Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Red Light


Kabukicho is Tokyo's most notorious red like district, and it's known to be quite "imaginative," with its wide array of massage parlors, strip clubs, and love hotels.

Of course, I wanted to see it.

Lee? Lee was concerned.

We went during the day...

Lee was afraid he might have to beat women off of him with a stick if we went after dark.

Right...

We didn't see many hookers in the light of day, but I did get a few pictures of some pretty good signs.

Majority of the signs didn't try confuse you, everything was very straight forward... There were places called, "Legs" and "Lips;" there was even a place called, "Boob."

It really does make it easier... now there is no questions as to what they have to offer.

This however, might be my favorite...



Yes...

They specialize in chunky chicks...

"Pigs" if you will.

And... the woman on the far right even has a pig mask on! Which may be one of the more degrading things I've ever seen.

Seriously?

That's hilarious.

And some how it makes it funnier that Lee's name is the sign underneath.

***

This one was a bit more puzzling...

Here we have King Kong... in American Flag shorts... the theme?




"American and English Honky Tonk Ladies"...

Being from Texas, I know we have some, but I didn't realize the English had any honky tonk ladies... or honky tonks at all, for that matter.

That I would love to see.
***

I was surprised by how many strip clubs had Philippine themes...


Me: Look! There's a Filipino strip club...

Lee: Yeah

Me: There's another one... and another one! Which is weird because the Filipino girls we know don't even wear swimsuits. They must not have a very good opinion of Filipino women...

Then Lee rattled off some nonsense about the Pacific War... hookers... soldiers going from the Philippines to Japan...

I don't know... something he just made up.

Most of the strip club signs showed pictures of the actual women...


Lee: They would never do that back home... they would go out of business.

***

There were several male strip clubs too...



Apparently, many of them frequent David Bowie's hairstylist...

And I'm certain this guy starred in Michael Jackson's Thriller video...




And I just noticed this....


Puppies? Kittens?

Creepy!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Great Stupa


We decided to take a trip up to Koya-san, a kind of Buddhist Mecca, to check out some more temples. (But really, I just wanted to hang out with monks.)

It took us forever to get there, seeing as how we took the train with the most stops and transfers. And then..., we didn't even realize we were supposed to switch trains until some sweet Japanese man helped us. Who by the way... wasn't even on our train, but saw us through the open doors and knew we weren't smart enough to get off.

Sweet Japanese Man: Koya-san?

Me: Umm... yes.

SJM: Get off train.

Me: What? Why?

SJM: No, Koya-san. Train stop.

Me: Hmm... ok. (He seemed like he knew what he was talking about, right?)

So we got off the train.

SJM: Nihongo wa wakarimas[u] ka?

Me: *blank stare*

SJM: Japanese...?

Me: Oh! Do I understand Japanese?! Dang, I knew that one too. No, no I don't. (Obviously.)

So then he pointed at the digital signs with his umbrella, trying to tell us where to go. He was very very helpful. I'm mean really... how nice do you have to be to pull a couple of oblivious touists off a train, you aren't even on...? And then tell them where to go? Although, I did feel a bit like a dog when he told us to stay, as he got on his train...

SJM: Stay...

Me: Huh?

SJM: Stay... Next train.

Me: Ooohh... ok.

***



The Dai-to, or The Great Stupa, was my favorite pagoda... how can you not love something called The Great Stupa? Plus, there was a cosmic Buddha inside, and his four attendants... not to mention the super scary guards. I was a little bit terrified.

But of course, you aren't supposed to take pictures of the coolest stuff... although... Lee did take a couple forbidden pictures... partly because he is oblivious to signs which tell him not too... and partly because he thinks that if he doesn't use the flash then it shouldn't matter. Frankly, he is lucky he didn't get struck down by Buddha himself.

***
Walking around the Garan temple complex there were places to buy offerings, get signature temple stamps and to make donations.

Lee: Hmm... Donations for World Peace...

Me: World peace huh? That is a pretty worthy cause.

Lee: Well, how much do you think world peace is worth?

