April 2005 Archives

(Causeway Bay district)

A first view of Hong Kong. This is Causeway Bay (on HK Island), or "Tung Lo Wan" in Cantonese. I'd say it's like HK's Ginza. One of the most expensive advertisement spot in the world is in Causeway Bay, at the intersection of Hennessy Road and Jardine's, with the Sogo at the center of it. Currently Nicholas Tse is advertising some sort of amino acid based lotion, and three years ago, it was the Twins for their then-new album. My aunt lives up the hill from Causeway Bay, up Tai Hang Road. Seemingly a popular area for expatriates, as I heard German, French, Mandarin, probably Filipino, spoken on the minibus. Quite refreshing to feel that HK is also somewhat multicultural.

Commenting

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Re-enabling commenting, moderated version, just to see.

nanjing.highway.jpg
Highway from Wuxi to Nanjing. Brand new.

nanjing.tourist.place.jpg
Tourist place in Nanjing, like the one in Shanghai, but bigger, meaner.

nanjing.magazines.jpg
Magazine stand within that tourist place.

nanjing.police.jpg
A police box on the tourist street.

nanjing.bridge.jpg
Later, after we were done with all the shopping, we went to visit the bowels of the bridge in Nanjing crossing that river I forgot the name of...

nanjing.cedric.mao.jpg
Me and Mao Zedong. <3 I'm a sucker for Communist memorabillia, and an article from the SCMP's Sunday Magazine on the following day made me want one of those Sun Yat-sen outfits worn by Mao and everyone else. Communist wares is our (overseas Chinese or Chinese culture enthusiasts) new sort of cool.

nanjing.shopping.center.jpg
The next morning, they took us to the ultimate shopping center for tourists... It's like revisiting the bosses at the last level of a video game...

nanjing.jade.jpg
I bet it was jade they'd sell us, and I was right... until seeing the rest of the floor, plus second floor of building. >_> Furniture, books, crystal balls, lions, buddhas, and other luxury goods.

nanjing.chiang-kai-shek.books.jpg
Books about Chiang Kai-shek?

nanjing.pat-pat.guide.jpg
Our tour leader, Pat-Pat, reading the guide's evaluation sheet. :D

nanjing.chen.si-fu.jpg
Our bus driver (Chen "sifu"), who hails from Wuxi.

nanjing.mister.chan.jpg
Mister Chan, roomate I was assigned to (for the snoring competition >_>).

nanjing.airport.customs.jpg
Easiest-to-take immigration post (although there wasn't much to be seen), at the Nanjing airport.

wuxi.street.jpg
Wuxi, some city that happens to be on our way from Suzhou to Nanjing. Second time there, but rarely deviate from the path taken on the last trip there. It's a "small" town, of course.

wuxi.cedric.teapot.jpg
Guess what they tried to sell us there?

wuxi.newspaper.stand.jpg
So I went for a walk... one commercial street nearby the earthware "research institute". One typical newspaper stand. In every country you go, they always look the same... In China, they're those cabins painted in green, overflowing with newspapers and magazines (but careful, no foreign newspapers, nor pr0n, you're in China).

wuxi.chinese.wine.jpg
So b/c I'm a geek, supermarkets are *the* thing to visit in every new city. Found this Chinese wine, grape wine, that is.

wuxi.chips.jpg
And there were also American chips. I guess it's because they're a relatively new thing in China, that Japanese chips have not already swamped the market (like in HK, where you won't be able to find any of those "slim" bags of brands like Lay's in your regular convenience store or Park 'n Shop).

wuxi.night.jpg
中山路 (zhongshan road), crosses the center of Wuxi. It's the only city where the city centre is reachable on foot from the hotel we stayed at. The town centre looked like this in 2002, nothing comparable to what it looks like today. Maybe it's the night picture illusion, but I thought I could walk the whole commercial stretch in 10 minutes, and that crossing the streets wasn't such an adventure like this time. Was that the best example of how fast a pace China develops?

wuxi.mcdonalds.jpg
America's Fast Food 300-pound grandmother - you can see it everywhere you go - but it doesn't beat KFC in popularity.

This is Ah-Wai (by far the loudest of our tour members), his wife (to the left), and a nice waitress who spoke approximate Cantonese (learnt from karaoke-ing to Cantopop, I suppose). Along with our tour sub-group ("Tour B", Ah-Wai 老爺 calls it) of Table D from the back of the bus, we went searching for a restaurant post-9PM... Not Hong Kong, or even Shanghai, so everything is closed by 8:30PM in Wuxi.

wuxi.pearlhorse.jpg
Not quite the same one, but I bet the price is about the same. So, pearls, in Wuxi, on the shores of 太平 (Taiping) Lake.

wuxi.taiping.hu.jpg
Taiping Hu, one of the largest lakes in China.

suzhou.city.jpg
The city of Suzhou.

suzhou.nice.residential.complex.jpg
I fail to understand the logic by which guided tours decide of the places to visit, but a residential complex? To show off how China is one country with plenty of contrasts... This is the side of a lake or river, nearby a brand new residential compound, probably aimed at the new middle-to-rich class and expats.

suzhou.cedric.jpg
Me, (self-)posing. :D

suzhou.some.bridge.jpg
Some bridge, which was not even the tourist attraction...

