Saturday, September 30, 2006

Day 3: Shibuya and Harajuku

I'm back in the U.S. Home sweet home. Here is the first of several installments from my trip to Japan. Days 1 and 2 were spent in transit. I flew JAL and stayed in Shinjuku. I was mildly jetlagged and woke up on Day 3 around 6am. I headed straight to Shibuya, which I'd heard was one of Tokyo's bumping neighborhoods, and arrived before the shops opened at 10am. I watched from the Starbucks at Hachiko Crossing as people headed to work and children to school.

Folks heading to work. A shot of Hachiko Crossing in Shibuya.

Kids flocking to Takeshita Dori after school, a popular pedestrian lane in Harajuku.

One of the two torii (entrance gate) to Meiji Shrine (shinto). Made from 1,700 year old Japanese cypress trees.

Meiji Shrine.

Afternoon rush hour at Shinjuku Station, Japan's busiest commuter station.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Last Night in Tokyo

I just returned to Tokyo after a quick visit to Kyoto. Kyoto deserves much more than the one night I spent there. It is home to over 1500 temples and shrines that are interspersed, often inconspicuously, among the residential and commercial areas. In my brief visit, I managed to see a few of the more lovely and important temples. I hope to post pictures when I return to the States tomorrow.

I just checked into my hotel, the Park Hyatt, and all I can say is wow. When the bellhop opened the door of my cab, he said "Welcome back." I'm not sure if he was mixing me up with someone else, but it was a nice touch. Mr. Bellhop accompanied me up to reception, which is on the 41st floor, and somewhere along the way, he got my name off my luggage tag, passed it discreetly to the reception, and before I knew it, my registration card was awaiting me. The hotel is luxurious without being overdone and the service is great. Best yet, my room is fantastic. I lucked out with a corner room and I have expansive views south towards Shibuya and Yoyogi Park. I'm on the 47th floor and I feel like I'm suspended in midair. Looking down I see the lacing of roads and freeways; it reminds me of some of those sci-fi movies.

This vacation has been hard work and I am pooped from my week in Japan. I overcame the isolation I felt initially, and soon went about my days with a hop in my step, poking around here and there. This being my last night, I think I may just relax in my room, soak in the tub, and, of course, get a drink at the bar a la Scarlett Johannson. Who knows maybe I'll see Bill Murray.

Monday, September 25, 2006

In Tokyo

I'm in my second full day in Tokyo. So far it's been great, but is has also, as I feared, been quite isolating. I'm in that no man's land where the Japanese recognize that I'm not Japanese and don't talk to me, and the (very few) American tourists don't think that I can speak English. As a result, I've been spending my days having very abbreviated conversations with shopkeepers and hotel staff. Whenever I hear someone speaking English I have the urge to join in the conversation. I've been carrying my TimeOut Tokyo guide conspicuously in the hope that someone will strike up a conversation with me.

I went to the Tsukiji fish market this morning, which has got to be one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had. I didn't get there early enough to see the wholesale tuna auction (that starts around 5am), but I did get to see the retailers and restauranteurs come to buy. The fish market is huge and overwhelming. The aisles are narrow and I had to get out of the way of the minitrucks carrying fish and other sea creatures. I walked in fear that I would be splashed with fish guts. Aside from fish (dead and alive), there were shrimp, squid, wormy-looking things and a whole array or unrecognizable stuff. The whole place smelled of the sea and cigarettes. It was slightly nauseating. There were very few women and even fewer tourists. I was fascinated and mesmerized by the entire place.

I'm off to the Asakusa Kannon Temple now, which is the city's oldest temple. There are a bunch of other yummy sites in the area, including a shop that sells all that fake looking food.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lame Duck

I gave my two weeks' notice two weeks ago. Tomorrow is my last day. I've been at my company almost six years. This was my first 'real' job. There were times when I liked my job and times when it was brutal. Now I'm leaving. The last two weeks have been really cushy. No work. Just play and taking care of some administrative stuff.

I have some time off before starting my new job, which is why I'm taking a trip to Japan. I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be my first trip where I'm not researching and planning down to the details. I'm just going to go with the flow. I have the general stuff planned out (i.e., where I'll be staying), but not much more than that. It'll certainly be a change, a personality experiment, considering I can be sort of a control freak.

The Area Code

What does your area code mean to you? I've been in LA for nearly a year and I still have my 917 cell phone number. Am I too lazy to change it (possibly) or do I want to hold on to my New York number (quite possibly)?

These days new area codes are popping up all the time. Am I the only one who may hold on to an old number just because?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Chanchow Eats: Polka

Have I mentioned that some of the best things in LA are found in strip malls? No? Don't believe me? Check out Polka, a family-run Polish restaurant at the corner of Verdugo and York in Glassell Park.

Polka doesn't look like much from the parking lot. Every inch of the windows is covered with restaurant reviews and tinsel. We couldn't tell if it was crowded or empty. When we poked our head inside and saw that each table was taken. A five minute wait, the friendly owner said.

While we waited, an older couple opened the door and told us, unsolicited, that everything was wonderful and that the vegetables were delicious and fresh. They were right. I ordered the klopsy (meatballs with rice, potatoes and veggies) and Mr. Octopus had the vegetarian pierogi. Our meals came with mushroom soup, salad and dessert. All yummy.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hollyhock House

We visited the Hollyhock House today. The house was recently restored and is now open to the public. It is situated on a hill (Olive Hill) in Los Feliz and was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Aline Barnsdall.

