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Japan (and Hong Kong)


Dec 4 - Arrived at Narita. They said flying time was eleven hours, but it didn't seem that long. Checked in at the Prince & then split for Shibuya. It's 10PM and I still don't feel tired. Bought CD's at Tower, but Tokyu Hands didn't have any Cosmo - only DMC 25.

Dec 5 - in the Kanda YMCA. Sitting here in my yukata, it's hard to believe I've only been back one day - this is all so natural. Awoke much too early, and followed all the touristy advice & went down to the Tsukiji fish market. Quite a scene - I was most taken by the simple three-wheeled cargo vehicles in use there. The only dynamic component was the front drum - the top was combination steering wheel-throttle; the middle, motor; and the bottom, the single driving wheel. This big drum pivoted (it also had a single headlight) and the driver stood on the platform, most of whose space was for payload. Went back to Prince via Sengakuji temple again, for the 47 Ronin. Then explored a bit of Roppongi, but that trip was mainly to check out WAVE - a great music store. Then moved over to Kanda, and after check-in, hit Akihabara again. This time it wasn't dead at all during the night. Had some nabe noodles, and finally went back along a familiar sports store cluster - everyone was buying ski stuff. I had my first yaki-imo - no big deal.

Dec 6 - Seems like all today was, was futile running about; but I think that's because a lot of what I saw today was familiar. Awoke with a splitting headache, and the first choshoku didn't faze it none. An Excedrin did, however. Stowed the bag in a locker corner of Shinjuku underground that was surrounded by a dozen homeless (!). Then rode the Seibu subway to Arai Yakushi, there to visit the monthly flea market at the temple. (Bought a couple of dolls, cheap ... the Lucas girls may get them.) Then back to Shinjuku to hit the new Tower records for a mini-concert by They Might Be Giants. Had a snack at a mechanical sushi bar, then checked into this too-expensive Washington Hotel. Wandered around evening Shinjuku, and "It's Been Done". Had a curry dinner at a place that reminded me of "The Difference Engine" scene: "We will have places such as this in my country! Clean! Modern! Rapid!" Now I'm watching a WWII documentary with the sound off, as the radio plays japanesey-muzak Christmas carols. In the AM, I see a big truck parked downstairs - its message:


Dec 7 - left Shinjuku, and headed towards Asakusa. A short journey to an embroidery shop was a successful experience in Tokyo navigation, but no Cosmo. The 2-hour trip to Nikko dragged on to 4 - another local vs. express problem. Now I'm ensconced in the Pension Turtle.

Dec 8 - Awoke to pouring rain. It had tapered off by the end of my Western breakfast (with weird fruit - kaki?) whence I went off to the line of stone bhuddas called Bakejizo. Then in-depth look at the main Nikko attractions: the Shinkyo bridge, the Toshogu Shrine with Yomeimon gate, and the Futarasan Temple. The younger Turtle woman then gave me a ride back to the station, and I walked about downtown Nikko before the (real) 2-hour ride back to Tokyo. Checked in to the first hotel available at Ueno, then went shopping in that nearby market area. Rode over to Shibuya for some more mechanical sushi, then back for more Ueno walkabout. Tonight it wasn't cold at all, but balmy. A neat sight was an officer directing traffic around some utility work: the usual red wand he was waving not only illuminated, but strobing.

Dec 9 - Wotta Day, Wotta Day! It had both victories and failures, including an incredibly frustrating bed search that finally terminated in this Ueno 'love hotel' called le Chic, adjacent to the train tracks and upstairs from a pachinko parlor.

Although the day began with the ingeniously thrifty purchase of an all-day subway pass, a grim harbinger of things to come was a brief[ly futile] search around Ueno for a locker. Bag stashed, I set off for Ginza/Tokyo station. After a brief TIC consultation, their second embroidery tip proved positive - Cosmo secured. Casting about for these Prefectural Handicrafts, finally discovered them on the 9th floor of Daimaru depato. Then back to Tsukiji for unagi lunch, and knife & hashi purchase. Back to Roppongi to investigate Axis (great clocks in Spiral) and a return to Wave for Slade purchase. En route to Ebisu for laundry, detoured to Jimbocho for the Kanda Kosho center - found it this time. 9 floors: used records (including jazzy 78's), used manga & other magazines, porn tapes, new manga, old postcards, half of one floor was Russian music, and half of another was a curry restaurant. Plus floors of old Nihon books. After the laundromat, the frustrating search began ... musta asked 25 times around five stations. Tomorrow, Hong Kong - the adventure really begins.