suzhou.restaurant.food.jpg
Don't be fooled, restaurant is rarely good with tours... So, my suggestion is to skip whatever he tour feeds you with, and grad something at a local chain/noodles restaurant. I would've fed myself with xiao long bao in Shanghai if all was up to me...

suzhou.street.jpg
The next morning, streets of Suzhou bustling with activity...

suzhou.silk.jpg
Silk is one of the famous products of Suzhou (I don't know - I'm super gullible - I believe whatever the tour guide tells me). This is where the raw product, the silk worm cocoon is boiled and made into these basic fibers to be used for making the sheets to be used for making blankets, and the rest of the stuff.

suzhou.silk.blanket.jpg
If those people went to visit the Eastern Townships, they'd probably buy blankets made out of asbestos. But apparently silk blanket are Teh Good, and relatively cheap if you buy them directly from the Source(tm). I don't know. I told myself I wouldn't buy anything I didn't need... (Now you're talking about the dude who'd go and buy many times more expensive stuff like a laptop or one of those network walkmans he doesn't even need) So from China, I got... Chrysanthemum buds.

suzhou.tourists.jpg
Sea of tourists...

Supercar - B (B-side collection)

I like Track 2 of disc 1 (Love Song). Etc Etc. Just listen to it, and let me know what you think of it.

For my mother...

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...and other Chinese-speaking people. XD

(random stuff with mine cousin)

((There are actually other clips of me self-ridiculing))

Okok. So to make my trip more entertaining, I'm taking requests for pictures from HK (or wherever else I might go to). Anything, anyone? [Of course that sort of scheme never works, because nobody cares enough - I may suggest things like, um, take as many pics of the inside of garbage cans, or photos of taxi cabs, but don't ask me something like pics of beautiful girls in the street, b/c I dare not do that in my own country >_>]

In other news, I am turning off unregistered commenting, because of you-know-what suddenly sprouting. So have fun registering. If it doesn't work, then, eeh.

(I catch the local marks of hesitation pretty quickly, like "eto/ano" in Japanese, and "eh" in Canto.)

And flirting with history, I took the Kobe line three weeks ago, and wheezed past Amagasaki (recognizable b/c the kanji for "saki" is the same as in Naga"saki"). I thought I stopped there, but it was rather on the trip from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka that I left the rapid express and took a local (one of those beautiful mistakes).

Edit: And! The Nanjing Airport, probably the same one I used to China on Saturday is now used today (Tuesday) to ship the Taiwan Opposition chief on the Mainland!

China Pictures (華東) (bis)

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Got to go for dinner with my aunt Brigitte and the kids. Too many pictures to process. There's still Suzhou, Wuxi and Nanjing. Suzhou is really nice to visit, and they showed us around the newly built/building residential areas for rich people on the side of the lake/river (not sure where it fits on a map). I believe it's the high-tech boom in the Suzhou area, with IBM and the rest establishing themselves in the vicinity.

(Pictures are now classified per day. Hover link with mouse pointer for a short description.)

hangzhou.xi.hu.sunset.jpg
We got to Hangzhou in the end of the afternoon, and the bus unloaded us in front of West Lake, on the city side. I remember that last time they were just starting to pretty up the lakefront.

hangzhou.convenience.store.jpg
A convenience store. I must've missed those Western-style convenience stores last time around. I'm not sure. Seems like I missed a lot of things. But knowing bits of Putonghua makes me braver. In each city, I went into those stores. They prove to be the best, most reliable buying places for food/drinks.

hangzhou.beer.jpg
There was beer served at every meal... Very popular, and cheap in Asia. They serve it to you as if it were water (not yet as cheap as water, but still pretty close). Not particularly good too, the traditional "Chinese" beer is bland, but you start seeing beverages brewed by foreign companies (Interbrew, Budweiser, Suntory) which have a little bit more taste...

hangzhou.bus.jpg
Another first time in China was to take the bus. It's almost becoming routine. While taxi is not expensive (about 20RMB, or 4CAD) to take you from our hotel to West Lake, it's only a yuan in bus (15 cents).

hangzhou.streets.jpg
Streets of Hangzhou, capital of the Zhejiang province. Taken from the second floor of the bus I took from the suburb in the northeast of the city to downtown.

hangzhou.mcchicken.jpg
I couldn't resist, and had a McChicken, which I barely knew how to order (of course, every possible sandwich name is translated into hanzi). The chicken patty was kinda drier than its American counterpart. Have yet to eat in a McDonald's in HK, and so far that means I've been successful in trying new things.

hangzhou.la.joconde.jpg
To my surprise, there was an exhibit on calcography, in collaboration with Le Louvre museum in Paris, in a small new city museum on the side of West Lake, near the Hostelling International Youth Hostel (which I "bumped into" by chance - and happened to me again in Nanjing). The funny thing about that museum was that about everyone at the museum was taking pictures, with the flash even. o_O

hangzhou.canal.jpg
It was a rainy day in Hangzhou, and I left the hotel without my umbrella. >_>

hangzhou.siu.ye.jpg
That night we went with people from the tour to have supper ("siu ye" as you say in Cantonese). It was a sort of fondue party, at a local chain called 九佰碗 (Nine Hundred Bowls), and never had such a good time with fondue. My guess is that in HK it's just too crowded to spend all the time you want in a place of such quality without ruining yourself, and that in Montreal you simply don't have those sort of places which taste as good (I'll have to try looking in Chinatown when I come back).