Barnsdall was an oil heiress from Pennsylvania who moved to LA in the 1910s with her daughter. She was an arts patron and a political and social activist (an early suffragette and a single mother who never revealed the identity of her baby's father). She bought the 36-acre hilltop for $300,000 (those were the days!) and commissioned Wright to build her residence, along with a performing arts complex on the site (only the residence and a couple other structures were ultimately completed). It was Wright's first commission in LA.

The house was built between 1919 and 1923 at a cost of $150,000. Eventually client and architect parted ways for financial and design reasons and Wright's son, Lloyd Wright, and Viennese architect Rudolph Schindler oversaw and finished the project.

It is named Hollyhock because the hollyhock (tall, flowering plants) were abundant on the site and were one of Barndall's favorite plants. Wright incorporated a hollyhock motif throughout the interior and exterior of the house (all those tall, pointy-like things).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Land of the Rising Sun

I'm going to Japan later this month. It'll be my first visit there and I can't wait to see what it's like. Everyone I've talked to raves about Tokyo. I imagine it to be like NYC, but multiplied by ten or a hundred. I can't wait to see the Japanese kids all punk and goth and Victorian. I can't wait to eat soba and ramen and more soba and more ramen. I can't wait to see the shrines and temples and walk around the manicured gardens. I'll spend the bulk of my time in Tokyo, with a short jaunt to Kyoto. I'll be traveling alone, which is both exciting and daunting. I look forward to planning my day the way I want, but afraid I'll feel a little isolated.

Hopefully it won't rain while I'm there

Monday, September 11, 2006

Diary Entry

I'm not one to keep a diary. I've tried to over the years, but I always peetered out after a couple weeks. My entries usually centered around what I did on a particular day (woke up, went here, talk to so and so), which is pretty boring fare. I didn't keep a journal on 9/11, but I remember the day in detail, just like everyone else. I was living in NYC at the time. Here are the broad strokes of what I experienced.

* * *

I was living in midtown Manhattan. Within walking distance of my work. I didn't have set hours, so on a slow day I could stroll into the office when I needed to. Consequently, I didn't always set my alarm clock.

I woke up naturally on 9/11. It was a little after 9am. I turned on the tv to NY1, which was the local news station that I always checked to get the day's weather. They were showing images of the the twin towers, which had been hit by the planes at that point. There was a suspended moment in which I didn't understand what I was seeing. Was it real. Was it now. Was it the local news.

I figured that I shouldn't go into work. Although my office wasn't in a famous high rise, I would probably be better off staying in my apartment building. Then NY1 showed footage of people fleeing the United Nations, which was very close to my building. As I sat in front of the tv, I saw the first tower fall. I decided to go into the office.

I arrived to find people fairly calm. Anyone who had a radio had it turned on and turned up. Someone said that the second tower had fallen. Mr. Octopus, who was my boyfriend at the time, was at work in Brooklyn. He was much closer to the towers than I was. We spoke on the phone. He was going to find a way back to his apartment in Queens. I called my parents. I assured them that I was in midtown, not downtown. The distinction did little to comfort them.

Later that morning, office admin sent an email to all personnel saying that everyone was free to leave if they wanted to. Most people didn't know where to go or how to get out. There were images to people walking across bridges. Many people lived in NJ or Long Island or Westchester. Too far to walk. I ended up leaving the office with a friend who lived on the Upper East Side. I didn't want to go back to my apartment alone and neither did she.

It was a quiet night. We watched the tv, even though we didn't want to. We were about three miles from the World Trade Center. We could smell burnt metal and see debris in the air. Landlines were working so we called our families and friends.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Julian, CA

Although there are lots of authentic pioneer-era features about Julian,
the horse drawn carriage is not one of them. It's primarily for tourists.

Julian is a charming gold rush town, approximately an hour northeast of San Diego. It's a good one-day stop. There's Main Street, an old gold mine you can tour and, most importantly, famous apple pie.

San Diego Wild Animal Park

I'm no fan of zoos (poor caged animals!), but I think it's worthwhile to visit one every so often. The Wild Animal Park isn't your typical zoo. It began as a breeding facility, so that its sister facility, the San Diego Zoo some 30 miles to the south, wouldn't have to take animals from the wild. Many of the animals at the WAP roam large areas. Some areas are so big that your only opportunity to see animals is by taking the tram. It's nice to see tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos and other beasts have some space in our modern world.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

End of Summer

We spent the Labor Day weekend in Escondido and Julian, both near San Diego. We hit the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. The WAP was until 9pm over the weekend, so we managed to visit during the late afternoon/early evening and avoid the hot summer sun. We stayed in the HoJo Escondido, which I thought would be cute and kitschy (my first time at a HoJo), but in reality was dumpy and sketchy. In Julian, we stayed at the historic Julian Hotel, built by a former slave over a hundred years ago. The older I get, the more I interested I am in where I stay. I'll post pics of the animals and Julian soon.

We were on the road to Julian when Agassi lost to B. Becker. I wish I'd seen it. I remember when Agassi first came onto the scene in the mid-80s. My parents, like many Asian parents, signed me up for tennis lessons and hoped that I would really take to the game. The only thing that stuck was that I liked watching grand slams on tv. Over the years, I've like Lendl, Edberg (huge crush-- probably the last blonde guy I ever thought was hot), Martina and Steffi Graf (in her later years). I never liked Connors, Sampras (Boring), Chris Evert (also Boring), Boris Becker (annoying) or Martina Hingis (bitch). I can't get too revved up by any of the new players, although I do like Federer, James Blake and Justine Henin-Hardenne.