Me: How ever much change you have in your pocket, after you subtract our bus fare... It's freezing, and I'm not walking.

Lee: Yeah, that's what I was thinking.

We ended up walking... and not because we were so kind as to give all our money to the cause of world peace, but instead because we didn't read the bus schedule and all the buses had stopped running. Awesome.
***
I read, that since Koya-san is up in the mountains we should expect the temperature to be about 5 degrees cooler there than in the other part of Japan.

Yeah. Right.

Try just 5 degrees...


Actually, that looks closer to 3... and that was inside!

We decided to spend the night at a Buddhist temple, in a traditional Shukubo. And it was definitely an experience.

We were greeted at the temple by the head monk who led us to our room for tea...


... he then tried to explain to us what the scheduled was for the rest of the evening.

Monk: D..d..di...din..dinner?

Me: Yes. Dinner.

Monk: Dinner... ummm... (counts on his fingers...) Dinner.... 6...p...m...

Me: Ok, great... Dinner at 6.

Monk: Umm... bass... 5....30... p....m...

Me: Hmm... bass?

Monk: Bass... 5....30... p....m...

Me: Yes. 5:30, but what is bass?

Monk: (Counts on fingers...) 5....30... p....m...

Lee: 5:30 p.m.

Monk: Bass... 5....30... p....m... (Rubs his arm...)

Me: Bath?

Monk: Bass.

Me: Oh! Bath! Ok.

Monk: I show you. 5:15.

(Apparently we stink?)

Me: Do we wear those robes?

Monk: You wear... Umm... Ok...

Me: So we do wear the robes after the bath?

Monk: You wear... Umm... Ok...

Me: Are we supposed to wear the robes to dinner?

Monk: You wear... Umm... Ok...

Me: Umm... Ok...
***

At 5:15 he came back to take us to the showers. The shower was one large room with a changing area, three shower heads coming out of the wall and a communal bath.

Monk pointed around the room, closed the curtain and left.

Me: Soo... we just take a shower in here...? Together...?

Lee: Yeah.

Me: Hmm... a Buddhist monastery seems like a place where group showers would be frowned upon.... You don't think they are going to let anyone else in here do you?!

Lee: No, I don't think so.

Me: This is weird.

Nobody else came in... which was a relief. Showering with strange men really isn't my thing.

***

Me: So... do we wear these robes to dinner? All he said was, "You wear... Umm... Ok..." So does that mean, it's ok if we want to wear them to dinner? Or are we supposed to wear them to dinner? If we are the only idiots who show up to dinner in these things, I'm going to be mortified!

Fortunately, we ate dinner in a private room by ourselves... so technically, we were the only idiots wearing robes... but nobody saw us.

Things we learned at dinner...

#1. Lee can't sit Indian style... ( I don't think I'm supposed to call it that... not very "P.C." I guess... Cross-legged? That just sounds stupid... anyway, you know what I mean.) ... apparently his legs don't bend that way... This makes eating on the floor impossible. (And hilarious.)


#2. Buddhist monks eat a strict vegetarian diet of no meat, no fish and no onion or garlic. But they do eat a variety of strange vegetables, leaves, tree roots, pine cone lookin' things, various forms of what can only be described as silly putty, wet sponges and tofu.


#3. We don't like tofu. No matter what you do to it... soft, hard, in soup, mixed with weird seeds... Not. A. Fan.

Needless to say, dinner was interesting. I have never been so happy to eat rice. I have a real problem with foods with weird textures, so dinner was a struggle. I was trying to eat enough to not be rude, but not so much that I threw up... because let's face it... that's pretty rude too.

After a dinner full of weird faces... swallowing some things whole, and a lot of whispers, ("psst... did you try the pink thing yet? You're gonna hate it! hahaha,") we went back to our room.

I was excited about sleeping on the tatami mats... until I was actually lying on one, and I realized sleeping on the floor stops being fun around age 8.

But things weren't so bad until around midnight.

That's when the space heater in our room ran out of gas.

Sleeping on the floor, with wet hair, in a room that is rapidly reaching 3 degrees... Now that feels like camping.

It's not like you can call the front desk to have them come switch out the heater... and I wasn't about to roam the halls in search of sleeping monks. So instead, we froze.

The next day we participated in the morning ceremony, and I have never seen anything like that before. For thirty minutes we sat watching and listening to the monks chanting, and humming, then one of them would shake a rattle, and then bang the drum. The "gong" was my favorite part.

Lee: Woah...

Me: That. was. awesome.

Lee: Yeah, after about five minutes I was thinking... this is a long song. And after ten minutes... I was like, this is the longest song I've ever heard. And then they kept going...

Me: Yeah, for like thirty minutes... but I'm pretty sure was a prayer. But what do I know...

Frankly, the whole experience made me wish I had paid more attention in my Philosophy of Religion class...

***

After ceremony it was time for breakfast. Yay...

I'm pretty sure they just took whatever we didn't eat for dinner, and gave it to us for breakfast.

Lee: I could definitely go for some IHOP right about now...

Me: Oooo... or a sausage biscuit!

Obviously, we wouldn't last a week as monks...




Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cheap and Delicious


From Hiroshima we headed to Kyoto. I was really excited about seeing Kyoto because I had heard so many amazing things about it.

First temple on the list... Kiyomizu-Dera.

Now, maybe I set my expectations too high, or perhaps it was the throngs of people, after all it was cherry blossom season, or it might have been the "gimmicky" feel I got from the place, but some of the temples in Kyoto started to feel more like Disneyland attractions rather than holy Buddhist temples.

Me: Lee! Look! All we have to do is pay 1000 yen for a good marriage! ... Do you think it's worth it?

Lee: But we already have a good marriage.

Me: Oooo... points for you. But no seriously, should we?


(Apparently, a deeper relationship is available too. All you have to do it pay Buddha 1000 yen... who knew?!)

The best part about the Kiyomizu-Dera temple was the Tainai-meguri. The Tainai-meguri is a symbolic walk through the womb of a bodhisattva. We had to follow a giant buddhist bead railing through the dark. We wound back and forth for quite a ways through darkest place I have ever been. Total blackness.

Me: Lee. Are you still back there?

Lee: mmm...hmm...

Me: Ok. Good.

....

Me: What about now?

Lee: Yes.

....

Me: It's so dark in here... I can't see anything....

....


Me: Lee....

Lee: Yes.

Me: Ok. Good.

When we reached the shining rock, I was too freaked out to make a wish. Plus, I was afraid that maybe I wasn't supposed to touch it after all, and I didn't want to piss off a bodhisattva while inside her womb.

***
After a day of temple roaming we headed to Gion, where I transformed into a geisha. Well, technically not a geisha, but a maica. Maicas are apprentices to geishas, and geishas are too sacred to be mocked by tourists such as myself, so a Maica I am.


It took ten minutes to apply the make-up and wig, and about thirty minutes to wrap me in robes, ribbons, shields, clips, more ribbons, wraps, etc...

While the lady was wrapping me in a million different layers she said something to make me laugh and I caught a glimpse of my teeth in the mirror. Now, I don't know if it was the grape juice I had earlier, or the white face makeup... but my teeth were a shade of yellow that should never exist in a human mouth.

After I was in full maica attire Lee came back to see me.

Me: psst... Lee. Look at my teeth. (Big Smile)

Lee: Ugh! What did they do to them?!

Me: Nothing...

Lee: Oh. (Gross Face)

Needless to say, I did not smile in any of my maica pictures. I played it off as, "trying to stay in character," rather than... "I'm keeping my mouth shut until I can get a toothbrush and some Crest white strips."



After playing dress up we went off to find food, and I wanted something good. The night before we had been to a restaurant where things didn't really turn out as expected.

Lee: Where do you want to eat?

Me: Umm... I don't know. I want something familiar, I don't feel well... I need comfort food.

...

Half an hour later... what I thought would be shrimp pasta turned out to be a plate of noodles with a giant red fish on top... with the biggest eyeball I've ever seen.

(I found the same fish later at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Huge eye right?!)

