Monday, June 28, 2010



All of the "suggested tourist activities" in the little Hong Kong booklet we got at our first hotel looked boring, frankly. Watching a horse race? Yawn. Science museum? Next. Ok, there were a couple suggestions that were interesting (Dimsum, the peak...) but Hilary and I are far more interested in the organic and down-to-earth, less tourist oriented aspects of places we go. My favorite "tourist activity" in Hong Kong was to browse the markets, which resembled pet-stores more than anything else. Here are some photos from three different trips to markets that we made during our time in Hong Kong.

We found our first market because Crystal, one of the people we came to visit in Hong Kong, guided us through it to get to her house. She and Hilary became close friends last school semester, because she was a housemate, and came to our church in Pullman. Here she is guiding Hilary and I through the maze of streets:


Vendors at the markets were loudly hawking their wares, hosts of fish,


fruit, (anybody know what these are?)

meat, (including many parts of animals that you might not imagine people eat)


and... lots of other things. Hong Kongians really like the color red. All the lamps were red. I guess it's a pretty popular color.






I have to admit I enjoy walking through these markets more than a zoo. Everyone has seen photos of monkeys and seals, but who the hack knows what this thing is?
(a fruit?)

I think think I saw these things in a national geographic once, only they were swimming happily amongst coral reefs:


Hong Kongians seem to be similar to the Japanese - they like their food to look exotic and beautiful. These crabs look like something you would see in a tropical aquarium, and here they are being sold for something like 6 bucks a pop. I can't imagine that there's much meat on them though.


more seafood:



(The above photo shows two halves of an eel or amphibian creature thrashing wildly in a pan. They like their seafood fresh and wiggling in Hong Kong, too.)

Reptiles were fair game too. I wanted to grab this turtle and keep it as a pet, it would have only cost about 10 bucks. I probably wouldn't get past customs though.


The turtles in the net underneath were some sort of flat, soft critters with long noses. Not normal turtles.

Frogs were also everywhere to be seen. Cages of frogs would be scattered around the markets, next to guys chopping and hacking them to pieces with expert skill. Guts and blood flying everywhere, it's a real show. (Oops I forgot to upload photos of the frog cages. Well, here's they are getting chopped up)



And finally... vegetables



I thought this was the world's larget cucumber but Hilary told me it's not a cucumber:

I'll be posting photos from time we spent with our friends next, but I wanted to get those shots out of the way because they are relatively quick to post, and (hopefully) enjoyable to look at. If you can't stand the sight of spurting blood and frog guts popping like fireworks, Hong Kong's markets might not be for you, but if you don't mind things getting a little organic they are quite a colorful and interesting experience!


Monday, June 21, 2010

sendai ni iru tomodachi

The Sunday that Hilary and I visited grace chapel, Kawakami and Masako sensei, and their daughter Motoe all invited us to spend the rest of the week in a guest room in their house. Sendai Grace Chapel is an interesting building - it has a simple yet beautiful sanctuary with a stained glass window behind the pulpit, wooden pews, and a vaulted ceiling. Adjacent to the sanctuary is a long and narrow meeting room that can sit 50 people on two long and narrow table arrangements - this is where they normally have lunch. At the end of the meeting room is the window to the kitchen. At the other end is a wall that separates the meeting room from Kawakami Sensei's study. There is a secret stairway leading from his study to their living quarters, which is right above the downstairs kitchen, meeting room and study. Above the foyer (behind the sanctuary and next to sensei's study) is the guest room, and rooms for bible studies, sunday schools etc. There is a main stairway that leads up to this portion.

Anyway, the point is, the Kawakami's live in their church, so we got to live in the guestroom upstairs, next to them the whole week, and it was one of the best experiences of our time in Japan. We ate breakfast with them every morning (Masako sensei made amazing breakfasts normally comprised of a meat, an egg, a salad, and some form of fruit (watermelon, cherries, lychee)), and they gave us a key and said we could use the facilities as we desired.