hangzhou.west.lake.jpg
That one goes into my wallpaper collection. <3 I thought I was going to miss the West Lake cruise because I wandered on my own the day before, but apparently some shit happened, and they couldn't have a boat for themselves (it *is* one of the top tourist attractions in China, so you can imagine the masses of tourists at mid-day). Therefore we went in the morning, which is more calm, not that much calm, but anyways.

shanghai.airport.jpg
Brand new Pudong airport. If I'm correct, we didn't enter through that one last time. (Pudong means "East Bank")

shanghai.maglev.jpg
The Magnetic Train between the airport and Pudong, or actually to a subway line towards the southwest of Pudong proper. There is actually not much near the station, I believe it's still farmland. But I give it 5 years, and you'll have a little suburb near it. The Maglev is of German design, and the only other Maglev I know of is in Nagoya, Japan, near the World Expo 2005 site. The Shanghai one is more "useful", as it isn't a sort of intracity monorail that stops at every station (spaced out like, um, metro stations), but which really goes the speed it was designed to run at (400-500kph).

shanghai.xiao.long.bao.jpg
They don't look so delicious like this, but since 2002, I've been craving for a big cheap bowl of these things. B/c in Montreal they charge you 5CAD for 4 of those (without the soup inside), and in HK, I think it's only about half the price... But in Shanghai, even in a tourist place, it's 8 freaking renminbi for 16 of them (that's about 1.20CAD)! The restaurant's (a counter too - and expect to wait 30 minutes at least) called "Nanxiang" in the "Old Town God's Temple" tourist spot.

shanghai.haagen-dazs.jpg
Of course, Western food chains are everywhere...

shanghai.kfc.jpg
Kentucky Fried Chicken is even more ubiquitous... And a success in China, including HK. It must be because of fried chicken and some sort of Chinese connection. They've rolls made with fried chicken, shallots and "hoi sin" sauce which taste just like like Peking Duck. :D

shanghai.nanjing.lu.jpg
Nanjing Road (南京路) is probably the most famous commercial street of the city.

shanghai.cedric.pudong.jpg
Me on the Bund with illuminated skycrapers of Pudong on the background.

shanghai.oriental.pearl.tower.jpg
The following morning, a photo of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong.

shanghai.the.bund.jpg
Each tour guide (and book on Shanghai) will tell you that what started Shanghai off was its past as merchant port dominated by Western powers seeking to get a piece of China. "The Bund" is the name given to the West bank of the Hangpu river which runs through Shanghai where many big companies, etc, established their quarters. It's really one of the most cool places to visit in Shanghai (they gave us 20 minutes, and I used 15 of those to change my USD to RMB >_>). There are surely a lot of things I need to do in Shanghai, and I really dislike the fact that I stayed there for only 1 day... Will try to stay longer if I can find some company to spend that time with, hm.

China Pictures (華東)

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I wrote something, but closed the window... Basically I tried elaborating about the tour I took last week. It's called the 華東 (huadong) tour, because, I think, it takes us to the region encompassing Shanghai and surroundings which is called that way. It retraces the step of my first trip to China. Start in Shanghai for one day, and then Hangzhou for two, and then Suzhou for one, Wuxi for one and finally Nanjing for one. Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai form a triangle where Sz and Sh are closer to each other (with Hangzhou about 200km southwest of Shanghai, and Suzhou, 100 km to the northwest). Wuxi is on the way to Nanjing, towards the northwest.

Back to civilization

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A bit derogatory to China, and in fact, the country ceases not to impress me in how fast it develops into a modern nation. You may have to walk a while before managing to scratch off the golden polish, but indeed you might start believing all this is real.

Little things strike me, but for not having a companion to talk with by my side, it makes it absolutely hard to always remember about them. Hmm, well, this morning on BBC World (in Nanjing they've English channels - of course, it's a five-star hotel (Nanjing Grand Hotel) and it's a Japanese-Chinese joint venture) there was a physics professor, Michio Kaku, on the Hardtalk show, talking about the origins of the universe, the "bubble" multiverses theory...). And again, it stirs all sorts of things in my head - but not too much this time, since I'm in vacation after all.

And at the Nanjing shop, there were books about Chiang Kai-shek, not that it's anything new, since anything said about him are bad anyways. Not much about the Kuomingtang is good, over Wikipedia, it might or might not be trolling. I don't know. As an overseas Chinese, I've been taught that the Japanese are one evil of 20th Century China, and that the Nationalist Party is the other (and of course, the Communists are teh bad too, during the 1949-76 period anyways).

And enough political commentary, because I'm making no sense at all, just looking for a partner to discuss these stuffs with. And the rest I'll elaborate later tonight, or more likely tomorrow. Gotta relax and think about what I want to do next. Seems like I so want to go swimming, and watch Howl's Moving Castle.

Suzhou

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I still cannot upload my pictures. This Internet Cafe at least didn't scan my passport. >_> I guess it's because they aren't in the Lonely Planet. Somewhere on a commercial street which I forgot the name, perpendicular to highway, on the street where the Suzhou City Hotel stands, 10 minutes walk towards "downtown".

