitnam was in water that was a brownish yellow that was disgusting. I was ready to say Vietnam has the most disgusting water I have ever seen until I looked farther from the ship and saw the perfectly blue water. The river we were passing through most have been just barely deep enough for our ship so it churned mud from the river bottom into the surface water making the disgusting brownish yellow shade in normally greenish blue water. My first night out was not reaaly worth mentioning but I will anyways. I went out with a friend who just wanted to get drunk. Thank goodness she didn’t go that far, but she then decided to go to a club. Apparently an American that can’t dance trying to move some to the music is worth taking notice of in a Vietnamese club. Needless to say we didn’t stay long but we came back on a bus full of drunk or nearly so Americans from our ship. Yeah, I needed alone time when I got back to the ship so I went up to the main deck and stared at the stars. Pretty night so far removed from people.
The next time I left the ship was with a tour group. As the driver navigated the ever changing mass of motorbikes and mopeds, the guide told us stuff about the city. Apparently it is customary that Sunday morning everyone goes out to coffee with their friends and most businesses are closed until get-together is done. Interesting. As we passed the buildings I got the idea that the city was trying desperately to rebuild. Brand new buildings were cramped in next to buildings that should have been demolished years ago giving an interesting juxtaposition. Our first stop was a bank so people could visit the ATM. We got there just as all the cashiers were showing up for work and I saw the Vietnamese version of the ladies suit. It’s a fitted silk top with the high Asian collar that flows from the waist to about an inch from the ground in smooth silk. However, a slit on both sides from nearly to the ribs leaves the sides of the legs open so it seems like there is a cloth down the back and down the front leaving the legs exposed. Now, before you get scandalized I should mention they wear matching silk pants under to cover the legs. The only skin showing is a triangle on each side above the pants that shows some skin at the waist.
Our next stop was a beach, I believe it was called China Beach, that was gorgeous. The guide showed us the statue across the bay of the female Buddha that protected fishermen at sea.
The next stop was a temple on one of seven cliffs overlooking the city. Unfortunately, we had to climb about a hundred thirty steps dug out of the stone cliff at odd sizes first. Needless to say, we were all out of breath by the time we got up there. However, the temple was nice and the views were amazing. However, the really special part about this temple was that parts of it were built into the cliff. The tour guide led us through a number of caves that smelled pleasantly of the incense bought as gifts to the gods, or however they view it, and the rocks gave the area a natural appeal. Some of the caves with icons were mere niches cut from the rock while there were a few stone houses built to protect the statues from the mist of incense that filled the air and from curious fingers of the unrespecting. Next we continued our walk down the hill and passed a large shrine that had many roofs and many windows on a large tube of stone. At the end of the tour was a colorful temple that overlooked China Beach in the distance and a white stone Buddha that blessed the visitors on the trail up to it. Then we had to take another set of stone stairs down. Yay.
Once back on the bus we went to a marble sculpture store. Vietnam of that city is famous for it’s marble statues and this store sold every type of statue one could think of in all sorts of sizes. I got some gifts for family and a necklace of green marble for myself as well as a pair of marble balls that are small enough to fit in my hand and are stripped three different colors along with their small wooden stands to prevent them from going far. I was sitting in the bus later and watched them making a huge white dragon, I think, out of marble when a guy came in guiding a box that came up to his knees and had to be at least two feet wide on to the bus. The thing was being carried by two Vietnamese men that were struggling with it and must have cost well over a hundred or two hundred dollars American. Everyone on the bus rather thought him an idiot but the statue or table, I think he said, was put up front and we just had to be careful getting on and off.
The next stop was lunch and it was good. The restaurant was empty except for the two tour groups and was obviously a place designed for American tourists to experience “traditional” Vietnamese dishes. I put those in quotation marks because the meal was a high class seven course meal and it was well presented but some of the meal seemed to be Americanized. I don’t remember much about the meal except for three of the courses. The salad course was cool because it was supposed to be eaten on chips like nachos but it was a dish of greens. Another course was an egg baked around shrimp fried rice. The course I thought the most unique was a beef soup cooked and served in a coconut shell. All in all, the meal was amazing but my favorite part was the drink. The meal was included in the ticket but we had to buy our own drinks. I saw watermelon juice on the menu and thought I’d try it. Hmm, that was amazing. They literally just cut a watermelon from the rind and liquefied it in a blender so the texture was still the amazing texture of the fruit, just a little thicker than water, and it still had all the taste, maybe with a little sugar added. Needless to say, it was total bliss.