Dec 10 - Waiting at Narita ... Yesterday's folly must have fogged my brain - I left for the airport much earlier than necessary - or perhaps I just wanted to ditch that much-too-heavy blue bag? Departure wing observations: those big silver tubes pointed out over the throng's heads, and that tall post in the middle, surmounted by a big green orb that glows bright, then dims, then glows again ... and now, a seasonal addition - a tall christmas tree.

Whew - arrived in Hong Kong, and the neon doesn't blink (as George Davis said so long ago.) Lots isn't working, though, like Las Vegas. But the filthy streets are a shock, and this King's Hotel - well, I haven't stayed in a dive like this since Europe.

Dec 11 - Ran from King's, after a night that miraculously contained some sleep. Had a greasy fast-food breaky at the clownish Fairwood, strolling around downtown Tshimshatsui. Changed money and then hit the Opal Mine - if they hadn't been playing that annoying Christmas music, I might have stayed even longer (and spent more). Then moved into east Tshimshatsui, reconfirmed flights at the Korean office, and strolled the Promenade. Had an Indonesian lunch and did some shopping, then fled Kowloon via the MTR subway (trains are strange in that there's no doors between cars. The system's reminiscent of the London Underground - the little balls instead of rings to hang onto, big ads on the tunnel walls, and little ones along the fast moving escalators). Surfaced on Hong Kong Island, and immediately boarded a double-decker tram. Rode it to the end of the line by mistake, and walked for over an hour to find the Emerald Hotel. Hong Kong has a couple of weird wows: almost every restaurant, and many other businesses, have little, prominent, on-site shrines. A red box contains a figurine, watched over by one, or maybe two or three red light bulbs. Sometimes this shrine is outside, by the door, and is merely a red-tiled alcove, empty save for some burned down joss sticks. The other thing is an abundance of off-nominal barber poles, fast-spinning, horizontal as well as vertical, and striped in orange and green, or yellow and black, and sometimes checked. After the Emerald check-in, took another long stroll, which terminated at the Peak Tram, which I naturally rode up to the Peak. Got Pam's dream "chop" up there, and then rode down. The view wasn't that terrific - it was hazy. Took more tram rides, back and forth, drinking in the neon. Finished with a low-key dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Dec 12 - A day of ferry rides and fast-food "mixed grill". I write this in the absolute worst accommodations I've ever endured - a $16 closet on the top (17th) floor of Chunking Mansions "B" block. I could have easily gotten better; frankly, this is a Honk Kong experience I wanted ... it's much more scuzzy than I could have possibly imagined ... before. Still, all is secure, and with hardly any luck I'll fly out tomorrow on schedule. This morning, after sleeping late and well, I walked away from the Emerald and let perhaps ten crowded trams go by before boarding one for "Central". I finally got inside the round-windowed Jardin House to check out the HKTA office there, but couldn't look through any of the windows. Domage. Anyway, rode the Star ferry back to Kowloon, shopped (well, looked ... the concentric spheres carved from ivory or jade are amazing. So are the entire scenes carved from a single tusk) and had lunch. After mansion check-in (kind of a bait-and-switch from the much nicer Mirador Mansion) rode the subway north to Mongkok and walked down Hong Lok Street, the Bird Market alley. Then a continued promenade down Nathan, trying to think of the right word to describe this place - "hellish" seems slightly too extreme. [Finally settled on "infernal."] After touching base in my cell, visited the Space Museum, and then rode the ferry back to Hong Kong island where a double-decker bus took me to Aberdeen. There, a smaller ferry went out to the famous floating restaurants. Now, there's three, but they're all connected into one mass, along with multi-storey support barges at their rear. Bus back, ferry back, can't get back to Japan soon enuf! Noises that night included fighting cats; jabbering Pakistani, both live and televised; and the occaisional PING from the impact of an empty beverage can, hurled from a window.

Dec 13 - In the morning had a jolly breakfast at the Mad Dogs English Pub, then finally made the airport, where I swiped one of those dragon-balls. Imitation ivory, it seems. In the evening, checked in to the Park Side business hotel in Ueno, and did a walkabout.

Dec 14 - The next morning bought ties nearby, then a final mad dash over to Akihabara "Electric Town" for purchase of a radio and futile CD search. Checked in at the recommended time at Narita, and had so-so tempura at a restaurant on the 5th floor. Fooled around forever, ran for the gate, made another flight - and am now home, mission thoroughly complete.

DMC, Cosmo - embroidery thread companies
yaki-imo - baked sweet potato
depato - department store

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