I briefly heard about Benedict XVI this morning on BBC World, and of course the China Daily doesn't talk about it (even if it was yesterday's). No BBC World in the hotel room, only 15 channels of CCTV, plus another 15 of various Chinese channels. Oh, one English channel where they were interviewing some professor about "cross-straight" politics.

etc

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I cannot access news.bbc.co.uk. Hm?

In other news, the China versus Japan row is getting worse. It's taking the whole news front (but I watch BBC world, the rest of the TV repertoire at the Crown Plaza Hotel is CCTV besides a Korean channel, NHK and BBC World). I bought a China Daily, looking forward to see what they've to offer.

(Oh hey, I can read Slashdot, yea)

(I could probably SSH if I wanted to...)

Hangzhou

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I'm in Hangzhou, happily using the Internet at a "Pacific Internet Cafe". First thought it was the China version of the HK chain, but in fact is some shady Internet cafe on Jiefang Road a few blocks from the side of West Lake (Xihu) where locals play video games or surf the web. It's full, and we're like 3PM on a Monday afternoon (don't they have school too?).

Oh well, I've been walking on my own in the city of Hangzhou, one of those "small towns", which is still probably larger than Montreal in population. It's a nice city, still with plenty of trees like I remember it, and everything seems a bit newer. A version of the Shanghai Xintiandi opened on the shores of Xihu.

Chek Lap Kok International Airport. About to board plane in direction of Shanghai/Pudong. 7 days trip retracing the steps from the first China tour I took in 2002. I will go to the Guilin English tour, at least get the info and book, when I come back. Will be re-posting when I can.

Not missing home. But surely missing the people home. Hong Kong might be a dream I don't really like, after all. Give it a chance. It's like with relationship (I wanted to plug that for the past month): looks terribly nice when you're not there, but reality is always more difficult than it seems. Must keep thought in mind and work on it. Why do people get married (so do successive reports in Asahi Shimbun, and South China Morning Post remind me)?

I was told it's only been a week I'm in Hong Kong. Although it feels as if I were here forever. Not particularly pleasant last few days, as the job stuff gets swirling into my head, along with stuff needed to be taken care of back home, home university that is. In all and for all, the weather's grey, and it perfectly reflects my current mood.

I have posted pictures up on Tacos. I am forcing myself to emit some visual data about myself only because it will be beneficial for myself in the future, so here we go.

cafe.de.coral.jpg
大家樂! Hong Kong fast-food chain, "Cafe de Coral". A must. :P

cedric.cleanly.dressed.jpg
Taken on Wednesday. Was dressed like this for the interview. I came to realize I overdressed, when seeing the other candidates. Oh well. >_>

Now pics from Macau, but first, pictures of Macau in 2002.

building.casinos.seafront.jpg
Worth comparing with the picture I took in 2002 at about the same place. The playground facing Casino Lisboa near the Portuguese school is in the process of being replaced by a brand new casino/hotel complex. American money is being invested in the area, with a newly-built Sands, and upcoming Venetian, and the rest.

largo.de.senado.jpg
Largo de Senado, acts as Macau's central square. The central post office is a few blocks away, so are a few of the American fastfood chains.

chinese.noodles.beef.flank.jpg
Yes, since going to Asia in 2002 and trying beef cartillages, I've been feeling "Ok" about eating beef flank noodles (22 patacas - noodles are a steal, with our Canadian budget, even at famous places like where we went, on Largo de Senado). It's really good when you stop thinking about it. When will I be like this for chicken feet?

macau.beer.hai.zhu.jpg
"Loal" beer, said the menu. For 9 patacas (about 9HKD, so about 1.25USD), I thought it'd be a small personal bottle, but I should've known better from my experience with Chinese beer... It was kind of bland, but worth what it was worth. I guess it's brewed in Zhuhai, so the name would imply...

almond.cookies.factory.jpg
A few shops along the road down from the remains of Sao Paolo (which underwent quite a facelift - but it might be also possible that I just overlook the museum at the back, last time, as I was accompanied by my great-aunt).

macanese.architecture.jpg
Moorish-influenced Portuguese architecture in Asia. That's some good stuff.

cedric.eating.cookie.jpg
On Largo de Senado, a food stall sells sort of egg-based cookies cooked on a pan (like the ones you use for waffles). Self-pic, one of the bestest.

casino.lisboa.evening.jpg
Impressive on the outside, demonstrates all the vices and anti-glamour of gambling in the inside. My idea of Macau casinos shouldn't be based on this, says aunt, as the Lisboa is the first one to be established, and not quite renovated. With more competition on the horizon, I think Macau (like any other Chinese city) will have the resources to compete with its American equivalent, in a couple of decades...

(The rest of Macau)

Une rafale de happenings

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So I already forgot what I did Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday was the interview (they made me wear a mask b/c of my sickness, sigh) and doctor-seeing. And today (Thursday) was walking in Shatin in the New Territories. Tomorrow's Macau.

The thing about doctors in HK (if you never watch TVB dramas, then you don't know >_>) is that medication is included with the medical consultation (each physician has their own pharmacy within their practice) so it's a frequent thing that they give you about anything they can feed you with (so I had, hm, "Klacid" antibiotics, cough syrup, acetaminophen, vitamin C caplets, and bronchodilators). But I am slightly better, no fever or sore throat, just a cough that won't stop. Blah.