After the meal we went to a museum with all sorts of odd art from ages past. As I looked at the figures and took many pictures, it occurred to me how fun it would be to describe these things. I realized a really fun scene to write would be my main character exploring ruins, possibly of an ancient temple on another planet. Imagine how much fun that could be to be walking through a ruined building and seeing the ancient mythical figures of another species and how they once viewed themselves. Many of the figures I’d seen that day alone seemed to be from another species, so few of them looked human as westerners think of them. Needless to say, I got a number of pictures. Looking back on some of them, I’m surprised at a few that look like African art. I didn’t know they had met at that time.
After the museum, we went to a silk portrait store. The prints are really expensive, I saw a medium sized print for over three hundred dollars, but they are amazing. They look like well done oil paintings but are really sewn very carefully from silk thread on a thin background. They look really amazing. They are done from coal sketches done by the artist and then the artist and company decide the colors to go in it and the artist redraws it on a special paper that transfers the art to the cloth. Then the cloth is put on a big sewing easel and a sewer sits down and carefully sews with silk thread. The product is well worth the huge price for such amazing art.
The last place we stopped was a small store for souvenirs and mostly clothes. I bought a lovely teal dress and pants set while others looked upstairs at things like an elephant tusk decoration and nice wooden things. Lovely artistry.
All in all, the city I saw was gorgeous and I would recommend a visit but there is one major deterrent. Because the people here are quite poor, we got mobbed everywhere we went with street vendors, Vietnamese style. They followed us around like bees to honey shoving cheap ceramic bracelets in our faces trying to get us to buy them at exurbanite prices(okay, cheap by American standards but high for the product in Vietnam.) as their income. They were annoying. They literally got on their motorbikes and followed the bus all day and would wait for us to get out of buildings. There was usually a mob between the bus and whatever shop we were in. And it was really annoying to feel that pressured to buy, especially when they start telling me about all their kids at home and am I sure I don’t want a bracelet or two? It was really fun when I’d have one on each side fighting for my attention. Yay.
All in all I’d love to go back, especially when listening to some stories I heard from friends (one group of friends watched the cook butcher a snake and cook it in front of them, one of them drank the heart in a special alcohol drink and they love telling that story. J ) but will definitely have to save more money before I do. The good stuff is worth a pretty penny over there but it is really good quality.
Well, that was the last port on my first trip around the Pacific, stand by for more adventures in Japan and my next trip. I’m planning a weekend of fun for my birthday, but then again a weekend in a hotel would be more fun than the usual weekend in my neighborhood. I’ve invited some friends to go with me to a hotel and a trip into Tokyo and they both agreed. Then the next day they weren’t so sure. Simply put, I have other friends but I may spend the weekend alone and who knows what boredom and my 21st birthday may drive me to. J stick around and find out. J
Well, that’s all for now. This is Li’l B signing off.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Monday, January 4, 2010
The next time I went out, it was with a group of girls I didn't know too well but they were going to the China Town and one of them invited me along as I was new. So we met up and took the bus to the train that goes to all the main places of Singapore. Like in Japan, the train, rather like a subway above ground, is the easiest way to get around the city without a car and in some places better than a car. Anyways, they decided to take the long way and get off a stop before the China Town exit and walk through Singapore. At the station I got a soy milk drink, i think it was mango or such, that fruit is my latest addiction besides words :), and the drink had what we decided were soy beans at the bottom. the drink was actually rather good. However, the beans were big and soaked so I didn't like the texture and wound up throwing out the beans after I finished the drink. Anyways, we walked and passed some cool archetecture, including some French looking apartment fronts and a hindu temple. Yes, Singapore is the true melting pot of the world. Anyways, before we got to China Town we passed a large Bhuddist temple and the girls decided to go in. I was hesitant because I'm Lutheran, not Bhuddist. I like reading about different religions but