Sushu's Travel Journal

July 28, 2010

In Tokyo

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:41 pm

So we got into Tokyo very late Saturday night, due to a mysterious 3 hour delay by Air China. So late, in fact, that the cell phone place in Narita was closed and our sketchy guest house contact couldn’tmake it out to check us in, so instead we went out of the Ikebukuro north exit and walked around until we found a hotel, and checked in. Turned out it was a love hotel. They charged us extra for checking in before the overnight stay time, but didn’t explain. But that’s okay because we were tired and we were experiencing a love hotel. We picked the room from a panel of pictures. The room had a karaoke machine and a dedicated softcore porn channel and perhaps a jacuzzi. It was very posh! Apparently it was also one of the more expensive love hotels in the area. This area is on our walk from the guest house to Ikebukuro station, and it’s chock full of love hotels. There’s one that’s Panda themed, another that is Safari themed, and another that is Ganesha-themed. Some of them have very cheap overnight stays, like 4000 yen (about $50 by current exchange rate). I can totally see the couple’s way of living in Tokyo on the cheap as: check luggage in coin lockers during the day ($5), sleep at love hotel at night.

As for us, we are staying at a Guest House about 15 minute walk from Ikebukuro station, in Ikebukuro Honmachi 1 chome. It is a 5 minute walk from Kita-Ikebukuro, which isn’t on the standard Tokyo metro map because it is not JR and not Tokyo Metro. It is instead on a private “Tobu Tojo” line. Even though this station is just one short stop north of Ikebukuro, it is very much a residential district, with small 2 story houses and quiet narrow streets. Our neighborhood shops are mostly clustered around the Kita-Ikebukuro stop, and consist of: a convenient store, a bento shop, a sushi shop, a soba and unagi shop, a miscellaneous goods shop, a raw meat shop, 2 tobacco shops, and 2 Chinese food/ramen shops. There’s also a little map shop on a random street, and lots of parking lots, presumably for people who drive their car in and switch to the train at the Ikebukuro station. Our room has only a single twin bed in it, and a small desk, but the month rent is pretty reasonable (about 90,000, all told), so in the end it’s worth it.

These days Jono has been going to work at the Mozilla Japan office. I would stay at home looking up information about Nagasaki or Tokyo, then meet him for lunch by his office. Then I would go visit a museum or something, and then we’d meet for dinner and some hangings out.

Monday I got a GRUTT pass and visited the Ancient Orient Museum and the Planetarium in Sunshine City. At the Planetarium, I learned that planets beyond Saturn aren’t worth mentioning or displaying, and that the Weaver Girl is apparently a princess.

Tuesday I went to Ueno Park and visited the awesome and cute Shitamachi Museum where I played lots of old timey kids games, and fished a balloon out of water! And then in the evening we went to Akihabara and got some RPG books for Ewen. The RPG shop had EVERYTHING from old school D&D to Japanese RPGs to various board games, and the shop attendants knew whwere the most obscure things were. I picked up a martial arts role-playing game book. Then we went to Tokyo Tower, which was all right.

Tonight we wandered around Yoyogi Park (the Meiji Jingu was closed), and now we’re at a manga kissa. This one, in fact. The manga kissa is pretty awesome. We sit in this little cubicle, which is about 300 yen per hour. There is internet, tv channels, and a Playstation 2 insided the cubicle. Outside are shelves and shelves of manga and magazines and also a small DVD collection. There are several vending machines of free drinks, as well as fresh fruit juice and soft-serve ice cream. They offer free blankets and stuff if you want to stay the night. There is also a vending machine for yakisoba and takoyaki. It’s pretty awesome. A 10 hour overnight stay (check-in starting 9pm) is only 1900 yen ($22), which would be the single-person, non-love-hotel way of surviving Tokyo on the cheap.

On Friday we’re heading to Nagasaki! And next weekend we’re hitting 3 summer festivals in Tohoku. Should be exciting stuff. :D

July 20, 2009

Beijing Day 1 and 2 — (Mis)Adventures

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:00 pm

Note: Images here are stolen from the internets because haven’t uploaded mine yet.