Not that hot today, or yesterday. It might be 20 degrees, but people are not thrilled about it in HK, and wear long sleeves and "winter" coats. So I start to have the HK reflexes, and wore my spring coat... Tomorrow, I wear pants, notwithstanding the weather, 'cause I'm going to a casino in Macau. :D

I decided to put on the brakes for pics-taking. After all, I *am* hoping to live here. And if not, I've like a month and a half to explore HK. For now, nothing new has been visited, except a new shopping complex in Kowloon, four or five MTR stations away from my uncle's place, where we went on Saturday evening. The rest is business as usual: Causeway Bay (chic popular district on HK Island), Mong Kok (crowded cheap deals and red-light district in Kowloon) and Teung Kwan O (residential area in the New Territories where my uncle resides).

I'm going to Macau with Juliette on Thursday. We looked at tours, and it seems like the 華東 (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuzi and Nanjing) will end up being our choice, as it's only 1400HKD, roughly a bit more than 200$, including the airline ticket, but not the tour guide's tips/salary and various spendings - 5 nights, 6 days. It's really the shit. But no possibility of staying behind. I'm likely going to take a Guilin (with Xi'an perhaps) tour by myself. And then probably a standalone trip to Beijing.

hk.cellphone.jpg
My cellphone in HK, which is quite an upgrade from the monochrome Nokia I had three years back. A Korean brand, Pion, but there are some simple things that are lousy to do with it, like speed dialing, or customizing ringtones. Better than my monochromatic Samsung, so I'm not actually complaining. Call me, it's just still going to be approx 5 cents a minute (it uses Sunday pre-paid cards).

causeway.bay.sogo.jpg
One of the most expensive advertising spots in HK. But I had the impression it was more glamourous three years ago. Anyways. Everything seemed more glamourous anyways.

causeway.bay.sea.of.people.jpg
From the same spot, taking accross the street, as the pedestrian light turns green (but on other smaller intersections, Hongkongers rarely give a damn about traffic lights - unlike Tokyoites, despite the same sort of penalties I believe).

Holding my breath

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That's it. I'm getting grilled tomorrow afternoon at 2PM.

So I hear...

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...that Canada's about to choose a new government. Or so the opinion polls say. What I think (and what I read) is that you can't necessarily trust them. Some said that the Conservatives were going to win by a fair margin at the last elections, but the Liberals still clang on to power. Back in Quebec, the Charest government pisses off 8 out of 10 Quebecers. But in both cases, it doesn't mean we're in for a change in government nonetheless. I can't think of the Parti Quebecois being back in charge, with Bernard Landry, yet again as Premier. God help us! Nor do I think Stephen Harper and his Stockwell Day's will pass the test of social left-leaners of Ontario.

ghibli.museum.chihiro.ticket.jpg
They give you a "film" ticket at the Ghibli Museum (my pics of Mitaka). Mine was a sequence at the beginning of Spirited Away, when Chihiro boards the lift to meet Yubaba and comes face to face with one of the "monster" customers. Much complicated process to get tickets... I went by the JTB travel agency office in Canada (office in Toronto), but they charge something like 25$ for service. Useful if you don't speak Japanese and don't want to face the automated ticketing system at Lawson convenience stores (since the number of admissions per day is limited, you got to go through a centralized ticketing system)... I should've waited, because the day before I arrived, Tante Ghyslaine went with the kids. :/

ghibli.museum.doorknob.jpg
Doorknob at Ghibli Museum. No pics allowed inside, they've guards posted everywhere. It's a wonder I twisted the rules and got a snap at the live-size neko-bus from Totoro...

ghibli.museum.laputa.roboto.jpg
A large representation of the Robot-creature from Laputa on the roof of the museum.

Evening in Harajuku and Shibuya pics.

kiki-mirror.jpg
Me in a mirror sold with merchandise from the Kiki's Delivery Service Ghibli film, at Kiddy Land on Omote-sando. After coming back from Mitaka, I wandered a bit in Shinjuku, then realized the park was closed, and went off to the Omote-sando classy shopping avenue in Harajuku (to the "Kiddy Land" toys shop, which turned out to be a super Gaijin hangout - saw table hockey sets!). And spent some time in Shibuya, the young and vibrant amusement district, two or three stations below Shinjuku on the Yamanote.

shibuya.evening.jpg
Shibuya crossing from the JR station. When the pedestrian light goes blue, it becomes a sea of people. Immortalized it in videos.

shibuya.street.jpg
Street in Shibuya.

shibuya.pachinko.jpg
Unlike what the filename says, not a pachinko... Pachinko parlours are large, much larger, with rows of people sitting in front of their pachinko machine, sort of mix between pinball and slot machine (with all the addictiveness of the latter). Pachinkos are everywhere, even places where you walk by with your family and stuff. Japanese have no concept of protecting the youth against the vices of society... or it's perhaps not necessary and we North Americans are wrong. You can for instance buy alcohol and cigarettes quite easily off vending machines on the street, found at a rate of 1 for every 4-5 "regular" pop soda machine. Not that Japanese are worse smokers/drinkers than North Americans, I'm sure. Did I talk about how they put porn magazines at the front of newspaper stands?

sakura.evening.jpg
Went for sakura-viewing that same evening with everyone. Bunch of students merrily drinking, chanting and vomiting beside us. Indeed the joys of sanctionned drunkedness in public... Like frosh, but with salarymen/women along.

Last few days were spent in Tokyo. On my way back to Iidabashi, stopped in Akihabara (station where you change from the Yamanote line to the Sobu line). And the Thursday (2005-04-07) I went to Mitaka, a suburb to the West of Tokyo, 20 minutes on the Rapid service Chuo Line from Yotsuya via Shinjuku. Then on Friday, I went to Shinjuku Goen, a 10 minutes walk northwest from the Sendagaya on the Sobu JR local train line.

convenience.store.nigiri.jpg
These are called nigiri, and they're basically rice balls with something in them. Convenience stores has them as an unexpensive snack, as an alternative of the sandwich (which is pricier, and not necessarily tastier) for about 100-150 a pop, depending on the filling. But because I can't read hiragana, and can make out that much of the kanji, every nigiri was a surprise. And forget about colour coding, there are many companies making them in each different city...

akihabara.sign.jpg
Electric town is where you traditionally found the newest/cheapest wares in electronics and computers in Japan, but the market has declined ever since, according to word of mouth. But it still maintains its reputation (although I was told you should go to Bic Camera electronics stores for the best prices in the market - largest of which is in Ginza, near the Yuracucho JR station). A few pics taken first around Yuracucho, and then in Akihabara, and Iidabashi and surroundings.

akihabara.outside.jr.station.jpg
Akihabara outside JR station. Mirror of a pic I took in 2002 at dusk.

akihabara.cedric.self-pic.jpg
Summum of the self-pic. I don't even know why my camera was facing down like this... But I'm certainly a natural. :D

akihabara.shop.jpg
Akihabara shops, around the corner from the station.

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I believe it should be called a tempura-don, with udons on the side in some bonito/MSG broth.

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Sushi in Akasaka. Wasn't so more expensive than Montreal... Sushi is still an expensive meal to have (3000-4000yens), compared to the usual noodles/rice bowl (400-800yens).

Finally in HK... And I must have 30 minutes to wrap up the overview of Japan. Got bookfulls of things to say about Japan (in my head). A striking thing is how much more of an advertisement jungle Tokyo is. It felt extremely good to be in Hong Kong, a burst of joy on the bus from Chek Lap Kok to Causeway Bay (with my nose into Bacterial Pathogenesis, however :D).

I'll try to introduce the portion between Osaka and Nagoya, and then the last two days in Tokyo...

himeji.castle.picnic.jpg
The castle of Himeji. It was the start of the sakura season, as the blooming was starting. Not quite there yet, but I think people still take it as a start signal for the ensuing weeks of drunken debauchery (in public). This was a rather benign picnic party on the grounds in front of the castle, main attraction of Himeji. Was just stopping there for 3 hours, on my way to Osaka, as there's a Shinkansen station 15 minutes away from the castle.

kobe.shopping.arcade.jpg
Next, I saw Kobe, another rather boring city, also because I missed the 1995 Earthquake memorials for having checked my travel guide as I disembarked from Shin-Kobe... I did a bit of shopping, and nonetheless walked through the whole city, from Shin-Kobe to Kobe station, on the Kobe line towards Osaka and Kyoto...

osaka.yh.bunk.jpg
For 3000 yens or so, the youth hostel near Shin-Osaka (not to confound with the original one nearer to Kansai Airport, south of the city) is really teh shit. It was built in 2004, and everything is brand new, and if you have a JR pass, then you're in business.

kyoto.empty.cans.recycling.jpg
Japan is big on recycling, because of its dependence on energy. You won't find trash cans in the street, like in Canada, US or Europe. So have deep pockets! Until you find a recycle bin...

kyoto.lunch.mos.burger.jpg
The Japanese alternative to McDonald's. Kind of good, expensive, but still not that more expensive than the Golden Arches. I had a pork cutlet I think... Could've been gone more exotic, like with a shrimp burger (for about the same price), or a burger served with avocados... yum. Maybe there are Mos Burger in HK. There are Yoshinoyas in any case. :D

kyoto.camera.on.sakura.jpg
Japanese are crazy about sakuras. Think that for each series of photoos I take with sakuras in them, the locals do the same with their mobile phones... Rest of Kyoto in the afternoon, as I spent time at the Imperial Palace (did not go to the mountains in the East, and apparently missing on the most typical of Kyoto... I suck so much).

kyoto.women.in.kimonos.jpg
Women in kimono are not that uncommon (you see them in the subway, the street too). Rebates are given to people who wear kimonos in some gardens.

kyoto.jr.station.building.jpg
Not all of Kyoto is old. Like any major city, it's got its 21st century buildings.

osaka.yh.japanese.breakfast.jpg
The Japanese breakfast is served with rice, and usually contains a portion of cooled fish. Traditionally, the Chinese do the same thing, must be what you do with leftovers (the rice becomes congee, sometimes).

osaka.castle.fortune.tree.jpg
People attach good wished to trees. This was taken in the morning at Osaka Castle, a concrete re-rendition in the 1920-30s of the original castle destroyed a few centuries back.

osaka.subway.ad.vodafone.jpg
Attack of the annoying ad. I ended up buying the girl's (I think it was Kimura Kaela) latest single at HMV the day before leaving... Nonetheless, Vodafone isn't the most popular (tante Ghyslaine has one, but I guess it's b/c of the European connection), as NTT Docomo leads the market, followed by KDDI (the logo is similar to PCCW in HK... are they related?).

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A Linimo ticket... It's expensive... :(

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That's me. I've become better with taking pictures of myself. First day/evening at the Expo.

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The Canada pavillon was kinda a no-show since I was Canadian... I didn't go see the other national pavillons (except the UN's, right across Canada's).

expo2005.merchandising.jpg
They'd sell their mother... Anyways, make for cute souvenirs. :D

Second Day at the Expo (2005/04/05):
First Half
and Second Half.

Once again out of time... There are only the two last days in Tokyo to speak about. I got off at Akihabara on my way to Tante Ghyslaine's from Tokyo station. Went sushi in Akasaka with her later that evening. On Thursday I also went to Mitaka, a suburb 20 minutes west of Tokyo, and the Ghibli museum there. But of course, what I really want to show are the sakuras, which are in the temp directory until I've time to separate them from the airport pics...

Final minutes in Tokyo. My flight is at 1855JST, in 50 minutes... (there's a Yahoo Internet Cafe in the waiting area in Narita, free of charge too!)

So, tonight in Akasaka, chic neighborhood south of the Center of Tokyo (if it was the Imperial Palace - I'm sure it is), eating sushi, and such delicacies.

Continued pics. The computer is in the guestroom, and the guestroom is now occupied by my hosts' guests from France, while I sleep in the younger one's (Paul) room.

Now, on my 6-day trip/tornado-ing around Japan.

fuji-san.JPG
The venerable Mount Fuji. Kind of romantic that the nicest pic I have of Fuji-san has those chimneys in the foreground. Took this unboard the Shinkansen, going to Shin-Osaka from Tokyo. Was sitting next to an Indian-born economist who studied and lived in the States, and who was travelling with his family in Japan. Kept switching seats for the Fuji picture taking, etc. Great tourist in Japan moment. I should've kept track of who had the Lonely Planet Japan among the people I met.

hiroshima.carp.jpg
I followed the Carp games religiously in the next few days, as they were visiting the Giants in Tokyo for their debut series of the season. Once in the hotel room in Fukuoka-Hakata, as described in the previous entry, and then at the Shin-Osaka YH, with a handful of Hiroshima natives travelling to Kansai. The Giants are really a team to hate. They've got the Japanese Barry Bonds, and his name is Kiyohara, but he can't run, apparently.

hiroshima.atomic.bomb.park.jpg
Atomic Bomb park. Lots of foreigners, as the picture shows. A very nicely done memorial, gives the chills, as it was the exact same spot directly above where the Atomic Bomb exploded (which went on to completely destroy the area 1 or 2 kilometers around it).

nagasaki.small.streets.jpg
Got lost in Nagasaki. It's a shame I didn't take more pictures of the area I got "lost" in. Was one of the highlights of this trip. I wanted to get lost somewhere. It's a great feeling. Like being stuck in some sort of movie set on a sunny afternoon after school. Kids playing hide and seek. Passerbys carrying groceries back to their home. People selling food in place up the hill where nobody ever walks about.

rice.fields.jpg
Most beautiful views of Japan in my head are rice fields in the summer. Not quite summer yet, but April in Kyushu, is June in the rest of Japan. Taken at dusk, while on the train back to Hakata from Nagasaki.

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Found a sort of Totoro shop, within a souvenirs/Hello Kitty shop on the hillside road going down Grover Garden in Nagasaki (the Westerners' settlement in South East Nagasaki, beyond the Dutch slope).

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Nights in Hakata. I thought I would've had time to see downtown Fukuoka-Hakata, the "Tenjin" neighborhood, or that Canal City shopping mall. Instead, went to Kinko's to get ripped off for 1260 yens for an hour of Internet. >_>

(The rest tomorrow, because the guests want to sleep)

I improved my self-pic-taking technique. No more closeups of my greasy face. No sir. Every pic of myself (except the sakura one in the Kyoto entry - the old man walking by pitied me as I tried using the bush behind as my improvised tripod >_>) is taken with the timer. I'm so good.

Well, ok, I was six days away from Tokyo. Being in vacation, I forget which day is weekday or weekend. It's really bleh to try to keep track. I know that next week is my interview. That's really scary. One week, and I almost didn't prepare, besides flipping through my articles on the 12-hour trans-Pacific flight. Gneh, really stresses me out.

Been learning a great deal with myself. I am not a social hermit, when faced with the situation. I mean, I've always been kind of average when it comes to meeting people - not the crazy Uri-style outgoing, but still, I can draw conversation from something, when that something exists. Drives me to be on my own, and loneliness is an ambivalent feeling after all.

Don't forget the videos. Uncompressed, but I'll deal with that when I have my own computer again. Super scriptable.

tsukiji.market.sushi.restaurants.jpg
On the sea front, southeast of Tokyo, there's the Tsukiji market, where you can auction for fish early in the morning, 5AM-ish (got there at 11AM, bleh).

kamakura.unblossomed.sakura.row.jpg
Kamakura was last week, same day I went to the market. I forgot what day it was, but it was a weekday, and seemed crowded enough (not from this pic, but maybe from the ones taken in the small merchant alleys) that I was happy it wasn't a weekend day. That's a row of sakuras, less the blossoms. I can just imagine how pretty it gets at night...

kamakura.ocean.front.jpg
Pacific Ocean, at last. This was the first time I touched it, now that I think of it.

yokohama.chinatown.JPG
Yokohama has this Chinatown with restaurants that costs relatively like Japanese restaurants in Montreal.