am squirmish about entering someone else's place of worship and offending them by my ignorance. I like to respect other people's belief as they should respect me. However, I felt bad because one of the girls decided that they would stay out with me if I wouldn't go in so I decided to go in but just be careful. Turns out the temple was also a museum of one of Buddha's teeth. It surprised me how annoyed I got at being in the gorgeous temple. It was interesting seeing the various Buddhas (Did you know there have been six or seven Buddhas with one more anticipated?) in differing poses. I had trouble remembering that I was in a Buddhist temple and not a Hindu shrine, the art was the same type and there were different looking Buddhas. At that point I didn't realize the story of Buddhism, which I'll get to later. However, they had a lot of offerings that you pay money for to gain the blessings of a Buddha, or such. It rather annoyed me because one of the main differences between Luther and the Catholic church of that time was the practice of worshiping artifacts and giving offerings to saints to curry favor. Relics aren't to be worshipped or given gifts. Okay, back on track now. The bottom floor was filled with the ceremonial stuff, the place for the services and most of the worship and offerings and gilded stuff. Next we went up to the roof which had a gorgeous garden circling a barrel-like wheel (I know there is a word for it but that word has escaped my brain at the moment) that a person was supposed to circle seven times and get something from good karma, but I forget what that was. I think it had something to do with one's love life, but I'm not sure. Once we were done with that floor we went to the third floor where they had Buddha's tooth on display in a gilded room visible only through a large glass window and a monk was blessing people, usually couples. We had to take our shoes off to enter the carpetted room and couldn't take pictures but it was interesting seeing all the different stuff they had up there and the stories. Unfortunately, I don't remember them now.
The last floor we visited held a bookstore and library, but it also held a museum area that walked a person through a summerized version of the Buddhist faith. The first side of the path told paragraphs of the story of the first Buddha, the one everyone thinks of as Buddha, the prince who gave up everything, including his wife and son, from dissatisfaction with life and went on to put what he learned from various gurus to become enlightened. The back part of the room told the stories of the other Buddhas that came after him in a paragraph each with an icon depicting them next to the paragraph. The third and final side of the path told about the last Buddha and the Buddha that would be reincarnated and return to be the final Buddha. The room was set up very much like the flower shows I used to go to in downtown Minneapolis as a child, for those of you who know what I'm talking about.
After that we went to the China Town next to the temple where I spent for money but finally got a sample of the local food for lunch at vendors. I remember having kabobs of meat and meat cooked into bite sized dough balls that was really good and the drinks were slushies of a sort. we also met some cats and a kitten that hide behind the venders and an old lady feeds them. We got lectured at because they were hungry when we ate so some of the girls fed them. only one of them had a collar and that one had no love of us. Anyways, we shopped the rest of the afternoon and I bought more gifts as well as a strand of medium jade beads for myself. (I tried to pick up some beads every port we hit and realized when i got back that most of them had been green. next time I'll remember to be more diverse. :) ) At the souveniour store by the Target-like store I picked up a white jade butterfly necklace. It is pretty.
Well, we ended the night at an awesome local store but I couldn't eat too much as I was out of cash at that time. Oh well, next time I'll remember to save A LOT of money for Singapore. What I don't use can be saved. Mental note made.
Well, that was my trip to Singapore and the end of this blog. Now for the disclaimer: It has been over two months since I did the things in this blog. I apologize it has come out this late, I need to write this as I finish each port, not after they are all done. Also, this is being written while online, so there is no spelling correction, and on a day I am not entirely in the mood to go indepth. Also, it is done way after the fact and I'm not feeling especailly poetic today. This post should have taken a few posts to do the country justice, but it's been too late. For that I apologize and will try to do better next time I visit. Now, stay tuned for Vietnam, growing country that is way too friendly. :)
'Til next time, this is L'il B signing off and wishing you all safe travels in the new year.