Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ooh look!

Those are the people I saw in City Hall just last week! Guess I have to see the movie now. Comes out Saturday!


"Don't blame JET for Japan's poor English"

Interesting note, the guy who wrote this (Debito Andou) is an American who became naturalized in Japan, changed his name to a Japanese one, and has been lighting fires about foreigners' rights in Japan for years. He's controversial and kind of bonkers, but occasionally has quite enlightening things to say (and he isn't afraid to say them).

Taiwan, Last Day

So my last day in Taiwan, I actually didn't want to do anything but shop and chill out, because I had caught a TERRIBLE summer cold the 2nd day of my trip, and was pretty miserable by this point. It didn't help that I went through about nine hundred drastic temperature changes every day from being outdoors to riding the subway to shopping to hiking. I comforted myself by spending too much money on a brand of Korean skincare that is available in Japan but crazily marked up.
Went to eat Peking duck with some Japanese kids staying in my hostel. There were four of us, but the course was for six people, so there was waaaaaaaay too much food. And I barely had any appetite anyways. What I did taste was delicious. Though I have eaten the dish in its namesake city!
This dude is such a pro, he cuts up ducks ALL DAY.
Yum yum yum yum yum oh man I wish I'd had more of an appetite.
I was soooo tired and sick and didn't want to do any more sight-seeing or museum-ing or anything in Taipei, so Joe and I tried to go to this teahouse in the teahills in the southern part of the city, but the gondola cable car thing that you have to take to get there was closed for the day. We went back to the center of the city to this 1950's era Russian teahouse, where we lounged and drank tea for at least 2 hours. My tea was spiked with brandy, which was just what the doctor ordered for my annoying cold. Mmm I will replicate this come wintertime.
Got up at 5am the next morning to catch my flight back to Fukuoka. That made two 3am wake ups and one 5am wake up in less than one week. The airport had all these culture display, like about the Taiwanese indigenous tribes and stuff. This orchid one was nice. Did not know that orchids are called phalaenopsis. Cool word.
Pretty, though I think it's funny that people get crazy about prize orchids.
Ready to return to FUK. Had a great time in Taiwan, despite my cold, and hope to go back someday!

Monday, September 6, 2010

regions, prefectures, stereotypes

i met an american guy this weekend who has lived in japan for 17 years, mostly in tokyo. he told me that he moved to fukuoka because he was told it was full of kind honest people, but that in the few months he has been here, he has found the people (japanese people, that is) to be "two-faced and immature." in other words, they are kind and happy, but won't tell you things straight to your face. i've been thinking about whether or not i've encountered this, and in some ways, i think i have, without realizing it so clearly. i still think that kyushu people, in general, are more chill and unaffected by the rivalry between kansai (osaka) and kanto (tokyo), but it got my wheels spinning about how we foreigners perceive japanese people, and how japanese people think of japanese in other regions/prefectures.

a few interesting articles on the matter. my mind is far from having a formed opinion, but i will continue thinking on it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

the increasing randomness of my life

last month it was models. this month, an incredibly famous japanese actor. i was chatting with s before wrapping up work and she says "our coworker just saw tsumabuki satoshi here in city hall." i was like, WHAT. it made sense though. he's got a movie coming out based on a true story of something that happened here in kyushu. i've seen the trailer. not sure how excited i am about the movie, but i was definitely excited about the prospect of seeing him. five minutes later i was waiting on the first floor of city hall with s and lee-san, who had the brilliant notion that because the actors would be traveling with their managers and entourage (to give formal greetings to the mayor of fukuoka city), they would be using taxi buses, which were parked near one exit to city hall. so we waited there for a bit less than ten minutes, hoping that they wouldn't be using the underground parking lot. s was texting away with her back to the elevators when low and behold, there they were. tsumabuki satoshi and his female co-star. with loads of people, of course. but still. at first i didn't recognize him because DAMN he is short (maybe a tad taller than me), but so was cillian murphy. he is also absolutely adorable, and i definitely caught his eye, but he looked down really quickly. he was nearly out the door when i said, "s, he's right there" and she looked up and was only able to see the back of his (gorgeous) head. he was wearing a black vest over a grey shirt and looked oh so handsome.i can't help it, i've always been star-struck since my parents took me to meet "captain henry von trapp the fifth" (christopher plummer) at blossom the summer i was five or so. and how could i not be excited, for such a very charming and fine specimen of a japanese man! look at that face!
he was already famous, but the recent historical tv show "tenchijin" put him through the roof in terms of popularity. it's kind of funny because he ends up super old at the end of the 50-ish episode show. but mmmm, he's in one of my favorite dramas (orange days). and mmm, i am just happy. this unusual lucky streak just can't go on much longer, i'm sure of it.