We got into Beijing by overnight train on Monday morning. The person who reserved our train tickets for us did it wrong, and we were placed in bottom bunks in different rooms, so we had to do some mild ticket trading. But otherwise the train ride was pleasant and uneventful. I took lots of pictures of Northern villages and industrial stuff. It was really interesting that the crummiest houses would still have satellite dishes. For a country with state-controlled media, Chinese people sure like their media. There’s also fewer bathroom tile houses and more shabby brick.

So we got to our hostel after navigating the subway system. I’d gotten fairly familiar with the subway system during my stay last year, but at the time, I had this magic pass that allowed me free onto all public transit, so this was the first time I had to buy tickets. The system was really confusing because it was obviously designed to charge variable rates depending on distance travelled (you’re prompted for your destination station), but really, all subway tickets are just 2 rmb.

We went to the hostel, and they said “come back at noon to check in”. So at 10am we stowed our luggage and headed to the Forbidden City. I wanted to go in from the front for the maximum effect, but the taxi driver could only drop us off at the east gate, so a lot of walking happened. Then we had to stand in line for half an hour to get tickets. (There were many ticket scalpers, and under normal circumstances I’d gladly pay an extra 10rmb for the effort of waiting in long lines in the sun, but I was afraid that they’re used tickets or otherwise invalid. Man, I’m so distrustful in China)

Anyways, we get into the Forbidden City. It’s ginormous, which is good because there were like 1300 people milling around us at any given time. I saw at least 40 different tour groups.

This picture is from October, but accurately represents the 人山人海

Things were going well — I would send Jono ahead to peer into hallowed halls and meet him at the right corner of the next hall in the row. But after 3 halls of this, just as we were about to enter the second half of the Forbidden City (the first half is the public, guest-receiving, pompous part where you have 8-10 beastie buildings, the second half is slightly less pompous and has actual living areas), I lost Jono!!

We were rounding this corner and headed for these stairs that went down into a big square type thing. I was following Jono, but then I realized that it wasn’t Jono, just some other guy. So I went to the balcony and looked out for a while, trying to be conspicuous, and also trying to find him. Failing that, I figured that he was probably ahead somewhere because I was hobbling and he didn’t realize that I wasn’t following directly behind, so I went ahead through the rest of the Palace, following the crowds, and loitering at every sign post (Jono likes reading Signs) and every right corner of a building. I waited for him for a while around the exit, but he wasn’t showing up, and I was getting anxious.

The offending balcony area

Meanwhile, Jono had apparently left me to take a picture on the balcony, and when he discovered that I wasn’t there anymore, he decided to go back to the earlier meeting point, figuring that I would go there since I’m not good at walking. (This was when I was looking all over the balcony for him). Then he went up and down the balcony area looking for me (this was when I’d moved on). He loitered in that area for a while, and then decided to head for the exit, hoping I’d be there.

At this point, I’d noticed that there’s an announcement/paging system that was audible in the rear of the palace, and had found out that the broadcasting room was all the way near where we had separated. So I was making my slow way back towards the front.

So the broadcasting room as this service window that they open, and you can fill out a form with relevant information, and they’d broadcast the information, like “XXX from YYY, please go to ZZZ to meet up”
So I was like, “Hey, can you broadcast in English?”
Dude: “English? Who did you lose?”
Me: “His name is Jonathan DiCarlo” (Figured to go with the familiar oldie-but-goodie instead of Xia Zhong Nuo)
Dude: ::makes a face:: “Okay… show me your ID card”
Me: ::digs out USA passport::
Dude: ::sighs, rolls eyes in the ‘omg what is up with this girl?’ way:: “Fine, fill out this form.”
Me: (while filling out the form) “Um.. I don’t remember properly how to write 殿…”
Dude: ::sighs as he writes it for me:: “You could have just written a homophone… this form is perfunctory anyway.”
And then he lets me into the broadcasting room because he doesn’t speak English. I think he sighed/rolled his eyes again when he saw my hobbling ways.