I prefer my food no longer have a face. But that's just me.

So after not eating much the night before, I was looking for something better.

Me: Wow Lee, this restaurant must have known you were coming. Look at their sign, "Cheap and Delicious!"

Lee: Perfect.

***
We sat at the bar and had a few drinks while we waited for our, "cheap and delicious," food to be served.

The waitress set a plate of food down in front of the guy next to me and I heard Lee yell.

Lee: It's moving! It's moving! Dude!! Don't eat that, it's moving!

Me: (through gritted teeth) Shut up... Shut up... are you serious right now?

Lee: It's moving! I'm just warning the guy. Maybe you didn't see it... but... His. Food. Is. Moving!

At this point, I just had to turn my back to the guy I couldn't look at him because I was laughing too hard, and I kept trying to sneak a look at his plate without him noticing.

Luckily, this guy didn't speak english, or he did an excellent job of pretending to ignore me and my overly dramatic and slightly drunk husband.

Turns out... our food moved too. The waitress explained it's a type of fish, that they sprinkle on top of the dishes. Excellent.

Cheap and Delicious? Eh.

It should have read, "Cheap and Decent... but be careful... it moves."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Totally Worth It


After a few days in Tokyo, we took the train to Hiroshima and while we were there we went on a dinner cruise to Miyajima to see the Itsukushima-jinja shrine.

(And no. I don't know how to pronounce that... I had trouble with many of the shrine and temple names... not to mention the subway lines. So Lee and I made up our own names... for example, the Marunouchi line was the Mariachi Line, and the Hanzomon line became the Hans Solo line... and so forth... it was much easier that way.)

Dinner cruises tend to be a little hoakey, so I was definitely expecting a cheese factor, but I knew we wouldn't get to see the shrine any other way.

When we boarded the ship, we were greeted by the captain and the crew and then escorted to the dining room. The empty dining room.

Me: This is weird. Where is everyone else?

Lee: I don't know.

(20 minutes later)

Me: So, the boat leaves in five minutes... and we are still the only ones on here. You don't think they would take the ship out for just one reservation right? That can't even be worth it. The crew must be pissed. They think they have the night off, but no... two dumb tourists show up.

Lee: If we just chartered our own dinner cruise than it was worth every penny!

Me: *roll my eyes*

***

Three other couples showed up right before we were supposed to leave the dock. Apparently, Japan also runs on Philippine time where, "Be there at 5," actually means "Get there whenever you want, thirty seconds before the ship leaves is fine." (Or perhaps I'm just a bit anal...)

Dinner was actually really good. Which proves Japan has amazing food, because the food on dinner cruises is awful. Even Lee thought it was good. And he doesn't usually like his dinner to come in several small courses.

Me: The food was really good! I love Japan!

Lee: Yeah, it was good.

Me: It was definitely worth it. Plus, it's Easter... we are treating ourselves.

Lee: Yeah, but you seem to always "treat" yourself.

Me: You only live once.

Lee: Yeah, but I'll need to live a few times to pay for your ass.

***
To make things even better, the cruise wasn't even cheesy. We ate dinner on the boat, cruised by the shrine, watched the sunset and that was it. Of course, we didn't understand a word that was said since we don't speak Japanese... but it's probably better that way.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fuk-u-sushi


Our first night in Tokyo we went out for sushi. Of course.

We went to a place, recommended by Lonely Planet, near our hotel called Fukuzushi.

Luckily, most of the menus in Japan, especially sushi menus, have pictures so this made it much easier for us to order. Although, they did end up sending one of the chefs over who spoke English just to make sure everything was clear.

We were trying to be adventurous so we asked the chef to pick out a few things for us in addition to what we had chosen.

His choices? Scallops, which he said were delicious. And Sardines, which are a very traditional Japanese choice... apparently.

Hmm..

Me: I didn't know you could eat raw scallops...

Lee: Looks like you can.

Me: I guess so.

Lee: Hey, I need a... oh... yeah... I forgot about the chopsticks part. This should be interesting.

