Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Narita, Japan

I can't write tons about Japan because I wasn't there very long, but I was excited to learn when I arrived at the airport that there are lots of services for transit passengers when they have lots of time between flights. I had 9 hours and had been concerned about this.  I tried to check the airport's web site to find out any information about amenities, and I learned I could rent a day room being that my flight arrived at 7am, so I was planning to find one and then sleep the day away for lack of anything better to do.  But when I ran into an airport staff person at the entrance to the international transfer area, she told me about all the services they offer, including a lounge with wifi, snacks, beverages, and sofas. They will give you coupons for free meals, massages, and showers! And they will even organise tours for you that are free to do except for museum entrance fees that you need to pay if you choose a tour with a museum.  So of course, I opted to do that rather than sleep the day away!

Japan was really beautiful, what I saw of it. There wasn't enough time to go into Tokyo proper, so I didn't get to see that part, but I did get to see some of the country side around Narita.  I saw two temples, the Naritasan and Sogo-Reido temples, and then the Kawasura DIC Memorial Museum, which housed beautiful paintings that included some by Camille Pissarro, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall. There was even a Rodin sculpture! That was very unexpected.  The scenery around where I got to travel was similar to fall here at home, similar colours and some similar trees, although one sight was a lot of persimmon trees that were just filled with fruit. That's definitely something we won't see here!  One thing that struck me as funny is how many beverage vending machines were all over the place. They would even appear to be randomly placed to block beautiful country side scenes, but it's probably more that during a long stretch of no stores, you might get thirsty and want somewhere to get a drink.  When I think about it, rather than a vending machine, many countries I've been to would just have a vendor selling some fresh juice or something like that, so I guess it's not entirely different, only that one is automated.

While waiting back at the lounge for my flight, there was a TV on that had been showing news the whole time, but at one point, they started showing people singing this song called "Flowers Will Bloom". I get the meaning behind it is special, but I couldn't stop picturing what Simon Cowell would say if he saw any of them. It was dreadful! Please realise the next 4+ minutes will be pure torture, so decide how much of a masochist you are before you play this.  When I returned home, I decided to find out what the Japanese version of the song was because the credits after the English version said it had been translated from Japanese. It turns out the Japanese version is beautiful, and the singers are excellent and better coordinated! Have a listen for yourself and compare! (I'm not sure if you will see the video properly or not because it wasn't working for me, but the sound is the most important. You can also find it on YouTube, but I posted this version for my mom's sake because YouTube is blocked where she is.)

Back at the gate waiting for my flight, they played Neil Young and Sarah McLaughlin over the intercom. I thought that was funny.  Anyway, enough about that. I know you're mostly excited to see photos, so here they are--and don't forget to click on the album to see them larger!


Friday, November 15, 2013


I don't really have lots to say about Jakarta.  I've been there so many times now that I don't really have much more to see there.  I'd still like to see the textiles museum, but that's about it.  I worked the whole time I was there and didn't have much free time anyway, so I didn't get to do much as it was.  But one thing I can say is that the fact that I've been there enough, even in that city of 17 million people, I have started being able to recognise areas from time to time, even if minimally so.  One day when my taxi driver was lost, I started recognising familiar plant and concrete garden ornament shops, of all things! They're always on the way to the hotel I usually have to stay in when I go to Jakarta, so I was surprised to when I realised I actually knew where I was.  Maybe the city is sectioned off into various districts anyway.  I went down Fatmawati for a long time and noticed it would be the place to look for furnishings, interiors and design, and oriental carpets.  It was store after store with these offerings.  Most were general oriental carpet stores, but one was specifically for Turkmenistan carpets!

I noticed a lot of funny signs this time around.  I saw one that said: Try our new twin massage, and a bumper sticker that read "Real men use three pedals." I've never driven a stick, so I don't know what that means, but it struck me as really funny regardless.  Probably would be funnier if I understood it fully!

Another thing I've noticed while travelling generally is that a lot of times, taxi drivers will switch the radio station they're listening to to what they think you would want to hear as a westerner.  Usually it's crappy hip-hop and dance music, but it's always funny to me that they assume you'd rather hear that than whatever local music they have on.

And with all the travel I do, things start to merge together in the world for me.  Perhaps that's what being a citizen of the world means.  As we drove past some Isuzu vehicles, I pondered that Isuzu is a company I'd heard of before but then couldn't remember if I'd seen them in Canada or not.  I figured I'd had, but then maybe it's just that I've been to Asia so often and seen the Isuzu so often that it's now because part of what I think are my daily general memories, and I can't distinguish them anymore.