So anyways, I did the broadcast, and then went to the meeting place and sat down to wait. After about 10 minutes Jono showed up! He had gone to the exit and had turned back when he heard the announcement, and so he rushed over. So after some quiet rejoicing and calming of nerves, we walked to the exit and left the park. By this time it’s 2pm and I’d walked the length of the Forbidden City 3 times. :( My foot was none-too-happy

So we skipped the Coal Hill and went back to the hostel.

At around dinner time, we packed an overnight bag and headed out again. Here’s the deal: I’d reserved one night’s stay at an expensive SiHeYuan courtyard that’s supposed to be all traditional and homey and cool. It was 780rmb per night, versus the 200rmb at the hostel. So we stopped at a Meat On a Stick place nearby that was kind of Med-like in the wall scribbles (“In an attempt to stem X’s shopping addiction we ate from Y street all the way here. Next up, the bars of Z!” “Here on Valentines’ Day after a big fight with my husband.” “Food is Zen”. “X is extorting me for food again.” “Best of luck to me getting into U of Sydney!”). It was kinda expensive, though, 80rmb.

After dinner, we got a taxi to the SiHeYuan place. It was down this hutong (in contrast to Shanghai’s Longtang), and we found this tiny metal door. We were like, “ummm?” But then a guy came up and was like, “Are you Sushu?” And he opened the door to a tiny narrow alleyway. At the end of the alley was a small courtyard with a tree and a long table off to the side. In the shade of the tree was a large goldfish basin. The courtyard floor was soft gray stone tiles. The four sides of the courtyard were different rooms. It was very quiet and peaceful in the courtyard. We paid the money, and settled down in our room. The room was pretty awesome, a mix of classy old-timey decor and modern amenities (air conditioning, CFLs everywhere, and a ginormous shower area with one of those super big shower heads). We had a very quiet night there, working on our respective comics.

They had the cutest dog ever

The next morning, the hostess made us a really yummy western style breakfast, and then after some more loitering about, we headed by subway and then by taxi to 圆明园, the old Summer Palace which was destroyed by various foreign peoples first in the Anglo-French war of 1860 and then during the 8-Alliance occupation in the 1890s.

It was much bigger than we expected! We walked past a whole lotus festival thing. And then we rode on a boat through one of the 20 lily lakes there, and then we went to see the Western Building Remnants. On the way back to the exit we got lost among the network of islands and bridges and lakes. But we eventually found our way out, snagging some Meat On a Stick on the way out. We also bought a cup of 酸梅汤, which is this cool sweet and tart plum drink popular here in the summer. But it turned out to be watered-down vinegar. D:

My foot was not feeling that great after the second successive day of walking for 4 hours, so we caught a taxi all the way back. Except that the taxi driver got lost. 3 times. :(

I think we missed some major sights in Yuanmingyuan because I was too tired to walk by the end. There were signs saying that the 12 bronze zodiacs were on display somewhere in the park, but I didn’t look very hard. We also didn’t go into the maze. :(

On the other hand, we didn’t lose each other!

Then in the evening, even though my foot was really feeling it, we managed to meet up with some of my friends from Shanghai and then we watched HP6!

That brings us to today, where Jono headed off to work, and I forced myself to stay in bed all day to rest my foot. Much lolling on the internet and napping happened.

Next posts:
- Things I learn from Beijing Taxi Drivers
- Quick HP6 reaction.

July 16, 2009

Ningbo Countryside

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 10:59 pm

Back from 2 days in the Ningbo countryside. Ningbo has mountains on one side and the ocean on the other (with a very shallow continental shelf that allows for very shallow-water fishing during high tide). We had lunch with relatives, and then Jono got to pick peanuts and corn and watermelon, while I hobbled nearby. Jono also discovered a dead wild boar off the road. After another scrumptious dinner, we escaped the heat and drove back to the nearest civilization — a seaside resort. This morning, Jono swam in the Pacific and I waded in a bit. Then after a lunch, we headed back. The drive was 5 hours each way, so we had a lot of time in the car and at various downtimes to do Chinese practice. Jono went from lesson 4 to lesson 9 of the Chinese year 1 book!