***

Lee pulled off the chopsticks no problem, and the food at Fukuzushi was amazing. It was some of the best sushi I've ever had! I had never seen sardines that weren't dried, and even raw they were a little on the fishy side, but the scallops were great.

Well... at the time they were great. Let's just say that my previous statement about how you shouldn't eat raw scallops was right on the money, because at 4 in the morning, Fukuzushi's scallops... said "fuku" and made me really sick. (Or perhaps revenge... I can't really be sure.)

I didn't want to spend my entire vacation in the bathroom, and in order not to do so, I knew I needed to get medicine. The problem would be trying to explain to the man behind the counter at the drug store what I needed. He speaks Japanese. I speak English. And I was having visions of me... in the store... trying to explain my symptoms... and the only hand gestures I could think of were way to obscene for public use.

So I made Lee go.
***

Me: Babe...?

Lee: What do you want?

Me: Will you go down to the drug store and tell them you're sick, and get me some medicine?

Lee: Why do I have to go? And why do I have to tell them I'm sick.

Me: Beeccaaauuse... it's embarrassing! Pleeeease.

Because he is amazing, he walked to the store and got medicine. Although, not without being chased down the street by a small Japanese lady offering him, "massage."

***

Lee: I got it.

Me: Yay! So, what did you do?

Lee: I just rubbed my stomach and made a sad face.

Me: Genius! What I was thinking of doing was going to be super graphic... (I start acting.)

Lee: That's gross!

Me: I know!

Lee: Anyway, this is what he gave me.



Me: Hmmm...

Lee: I guess that is supposed to be a stomach... and the quotes mean shaky?

Me: Yeah, I guess...

I couldn't read a word on the box, and I had no other choice but to trust the Japanese man not to kill me... and it worked!

I felt much better for the rest of the trip, the only down side was I wasn't able to eat sushi again until our last day there. Fortunately, Japan has the best food in the world so it didn't really matter.

They even had Mexican food! We are very deprived of Mexican food in the Philippines, so when I found out there were Mexican food restaurants in Japan I knew we had to give it a try.

Lee: Are you sure Mexican food is the best thing for you to be eating right now?

Me: First of all, I don't care... And second of all, I'm from Texas... it's exactly what I need...

1 Taco, 2 Flautas, 1 Jalapeno popper, 2 strawberry margaritas, and a basket of chips and salsa later... I never felt better.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I think I'm turning Japanese

We've been back from Japan for over a week now. And I've been meaning to blog about our adventures, but I haven't been able to... because I've been depressed.

Why have I been depressed, you ask?

Only because Japan is officially my new favorite place on the planet and I miss it very much.

Well, to be more specific... Tokyo is my new favorite place on the planet.

Tokyo is like New York City's quirky younger sister...

Nobody understands anything she does or says, but you just can't help but love her.

That sister.

But getting there wasn't so peachy...

***

Our flight left Manila at 4:30 am.

Four-freakin'-thirty-in-the-morning!!!

Which couldn't possibly be any fault of mine. I swear!

When I booked the flight, it departed at 6:30... but whatever. I blame Philippine Airlines.

This meant we had to leave our house at midnight to get to the airport by 2:30 to make our flight at 4:30. Which means neither of us slept, and both of us were our typically fabulous selves, while we waited in the world's longest ticket and security lines. (Although we did come up with several ways to make the airline run much more efficiently. So if the president of the airline would like to give us a call, we would be more than happy to share a little bit of our expertise. Although, I might share a bit more than expertise, so it would be in your best interest to talk to Lee.)

After an equally frustrating lay-over in Cebu, where apparently signs don't actually mean what they say, and after we were spoken to like children, "Do. Yoou. Understaaand?"

No, I don't understand... because where I come from a sign that says, "international connections" with an arrow, means I follow the arrow to my international connection. I don't go in the opposite direction... walk outside the airport and across the terminal. So, do you understand that you are the idiot here, not us?!

Lack of sleep combined with stupidity does not make me or Lee very tolerable people.