Taiwan, Day Four

If you go to Alishan, one of the things you HAVE to do (apparently) is see the sunrise. I don't think I've ever gotten up specifically to watch the sunrise. It was cold and we were already tired from 5 hours of being on the bus in strong air conditioning followed by a 20 degree temperature drop and an hour of hiking through the damp forest. But we decided that since we were there, we may as well haul our butts out of bed at the ungodly hour of 3am (my 2nd time waking in that hour in one week, how warrior-tastic of me!) and catching the narrow-gauge railroad up to the summit. There were only two trains that would get us there before the sunrise (otherwise it was an hour and a half hike UP), so we got there early to get our tickets.
This picture shows how lovely we are at 3am, and how very joyous we are to be awake and on a stuffy train full of people eating smelly food.
Chushan station, from which we walked another 10 minutes straight up to get to a good viewing location.
Everyone else stayed on the first level, mostly, but we headed to the second, and then a lady running the lone food shop there told us we could climb over this wooden barricade to a "do not enter" area further up (apparently the rocks were eroding away there, uhhh...). I was skeptical, but Joe was fearless and we ended up waaaaay higher up than anyone else, with a fantastic and unobstructed view, which we shared with only two other foreigners.
Being super huge nerds who went through the Columbia Core Curriculum, Joe and I marveled at the "rosy-fingered dawn."
As it got lighter, we could see a bit of Alishan's famous "Sea of Clouds" in the distance- mountains rising out of a layer of clouds. Really lovely!
Day break approaches.
More of the "Sea of Clouds" on the other side of the mountain.
Oooooooooh. I may have to make this my computer desktop wallpaper.
Another view of the Sea.
The sun finally rose above the mountains, which wasn't as breathtaking as watching the dawn emerge (mostly because we couldn't get good photos or look directly at the sun, of course, duh). In fact it was a bit anticlimactic, haha.
The other side was mighty pretty too though.
We decided to hike down the mountain (about 30 min.) instead of packing onto the train with everyone else. The train passed us about halfway down, but it was indeed stuffed to the gills. so we made the right decision.
Since the bus had taken so long (though it was really cheap), we decided to ride in style back to Taipei via the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR), which is just like the bullet train in Japan. The super smooth ride cut our travel time in half, and we were able to get a glimpse of some of the mid-sized cities along the way.
When we got back to Taipai I returned my stuff to the hostel and we went to relax in the teahouse of the National Museum of History.
It overlooked the Botanical Gardens, though it was too HOT to explore them. We stayed safely in the AC.
Mmm. Cashews and pineapple cakes and my own little bowl of jasmine tea.
We were there for at least two hours. Joe studied, I read, we chatted, and I think I drank about 20 cups of tea.
It was a somewhat odd but interesting museum.
Then we went to Sogo (I think?), a Japanese-style department store complete with a Japanese garden and teahouse indoors on the restaurant floor.
And garden. Inside a department store. Oh, Asia.

Taiwan, Day Three

Day Three started out at 8am with a 3-hour bus ride from Taipei to Chiayi, halfway down the island. Chiayi is about where Taiwan becomes tropical, and the roads were lined with banana and bezel nut trees. There's not too much to the city itself (though it did have a surprising selection of retail stores), but we had to stop there to catch another bus to Alishan National Scenic Area.
Chiayi's specialty dish is turkey rice, which doesn't look terribly appetizing (nor was the restaurant we ate it in particularly clean), but it was in fact very, very delicious. It was a treat to have turkey, since it's hardly heard of and even harder to find here in Japan.
There were random decrepit buildings.
Street scene in Chiayi.
So we hopped a 2-hour bus that climbed above the banana and bezel nut trees into the mountains, full of pine and cypress trees. We arrived at Alishan National Scenic Area mid-afternoon and were thrilled to find that the 37-38 degrees C it had been around sea level dropped to around 17-18 degrees in the mountains. The only thing I wasn't thrilled about was my lack of warm clothing. The atmosphere was brisk and misty.
Joe, in a giant Taiwanese red cypress stump. I need to send this to him so he can prove to his parents that he was in Taiwan! After stashing our stuff at the hostel (run by a tiny church), we got on the Giant Trees trail.
A small, colorful temple amid the rocks and trees.
They don't call it the Giant Trees trail for nothing.
Some fellow tourists, near the disused Sacred Tree line of the narrow-gauge railroad built by the Japanese when they occupied Taiwan. Most of the railway is now in disuse (due to landslides and such... you used to be able to take it all the way from Chiayi, but we found it shut down upon our arrival).
Part of the Sacred Tree, which was the biggest tree in the area until it was struck by lightning twice and finally died/fell down a while back.
Joe isn't even all the way to the end of the tree. I think it was a pretty damn big tree in its time.
These were our two favorite Giant Trees. Their shapes contrasted each other well.
Joe and I agreed that they reminded us of Lumiere, the candelabra from "Beauty and the Beast," and his saucy French feather duster girlfriend.
A very creepy-looking abandoned looking school/gymnasium near the head of the trail. There were a lot of stray dogs in the area and we were a bit freaked out when this one came towards us. I think the mist and the rising darkness was freaking us out a bit. Thankfully it left us alone, haha.
I think this is the "New" Sacred Tree. It has its own special name but I forget.
Sunset over the parking lot of the visitor's center. Just to the right of this photo, over the mountain range, a thunderstorm was raging.
We stopped in the 7-11 for provisions for the next morning. Joe told me to avoid this asparagus juice like the plague. I took his advice. Besides, it was only 20% juice.

Taiwan, Day Two, the bit I forgot

On the way back from eating Fruit Ice Magic, we walked through the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall park, which was very beautifully illuminated at night.
View from the main hall, towards the National Opera House and the National Theater (I can't remember which is which, or if those are the right names, but you get the idea).
Going to these places reminds me of all the memorials in D.C.

Taiwan, Day Two

On Day Two of my Taiwan adventure, my friend had classes in the morning so I was on my own for the morning. I went to the National Palace Museum, which houses all the great treasures of China that were brought over by the Nationalists when they fled from the Communists in 1948. You can read more about that whole history on the Wikipedia article (click HERE).
Already a bit pathetic about trying to ask what things were on the menu, I resorted to a Starbucks breakfast set. It was delightfully cheap compared to here in Japan, and I got this huge crusty bread thing filled with cheese and chicken and egg and potatoes- unlike anything I've ever had at a Starbucks! Really a good way to start the day :)
I was proud that I managed to get myself all the way to the National Museum by myself. I saw these somewhat strange but also a bit posh-looking houses from the bus on the way.
Main gate of the National Palace Museum
Proof that I was there, though please disregard how sweaty I am. It was probably around 37-38 degrees C that day, so in the upper upper 90's F O_o
View from the entrance to the museum. Swanky apartment buildings and beautiful green hills right over there!
The main entrance. The museum is kind of nestled in a hill, and does in fact look somewhat like a palace. When I got there it was about 10:30am on a Friday morning, and I didn't expect it to be too crowded, but BOY WAS I MISTAKEN. There were so many tour groups I had to fight to see certain famous pieces ("Jadeite Cabbage" anyone?), and spent half of my time fleeing from the really monster groups. I also attached myself to several of the many Japanese tour groups and listened to the Taiwanese tour guides explain Chinese history and art in really fabulous Japanese. Then I got exhausted of battling my way through the museum and returned to my hostel to meet up with my friend.
In the afternoon we caught a train out of Taipei Main Station to this city east of Taipei called Ruifeng, from which we took a bus to the cities of Jiufen and Jinguanshi.
Street view of Ruifeng, which you can tell is not as urban as Taipei (it was about 30 min. away by train).
Some gorgeous mountain in Jiufen, overlooking the sea.
Oooooooh the sea. I totally understand why the Portuguese called Taiwan "Ilha Formosa."
Ooooh, a perfect (hot) summer's day. That's looking west-ish, so Taipei is somewhere beyond those mountains.
Jiufen was fascinating because its hills were covered in what looked like these adorable San Francisco houses. Turns out they are family graves. I'm still trying to figure out if this occurs in China too, or if it is a native Taiwanese tradition to build these cheerful mausoleums.
Proof I was in Jiufen.
The Old Street of Jiufen. The city is famous for its teahouses overlooking the mountains and ocean, and supposedly was the inspiration for the spirit bathhouse city in the Hayao Miyazaki film "Spirited Away." We were there during the day so we didn't see the lanterns illuminated at night, but I didn't really sense the resemblance. This street was lined with vendors selling food, gifts, knick-knacks, etc. I drank almond milk (SO SWEEEEEEEEEEET) and was nearly overcome by all the various delicious and displeasing smells.
That mountain again, with hillside teahouses and such along the Old Street.
Then we went to Jinguanshi, which is over the previous hill with all the ancestral tombs. There were even more tombs on the other side! Jinguanshi is perhaps less traveled, but has a pretty interesting mining history. And it was breathtaking! Well, the nature was, at least. The city itself seemed like a relatively quiet and not-quite-countryside-but-certainly-not-urban-or-even-suburban place.
Proof that Joe, my friend, was in Taiwan. This temple was at the end of the bus route. Note the huge gold statue of a sage chilling and reading.
He found a nice place to crack his book.
Uggghh I am sooo bad at hiking, stairs or no stairs.
But the view from above the city was breathtaking.
Look at those green hills!
Apparently the mountain we were climbing was called "Teapot Mountain," though we were skeptical of the name until the very end of the day when we finally saw its teapot resemblance.
The hiiiillls are aliiiiiiive...
Joe took that one because I was too pooped to make it to the very very top. I did pretty damn well though and got to the penultimate resting area.
We returned to Taipei and went to Din Tai Fung, perhaps the city's most popular and touristy dumpling restaurant. I'm sorry I don't have any dumpling photos, but I was too busy having a religious eating experience to get out my camera.
We ended the day with "Fruits Ice Magic," which was DEFINITELY magical. This bowl was bigger than my head and full of shaved ice topped with sweetened condensed milk, mango, strawberries, kiwi, and panna cotta-like pudding. Joe and I shared it, and agreed it could definitely become a staple of our diets if only it were available in Japan and New York.
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