We also had 10 different types of fish over the course of 3 meals. Plus some very yummy crab, 2 types of snails, and 3 kinds of shrimp. Everything at the meals was super-fresh from the fields or from the ocean. We ate the peanuts and watermelon that Jono picked.

Took lots of pictures of rural-ness. Noted with sadness that most of the Communist slogans have been replaced with billboards advertising local services and products.

July 9, 2009

Japan Day 4

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 10:58 pm

So yesterday morning Jono borrowed some crutches from our local friendly byouin (They apparently made me a medical card. I’m In Their System!!), and we got a taxi to Hanamaki Station, and from there, onto the train the Kamaishi. It was a beautiful 2 hour ride with lots of bucolic fields, etc. (Jono has more pictures at ). Jono got this really happy genki that I haven’t really seen before. He really likes the 田舎, the simplicity of the countryside. I wonder if he gets the same way about rural Vermont or anything…

Anyway, we get to Kamaishi, and after some scouting, Jono finds Sano-san’s sake shop, and we go and hang out in his shop. He’s this lively old Japanese man born in 1931, so almost 80 years old. His English is remarkably good, and we chat about random things. When Jono asked about a bus to the Dai Kannon, Sano-san offered to drive us around. We were like, “But you’re running your sake shop!” And he was like, “Well, business hasn’t been good, so it’ll be fine without me.” (His son came to man the front desk)

So we went to a beach, and then had some onigiri nearby. When the hostess heard that it was our honeymoon, she brought out these special gyoza-shaped mochi cakes that had this really yummy walnut/brown sugar filling. Mmm!

The KamaIshi Dai-Kannon 大観音 was cooler than expected. It was built after WWII to “pacify” the seas — too many bombs and tsunami. The inside can be climbed up, and as info about the 7 lucky gods (七福神), as well as more models of Kannon. (I didn’t climb up, but the photos looked pretty cool. Nearby was a small building dedicated to fudomyoo, and a stupa that has one of the Buddha relics, apparently a gift from Sri Lanka.

While there, Sano-san pointed to a blur in the distance and told us about how the American navy bombed Kama Ishi from that island, and that on the day that Nagasaki was bombed, his house was, too. He was 14 at the time.

On the way back from the DaiKannon, we stopped at a small Zen temple with an expansive graveyard going up the slope of the hill. It was breathtaking. Most of them seemed to be family grave sites, and were sized for cremation boxes. It also made me really sad because Kama Ishi is a city in decline — It used to be a major industrial city, but the coal mines ran out, and so people have been leaving. Schools and school districts keep combining. Jono says much of the population is either over 50 or under 15. Even though the steel mill is still running, it is definitely a city on the decline. We passed by a dilapidated school that I thought was closed until Jono pointed out elementary schoolers cleaning the windows outside.

Kama Ishi is also a city with a lot of character — There’s the industrial aspect, of course. It’s also neatly wedged between two mountain ranges, so it’s about 3 miles long and 5 blocks wide. If you walk along some streets, you run smack into the ocean. On one end, it opens up to a fjord, and the city curves along the beach. No wonder Jono did a lot of hiking around here!

Sano-san drove us to the KamaIshi station, and we rode the train back to Hanamaki, where we met up with Peggy, an ex-JET who married a Japanese guy and stayed, teaching English in universities. We went out to a yakiniku/reimen place (焼き肉/冷麺), and both were very yummy. It was this special Morioka Reimen that is a local specialty. They’re chewy thick vermicelli noodles in a light broth, with some meat, egg, and a slice of watermelon. Then you put in kimchi and kimchi liquids to taste. It was really good! It made me wonder about Korean presence/influence in the Tohoku area.

Then today we had a relaxed morning of watching Venture Bros (got the season 3 disc). Then I packed up while Jono ran some errands (sending another postcard, returning crutches), and then we took a taxi to the eki and Shinked our way back. Now we’re sitting in the Mozilla Japan offices enjoying the internet like the dorks we are. ;)

All along the way, everyone had been so helpful with my sprained ankle! The station officers would always bring out their wheelchair on a moment’s notice, and then call ahead to the destination station to make sure there’s someone waiting there for us. The taxi driver drove around the block 3 times until he found the closest possible drop-off point, all without charging us for the extra driving around. Yay Japan!!

July 7, 2009

Japan Day 2

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 10:55 pm

So today we woke up at 6am instead of 5am. Yay! After putzing around, we had an awesome buffet breakfast. There was a plate of thin white strip stuff that I got thinking it was cold noodles. Turned out it was squid. Oops?

Anyways, after breakfast, Jono pushed me around a rose garden nearby. There was a Kenji Miyazawa statue, and they’re very proud of this garden sundial designed by him. They claimed to have 450 different types of roses, including local varieties such as “Hot Hanamaki” and “Hanamaki Bijin 80″. They played a music-box version of Lion King in the background.

Then we went to the post office so that Jono could mail a postcard to his sister (he promised 9 postcards).

We went to the top of the onsen hotel (the 12th floor, which is reaaaally high, considering that most Japanese buildings around here aren’t >3 floors due to earthquake-ness), and had mediocre lunch to an awesome view of the valley.

After lunch, we went to the small hanamaki onsen hospital which was 1 kilometer away down and up a hilly road. Jono was very brave and pushed me up the steep hill for 15 minutes all the way to the hospital. The doctor was out for lunch, so we had to wait until he got back, but once he was back, we got an x-ray, and he told me that I have a torn ligament, but no fractures. He gave me a half-cast and anti-inflammatory medicine and cold packs. They couldn’t give me crutches or wheelchair because I’m leaving the area in 2 days. We were really worried about the price of the whole thing, especially since we didn’t have insurance… Turned out it was 15600, (around $160, less than what we’re paying per night for the hotel), which is wholly reasonable for x-ray, cast, and the doctor/nurse face time. Yay functional medical system!

One other thing I really liked about the hospital are these colored lines on the ground that you can follow to the various departments. So instead of consulting maps or whatever, we just had to follow the yellow line to the x-ray area, the red line to the 外来 patient area, etc.

So now we’re back at the hotel, and Jono is headed to the rotenburo 露天風呂 for some soaking. The doctor said I should stay off that foot for 2-3 weeks, so we’re not sure what to do next. Having crutches would be nice…

On the other hand, last time this happened, I just hobbled around and it eventually got better, and at least I don’t have a fracture, so I’m somewhat tempted to just hobble around…. Jono, on the other hand, is wondering if we should scrap the whole Japan/China thing and just go back to the States. My parents, on the third hand, is still in the plane to China, scheduled to land in 5 hours…

We shall see what comes of it!

July 6, 2009

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 10:54 pm

yummy ryoukan breakfast:
- shiyo salmon
- miso soup
- bacon wrapped in roll of nappa cabbage stewed in bonito sauce
- rice with nori strips
- pickled daikon, carrot, kurage and umeboshi
- tamago-yaki
- slice of grapefruit

What a feast!


Okay, my day has taken a turn for the worse. I was walking out the ryoukan and excited about our first real day in Japan. There was a light rain and I was really proud of the fact that I had an umbrella. I was stepping on air as I turned around to offer umbrella space to Jono. Literally. crash on the sidewalk. Scraped up my knee (some small cuts with a bit of blood), and even worse, severely twisted my right ankle. The same one from 2 years ago.

So I guess the good thing is that
(a) I had a small first aid kit that had the perfect band-aid for my knee, so that’s mostly taken care of.
(b) It was just outside the ryoukan, so I’ve stationed myself in the lobby while Jono goes to Mozilla Japan and runs errands like getting a Japan keitai and getting cash
(c) I know exactly how this will turn out — I can hobble very slowly and do some limited hopping today, but will be hobbling gainfully tomorrow. In about 3 or 4 days, my other foot/ankle will be hurt/swollen from all the pressure I’ll be putting on it. Then in about a week, I’ll be re-teaching myself how to walk with ankle-bending.