Meanwhile, here are a few pics!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Photos from Vietnam

Here are the photos from Vietnam. Please stop at the old US army machinery if you think you might not be able to handle some of the photos I took from the War Remnants Museum. It's definitely not easy to see.

Fun in Malaysia

Me with my laksa

As much as I wish I could change up my region for work just to do something refreshing, I don't ever get tired of going to Malaysia.  My days in KL were pretty full, but I have some time to relax and enjoy some free time in Penang.  I love this place because it has great food, and if I have the time, I could technically go to the beach, but normally I opt to stay in main city, Georgetown.  I was with one colleague on Friday night, so he and I went out for supper on a street that a Malaysian friend recommended, Macalister Road.  I didn't realise it's famous on the island, but I had eaten there a year or two ago with a different colleague since it was near our hotel, and it looked like it might have some good local street hawker food, which is one of the things Penang is famous for.  I had decided there were two dishes I wanted to eat: Penang-style laksa, which was my first experience with laksa, and char kuay teow, which is something else that Penang is known for, though you can get both of these dishes all over Malaysia.  I like the Penang style of laksa because it generally comes with a clearer, sour broth, unlike most laksas that have a coconut milk base.  I'm not opposed to coconut milk-based broths, but I prefer the flavour of the sour one without coconut.  And of course, I had some satay as well, though my colleague had ordered it, so I just had a couple of sticks.  Besides, I'd already had some good satay earlier in the week at a reception we had attended, so I wanted to focus on my other treats.  I'd also already had some roti canai and roti telur (the kind stuffed with egg) in KL as well, so I was happy to say I'd had all the yummy things I planned to eat while I was in the country.
Roti telur
While my colleague and I were eating, we were served beverages by a sweet older lady, who was missing most of her teeth, and what was in her mouth was mostly blackened from smoking.  She looked weathered and had a raspy voice to boot, but she was friendly and liked to joke around--except when it came to her belief that my colleague and I were more than just work associates or that we should be more than that if we weren't already!  My colleague doesn't swing that way, and I'm sure his partner at home might have been jealous, but it gave us a good laugh.  I had hoped to take a photo of her, but unfortunately, she wouldn't appear in one.  She said, "You know how some Chinese people have that belief...".  My colleague nodded, and so did I so as not to reveal my ignorance.  I asked my colleague after what that meant, and he said some people believe that parts of their souls go out of their bodies when photographed, so that was probably it.  I've heard of that before, but I had never heard it in Chinese beliefs.  I asked a Chinese Malaysian friend at home about it, and he never heard of it either, so I'm still searching for more information.  A quick Google search didn't reveal much, so I'll have to keep sleuthing.

This time in Penang, I had almost a full day to relax and do fun things there because my Saturday was a travel day, and I had booked an evening flight so that I could eat more yummy things and do something fun in Penang because I usually don't have any time to enjoy myself while I'm there.  I learned that there was a butterfly farm, so I hopped a bus to get most of the way there and then took a taxi the rest of the waty since there's no bus that goes directly there.  I love butterflies so much.  As caterpillars, they're hairy and gross and sometimes squishy, as butterflies, they become so pretty as they flutter around with a lightness almost wispier than air itself.  If I had sad somewhere long enough, I know that they would have landed on me because they were doing that to others, but then I wouldn't have been able to do much of a good self-portrait that way, so I decided just to keep walking--though one butterfly did bean me in the head at one point!  There wasn't as much variety of butterflies as I would have liked to see, but I enjoyed myself anyway.  As I was running short for time, I took a taxi back home, but not before checking out the farm's insect section where there were a variety of beetles and scorpions, among other bugs.  It was pretty cool.  There were a few reptiles, too.

I guess there are fraudulent monks here, though I've never encountered one
One neat thing I did this time was that, between my one colleague and I and how we booked our school visits, we ended up doing a ring around the entire perimeter of the island in one day.  I've never been all around it like that before!  I was able to get the name of Indian restaurant that's really good there, called Sri Ananda Bahwan restaurant.  Oh, and we also passed by a sign for one of Malaysia's low cost airlines, Firefly, which read Wilayah Firefly trespassers will be boarded! If you have a ticket, you're not really trespassing, right? Or what does this mean?  Oh well!

Please click on the album to get the full photos and not just the thumbnails: