Monday, March 31, 2008

Japanese Shrines and Temples

Ah, now that we are back in Xiamen it's amazing how busy and behind you can get with only a few days away, but we are slowing catching up and hopefully we will be fully back to normal within another day or two....

But first we have to give a final recap on our quick tour through Tokyo, where between drinking at great little watering holes, stuffing ourselves with sushi, enjoying the opening series in baseball, and taking the bullet train to see Mount Fuji, we did manage to squeak in a few shrines and temples.

Those two photos are from Senso-Ji, a beautiful temple surrounded by tiny markets selling all sorts of trinkets and assorted junk. In the temple itself, for only 100 yen (about $1), we could shake a stick out of a large can and then open a drawer corresponding to a number on the stick to get a fortune... Tina and I both got bad fortunes but Matt managed to get a good fortune, lucky him.
The next set of photos are all from the Meiji-Jingu shrine, which is in the middle of Tokyo, and surrounded by a large park. It was a stunningly clear and warm day which made wandering through the parks and then the wide open plaza of the shrine really amazing. Maybe because we were there during the week, but it was fairly empty and incredibly peaceful, another side to the hustle, noise, and neon of the Tokyo that we spent the rest of our time touring.

Japan was a great trip, somewhat surprising to both of us but we aren't really sure what we were expecting. It's got some great Asian roots with the temples and shrines, but it really runs like a major city, very clean and precise. As Tina listed a few days ago, it really is the exact opposite of the world that we are currently living in, and as she also said, we've started to get used to the hectic mayhem that is China.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

More on Japan...

While wandering through Tokyo we took the time to visit Mount Fuji, tour the cherry blossoms at the various parks and toured through several different districts all of which are unique in their own way. At night, the more populous areas are lit up with all sorts of neon signs trying to get you into whatever store, restaurant, or bar that may be located in each building.

It really was a little overwhelming, but a lot of this may have been because we couldn't read any of the signs. Every building would have at least five floors of different shops, the only ones we visited had picture menus or a listing of the drink specials in English.

On our second night in Tokyo, the first game was on night 3, we went over to the Shinjuku area, supposedly a popular dining and drinking nightspot. We had an incredible sushi dinner and then found a small little bar called Mother's in the basement of one of the buildings.
We walked down into this bar and there was only one other customer in there, actually it seemed like he knew the bartender. We figured we would stay for one drink, but when they gave us the menu the front was the beer and drink list and the second part was a list of every artist they had CDs for in the restaurant. We were able to pick a CD and then the song and the bartender acted like our own private DJ. Two song selections later and we were the only people left in the bar, the bartender loved us and also selected out some good Japanese metal, and other bands for us to listen to. We had a great time and ended up walking out of there after just over four hours.....
The next night we had baseball, we already told you about our excellent sushi restaurant, so now we will tell a little more about the game experience. Above is a photo of me with a ticket I found on the ground, this was a lower section ticket with a face value of over $100. We turned it into the information desk, we can only hope that whomever lost it was able to recover it.

Earlier in the day while touring through the electronics areas we realized that the camera prices were almost as low as the deal that we got in Hong Kong, sensing that we could save ourselves a flight to HK we purchased a new telephoto lens (140-600mm) which really made for some great baseball photos, that's me with the new lens above. We also bought Tina a new camera so that we wouldn't have to continue fighting over who will be taking the pictures with the high-end camera. We bartered hard with this guy and think that we managed to get a good deal, but in the end we couldn't get him to throw in a $5 mini tripod for free...
Pre-game all of the fans in the outfield will lower items to be signed by the players, the whole outfield wall looks like this.
Despite the excitement of the game, we noticed that a lot of the businessmen that game to the game were dozing off. I guess that the Western crowd just isn't as loud as the standard Japanese baseball crowd.
I don't even know what to say about these A's fans, each of them were in a different animal costume. This was game two, and it was their belief that wearing the outfits had helped the A's to win.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Observations on Japan

Now that we're living in China, you can see the difference between some of the countries that we have travelled to, and Japan is no different. Let me explain the differences that we found while travelling in and around Tokyo for the past 5 days.