Hopefully this won’t put too much of a crimp in our Japan plans. My guess is hiking up to the 500 罗汉 is out, so I’ll just have to show Jono some Chinese ones instead. Jono has been tasked with finding a cane and some rolly bandages for me.

Right now he is supposedly on his way back from Moz Japan with Mitcho so that we can have lunch within hobbling distance. I hope they get back soon because I’m really hungry and tired. I’ve been up since 5am, and it’s somewhat uncouth to sleep in the lobby. Especially since I kind of loll when I sleep. So maybe some food would re-energize me.

And then maybe after lunch we can figure out exactly what we want to do in tohoku, and whether we should Shink up this afternoon and relax in a Hanamaki onsen (花卷, and yes, I crack up whenever I see the kanji), or whether we Shink up tomorrow morning so that I have more hobble-power.

There’s nothing like unexpected physical damage to remind me how fragile our bodies are and how much we are physically dependent on its continued functioning.


Okay, made it to Shin-hanamaki onsen. It was a long trip with unexpectedly more walking than anticipated, and my foot seems to have worsened. Of course, my left foot has been effectively hopping all day, which means it’s not in a great shape either. By the time I made it down the super-long 3 flights of stairs out of the shinkansen, I was doubting my sanity and also wondering if I’ve done something more than sprain my foot. :(

But people have been so helpful along the way. The ryoukan guy ran out with a cane as I was hobbling out of the ryoukan. At the Hanamaki Shinkansen station, after making it down all those stairs, the station attendant got me a wheelchair. The taxi driver then called ahead so that the onsen can prepare another wheelchair for me. Wheelchairs are so cool! Especially after lots of painful hobbling. :)

I think Jono had all the adventures today. I’m also worried that I won’t feel well enough to hobble anywhere for the next few days, thus killing any sight-seeing plans in Japan. (Especially since Tohoku is basically mountains and valleys.)


Okay, fun things of today after The Fall:
- witnessed a lot of bowing when a bunch of Japanese businessmen came into the ryoukan for a conference
- had a yummy 3-color-don, which is basically rice covered with: ground pork, salted salmon chunks, and scrambled tamago-yaki.
- learned that public womens’ restroom toilets play a flushing noise so that Japanese women don’t have to flush to hide their peeing noise. (o.O!!)
- Saw about 200 full-sized umbrellas and only 1 foldy umbrella
- rode on the Shinkansen!
- had kaiten-sushi, including a cool tofu/北极贝 thing.

Well, going to sleep now. Hopefully tomorrow my feet will be kinder. And maybe we will find some painkillers.

July 5, 2009

Honeymoon Japan Day 0

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 10:52 pm

Japan: Day 0

So we got into Narita at 3pm, and then came the comedy of errors
- Got into wrong line for customs
- Didn’t have major piece of information to pick up JR East Pass
- Didn’t have time to find international ATM, and so had to use scanty wallet cash to scrounge up 5000 yen
- Hadn’t written down which train station the ryoukan is located
- Turns out best train line to get to ryoukan is actually not on the subway map?!!
- Spent 1 hour wandering the same 4 blocks trying to find ryoukan (no one, not even the local cop-on-bike could locate 3目丁 4)

Of course, there was also the fun things –
- A beautiful train ride into Tokyo. I kept saying things like “wow, that’s just like the houses in Doraemon” or “That school looks just like in anime, except it’s not asploded.” It’s pretty cool to see things l’m very familiar with in 2-d linear art suddenly take 3d shape
- JR East pass is like a magical transportation ticket. <3
- The cop kept a district map in his hat!!
- Random very helpful Japanese people
- Jono being all competantly Japanesey. And breaking out al the -nararebanai type things
- Walking by a totally awesome domed church (Orthodox, I think?)
- The ryoukan is very cute! It has a bidet/spray toilet. :D I tried sleeping in the closet like Doraemon does. They had yummy tea treats out for us.
- Got dinner at this cheap diner/counter beef don place where you buy a meal ticket from a vending machine, and then hand it to the cook who serves it up to you. So practical! Plus it was like 500 yen for each of us.

March 25, 2006

Lo, in the land of Konbini and Courtesy

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 9:49 pm

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