After our four and a half hour flight to Narita, combined with an hour train ride to Ueno, and a thirty minute subway ride to Roppongi we were finally at our stop.

***

Luckily, we decided to pack light.

A.) Because I didn't trust the airlines to actually keep track of my bag. After all, there was a lay-over involved... And that can be tricky.

and

B.) We were planning on moving around quite a bit, and unfortunately, I learned the hard way in Europe how difficult it is to bring large luggage on the train.

This is the bag I used to carry all TEN days of clothes... warm clothes... and changes of clothes for dinner... and heels! Mr. Bigg is standing by for size comparison... and because he wanted a treat.


Impressive. I know.

High maintenance? Ha!

Lee: So... all your stuff fit in that bag? And you didn't bring a hair dryer? Wow, this probably feels like camping for you huh?

Rude.

***

After a long day of travel... we came out from the underground and all the sleeplessness was worth it.

Tokyo Rocks!

Later, when we were having ice cream. Real ice cream. Cold Stone ice cream!

Me: I love this place! I'm getting on Monster.com, to look for jobs in Tokyo as soon as we get back.

Lee: You? You are getting on Monster to find a job? For you?!

Me: Ha! No. For you. How am I supposed to enjoy the city if I have to work all the time? Get serious.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Words With Husband

Lee and I are leaving for our vacation to Japan, which is a relief because I've been buried under mounds of Japanese travel information for weeks.

I have learned "Thank You," and "Please." And I have been practicing my bows. I can only hope they still aren't upset about my conspiracy theories, otherwise this could make for a very uncomfortable vacation.

The other day I was reading to Lee out of my travel bible... "Lonely Planet: Japan," about some of the places we are going to see.

Me: "... it serves as a repository for many Buddhist Monks."

Lee: Ha!

Me: No. Re-pository. Not suppository.

Lee: Oh. See there is no need for you to play Words with Friends, you can just play "Words with Husband."

Great...

This guy is my travel partner?

So wish me luck in Japan. I will definitely need it. And stay tuned for our Japanese adventures!

P.S. - I am addicted to Words with Friends. My name is KBBMUSE if you want to play me. But I'll only play you if you promise not to cheat. My Dad cheats and it is most annoying!


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Encore!

Last weekend, Lee and I went with some friends to Encore, a club in Manila.

Well, that Saturday also happened to be the same night as the Timbaland Shock Value concert in Manila, featuring Justin Timberlake.

Once we got to the club we started to hear rumors that Timbaland and Timberlake were coming to the club after the concert.

Always the skeptic...

"False."

Was my immediate reaction.

Timbaland? Maybe.

Timberlake? No way.

Apparently, there had been some questions as to whether Justin would even be at the concert, and the TicketWorld web site had to make a statement to assure people that he would be there in person and not on an LED screen.

Around midnight, the club DJ announced that Timbaland was on his way to the club, and about twenty minutes later his entourage arrived. It ended up being Timbaland's birthday so he got up and did a few songs for the crowd... which was pretty cool, but as expected the size of the crowd seemed to triple.

People were shoulder to shoulder with their cameras and phones in the air trying to get a picture.

This wouldn't have been so bad if our table hadn't been directly in front of the VIP section.

We were surrounded by people leaning on us... over us... trying to stand on the chairs we were sitting in just so they could get a picture. I have never seen so many asses at eye level before...


The sea of people made it nearly impossible for our waiter to get to us, and getting out to use the restroom was hopeless.

Holding it for over an hour definitely raised my irritability level...

***

Me: You know what the most annoying part about all this is?

Lee: What?

Me: I bet 99% of the people in here don't even know which one of those guys Timbaland is...

Lee: Yeah, I know.

*Lee gets up and begins snapping some pictures.*

Me: You do know that's not him right?

Lee: Oh... it's not?

Me: No.

***

Thankfully, Timberlake never showed. I'm thankful not only because I'm sure we would have all been trampled to death, but also because after a few cocktails I had begun making ridiculous bets with people about how he wasn't going to show up. None of which I had any intention of fulfilling...

Timbaland may have ruined my night... but Timberlake saved the day.