(going sushi with tante Ghyslaine, will continue this tomorrow morning...)

cedric.canada.flag.jpg
It was Canada Day yesterday, so there were shows throughout the day. Caught the lunchtime show, quite by chance, as the Expo Dome was near the exit to the Piccolo gondola towards the South of the park. I sat next to the reserved section where a group of Canadians, normally holding fort at the Canada pavillon, I suppose, was sitting. So far away from home, and seeing/hearing Canadians, that's a heart-warmer for sure. There were Corneille and Alanis Morissette with a preview of their evening show (comes Alanis, who updates her lyrics to Ironic to the new Canadian reality, "It’s meeting the man of my dreams / And then meeting his beautiful husband").

open.your.mind.mamoru.oshii.jpg
And I went to the Mountain of Dreams, in the Corporate Zone, where I saw an exhibit directed by Mamoru Oshii. A floor with TV screens, and rows of cloth towers with fish heads around the arena, a soundtrack like Innocence, and a figure of what seems like a robotified Ashura. (There were videos too in the pics collection - all this is of course illegal, and a matter of time until someone asks me to take it down... -_-)

cedric.satsuki.mei.house.jpg
Earlier, I was at Satsuki and Mei's house. Was the only foreigner, until I bumped into my roomate at the youth hostel, who happened to be walking in there (I saw him twice that day - it's not hard spotting Westerners - but I so blend in), and invited him along on my ticket for the house. The lady guide told me there were only 20 foreigners or so visiting the house since the start of the Expo last week. But there were mounds of Japanese, and it's apparently full until the end of April (basically for the whole period there were seats available ... in Japan they have to sign up via a ticketing system at Lawson convenience stores, and for overseas visitors, they need to mail a letter to the Expo people, like a month in advance from when they plan to go to the Expo... I hope they change this policy, it's really impeding on everyone's chances.

Yuki - JOY

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Check in the recommendations folder. The first track is really good. The second track "Joy" was the first single, and I believe topped the Oricon in February. Really jpop-cute (it's a pleonasm) album.

Osaka-jo

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I was in downtown Osaka a few moments ago. Did obligatory stop at the Osaka Castle to take a lot of pictures. What started off as a cold cloudy morning, became a bright sunny day after 11AM. Back at the Shin-Osaka youth hostel for a bit, before catching the Shinkansen for Nagoya, final destination of this Japanese tour (And what I am looking forward to the most - I've 15,000-20,000yens budgeted for burning over there, heh.

Osaka and Kyoto

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sakura.cedric.jpg

Woaw, did Kyoto, sorta. Went earlier, because couldn't sleep anymore. One of the guys I'm sharing the room with snores. So, I passed through the night only thanks to my walkman (it's the best trick ever - figured it out from what I did on the plane :D).

The sakuras have flowered! Well, this time for real, but only a portion of them actually. Anyways, I posted the pics, they're in the PM collection for Kyoto.

Feel tired. I made an effort to buy some healthy food (fruits) in the past three days, because eating rice and seaweed all the time might be good for the waistline, but not quite for the taint of your face.

Am preparing to go to Nagoya for the Expo. Will be doing a last round of postcarding. Most of you will already have a first one from one of the cities I visited. So, I also figured a postcard from the Expo would be even cooler. :D

So... I posted the pictures on Tacos. It lacks trimming and organizing, but that's the best I can do. Now I can empty my camera and take pics at will in Kyoto and Nagoya. :D

If you know how to do it, would you mind copying my pictures to a local harddrive somewhere? I would feel more at peace, in case Titan/Tacos failed or something:

wget -np -nd -r http://home.sus.mcgill.ca/~csam/pictures/2005-04-ASIA/

Arigato gozaimasu!

Freedom

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Freedom comes with a price. It's loneliness to the extreme. Walking around cities, not knowing the language, the only dialogue you ultimately have is with your camera.

Things have been doing well. I've been feeling more new things this past week than for the whole previous year I believe. It's also a test I am giving myself, about whether or not I can take care of myself. Pretty much like on the previous trip, I've been rediscovering how ressourceful I can be. It's really saddening to discover all this on my own. Because I didn't plan my trip in advance with someone?

Ced update

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The Internet at Kinko's is 200yens per 10 minutes. I'm going to die. And the computer I'm using is restricted. Kills me.

So I was in Hiroshima yesterday, Nagasaki today, Himeji, Kobe and Osaka tomorrow, and Kyoto on Sunday, and Nagoya (for the Expo) on Monday and Tuesday. Then back in Tokyo for the last two days...

I think this place is closing soon (it's like 10PM) so I'll have to leave... Doh. Write me some comments. I feel extremely lonely on my trip so far. It's really hard not to being able to tell my minute-by-minute awe... The pics are semi-uploaded temporarily on some other site, until I have a decent computer to use... Anyways. They're going to kick me out. Sumimasen.

Sports update

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The Yomiuri Giants are like the NY Yankees. Biggest payroll, and everyone likes to hate them. So they acquired Dan Miceli, who used to be a closer in the MLB for Houston I think. His team was leading the Hiroshima Carps by 2-1, but the dude gives up two homeruns in the 9th... 4-2 Carp. XD

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