Japan: No smoking outside unless there is a designated area. There are signs on the sidewalk telling everyone that you cannot smoke.

China: Smoking is as natural as breathing here. We don't see women smoke as we do the men but they will smoke just about anywhere.

Japan: They actually form a line in the designator area, one behind each other. You even see this when you cross the streets. They stand behind each other patiently waiting for the light to turn green.

China: Line, what line? If there's space between the door and another person, it just makes sense to cut in front of them. Why wouldn't you?

Japan: No garbage cans, ironically there is also no garbage anywhere either. We figure they must pack up their belongings and bring them home to discard their garbage.

China: Why wouldn't I throw my kleenex on the ground? There is someone to sweep the garbage.

Japan: The use of cell phones is one of discretion. They ask that you be discreet, as not to bother the person next to you.

China: I want everyone to hear my conversation. They answer the phones anywhere, anytime. In bathrooms, in movie theatres, in meetings, at dinner, when you get a massage, it really doesn't matter. The phone rings and they will answer it and if not, the phone keeps ringing until they do.

Japan: Everyone is professionally dressed for work. The men are all in dark suits and ties, and the women will dress conservatively in suits or dresses. One would think you are going to a funeral.

China: Pretty much anything goes and there are times one wonders where the women get their fashion sense. In many cases, they will wear the same work clothes most of the week.

Japan: They can speak English, and many times are able to write English to converse, however many Japanese choose not to speak English. Having spoken to a few expats, if you try, they will speak to you, if not, they will continue speaking Japanese.

China: The Chinese are more than happy to try and attempt their knowledge of the English language on an unsuspecting Caucasian.

Japan: The people are more reserved and keep to themselves.

China: If there is a baby within 10 feet, you will have strangers cooing over them as if they were long lost relatives. The Chinese are very friendly and will strike up a conversation with you regardless if you know the language or not.

Essentially Japan is, from what we observed for the past few days, the opposite of what China is and though Tokyo was very clean and efficient, we have become use to the flexibility of China. Hey, I like knowing that if I cut in front of anyone, there are no hard feelings.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More of Japan

In addition to being lucky that there was baseball in Japan and that we we able to get tickets to the second game, we were also blessed with the cherry blossoms being a few weeks early this year. That, and despite what warned us, other then one day of rain the rest of our time in Tokyo was absolutely beautiful.

After a full day of touring the parks, and a little shopping, we wandered back over to the Tokyo dome for more baseball. The previous night Matt had picked out a excellent little sushi restaurant, so we headed back over to eat there again. This place was amazing, just great food and really inexpensive compared to most of the other places that we had been. The owner was really friendly and even brought out his photo book to show us his trip to China...
We stayed in the ballpark after the game until they finally came around to kick everybody out, it gave us a chance to tour around and see the lower section of the ballpark.
Then first thing this morning, 06:00, we got up and packed to catch the shuttle to the airport. We are safely back home in China and Matt is on his way back to the states. We'll add some more stories and load up our photos this weekend.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Opening Day Game

One of the main reasons we came to Tokyo was to see the Opening Day Game, Red Sox vs Oakland A's. After a few attempts of getting the tickets we managed to score three good seats and perhaps see the only game this year.

The opening ceremony was typical Japanese dance and song routine, the national anthems came next and then the game began. The people in our section were mostly Americans that were here to see the game from various parts of the U.S. It was good to see and we quickly managed to become friends with a few of them.

A young man was sitting next to me and informed me that this was his first baseball game. I had asked how he was able to get his tickets so quick as he had purchased them through E-Bay and as we were discussing tickets, the lady in the row ahead of me heard that we thought it would have been fun to see another game. You don't find anyone selling tickets here in Japan, and even if there were scalpers, we wouldn't be able to understand. She offered to sell her tickets since they had an extra set and it so happened that there were three of them as well. The hotel had purchased an extra set for them by mistake so they were hoping to sell them.

What are the odds on that? Talk about luck..

Guess where we're going tonight?

Opening Day...

Ah, baseball begins tonight...... talk to you tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A morning in the fish market.

After an early night last night, today we arose at 05:30 so that we could head over to the Tsukiji fish market. This is the worlds largest fish market that moves approximately 5.5 billion US dollars a year. Apparently it opens early, around 03:00, but only for licensed members, it opens to tourists around 07:00 and winds down by around 09:00. We managed to drag ourselves out of bed and over to the market shortly after seven.

They really did have everything imaginable, it was something to behold. One of the really neat things to see was all of the frozen tuna that they had are were cutting into smaller chunks for sale.
After looking at row upon row of fish there is really only one thing that you can do - go to a local sushi diner located right at the edge of the market. It was only 08:30 in the morning and one of the well known sushi places already had a wait of a hour and a half, we didn't eat at that one, but at the one about six doors down that only had about a ten minute wait.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

First day in Japan

Ah, Tokyo... First glance it is an incredibly clean and slightly expensive city. Today being our first day here we decided that since the weather reports were showing it to be the sunniest day that we would have, we would head up to see Mount Fuji.
We took the Shinkansen train straight out of Tokyo, this is the Bullet train that runs throughout the country at speeds up to 300 km/hr.
We are also lucky in that Japan is having a slightly early spring and that means the arrival of the plum and cherry blossoms. We stopped at a park that provided some great views of Mt. Fuji and toured around for a little while. The main road up to mountain is still closed for the winter, so that was as close as we could go.

After such a trip we did the only thing one should do - sushi. Just a quick snack before we head out to a full dinner later, but this was delicious and some of the biggest pieces of fish that we had ever seen....

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fishing for our food...

So, for Matt's last night in Xiamen we took him to the little fishing place that we know where you need to catch the shrimp that they'll cook up for you.

Matt actually caught two shrimp at one time, something that is apparently amazing as all the girls clapped and Matt won a free bottle of water.
From there we went over to a local music bar that was celebrating it's one year anniversary. They had some drink specials and a lot of different Chinese musical acts who were all very good. We really enjoyed the music of the band from north west China...

Today we are off to Japan, so I'm sure that our next post will include some photos of sushi.

Guest Post #3

Chinese people have a different idea of comfort, this guy would probably think the bed in marks spare room is comfy

we had some nice weather for yesterday's trip to Gulang Yu, climbed up sunshine rock then wandered around the island for a bit checking out the old buildings. We sat in a small tea shop sampling for a while before deciding which one to buy, I think we did ok but even after getting them to come down on the price Mark still thought we paid to much.
After dinner at the aquarium we went to My Way for some beers, it was the smallest bar I've ever been into. Then we went to the KTV which is the karaoke place, I'm not much of a singer but I tried. It was a fun night

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dinner at a local seafood restaurant.

So tonight we took Matt to one of the local seafood restaurants in town, most all of these have a wall of aquariums where you get to pick out your dinner... The choices cover quite a range, from mussels, to lobster, snails and even turtles. We have seen bullfrogs here before, but they didn't have any tonight so we had to make other choices.
This is the fish that we picked to eat.
It was delicious...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Guest Post #2 - Matt

Another beautiful day in Xiamen...not great for pictures but it's a lot warmer than Vermont this time of year.

Did some shopping this morning then went for a massage with Tina, she got a foot massage and I got massaged with feet. The food they brought us afterwards was worth the 9 dollars it costs for the massage and I felt great afterwards, hopefully I'll have time for another before I leave.

I decided to go for a walk while Tina was at class. Saw a bit of the new and old, I never thought I'd be glad to hear that awful drilling noise but after getting completely lost it was nice to know I was almost back. The streets and shops start to look the same when you've lost track of where you are and your feet are starting to hurt.