We took advantage of this one night, when Hilary and I wanted to make a special treat for Eriya - Mexican food. On Sunday, when Eriya and the Kawakami's were around I told them that Hilary and I would try to make Tacos that week. I forgot that Taco in Japanese means octopus, so there was confusion for about 10 minutes, until I pulled out the laptop, did an image search and showed them what I meant. Mexican food is a rare item in Sendai - I found 2 restaurants when I was there. They are in obscure locations and have hefty pricetags that put them out of range for normal people who don't know what they are looking for.

Wednesday evening, when the Kawakami's were gone at a baseball game (someone in the congregation gave them tickets), Hilary I busted over to the CO-OP and Seiyu, bought all the necessary ingredients, and came back home. Eriya met up with us, and Hilary put us to the grunt work while she oversaw the more delicate portions of the operation.


In the end, our culinary masterpiece would have made a Mexican proud, and was probably the closest thing to the real deal in the whole of Japan. The tortillas were hand made, the meat filling was composed of ground beef, spices, corn and kidney beans, the guacamole, though it looked like wasabi to Kawakami sensei, was considerably less spicy and considerably more tasty, and the sour cream was... very sour and condensed. I don't think any of them had ever eaten it before, but their faces didn't indicate that its consumption was an unpleasant experience.




We made enough that we could eat heartily and still have enough for the Bible study members coming to the church the next day (the Kawakami's were gone but really wanted to try them out so they asked us to make extra for lunch the following day). Eriya wasn't sure how to eat them at first,


but once we explained that it's perfectly ok to throw etiquette to the wind, he dove in and enjoyed them very much. We saved the ingredients in seperate bowls so that we wouldn't be giving people soggy tacos the next day.

After dinner, Hilary and I taught Eriya how to play "Rook" (...). Eriya kept complaining that it was hard, but I secretly think he's a card shark because he caught really fast.



It was pretty late after our series of games and he had to leave, but we had a really great time with him. It's tough parting with a friend when you don't know they next time you are going to meet (and it may not be for a long time).


Masako sensei and Motoe really liked Hilary. They gave her all sorts of presents (pictured here).


Hilary wears the shawl all the time, and I think it is really gorgeous. Kawakami sensei isn't as expressive as them, but I could tell he also really liked Hilary. Being able to live with them was one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Here's Masako sensei with their dog "Chappy"

We didn't go see any sights on our last day in Japan, instead we ran around Sendai trying to buy souvenirs for people. We did, however, make it to Aobayama. I was able to show Hilary the lab I worked in. When we visited, a graduate student was there - I didn't know him, but he knew me because Takahashi, a friend that we unfortunately were not able to meet with, told him about me. I then took hilary to the very tall building behind the laboratory. We rode the elevator to the top, and to my great happiness, the door to the roof was still open, and with a little fence hopping we were able to look over the edge of the top. It's my favorite view of the city.


Unfortunately, the place I used to eat was bulldozed flat, so we weren't able to go there and stock up on any of the free tea. Actually, the thing I really missed was the talking vending machine that hawks its "atatakai onomimono" (hot drinks) when you walk by, but I guess it went the way of the dining hall.

Afterwards, we went and visited the Bible reading club, which has its meeting Thursday evenings at 6:00. Only a few people from my previous time in Japan were still members, but the three who were there were very happy to see us, and the ones I was unfamiliar with were already familiar with me and very happy to see us. We weren't able to stay the whole time because we had to pack, but we immensely enjoyed the short time we had to visit with them, and I'm glad we were able to do that before leaving Japan.


Physics guy (wish I'd remember his name...), Yoshitomo, and Makoto are in the back row, right side. Makoto and Yoshitomo have taken to the leadership roles

The following Friday morning, Masako Sensei cooked us this incredible breakfast:


They volunteered to drive us to the station. Motoe brought out the car, and Kawakami sensei prayed over us before we left.

The Kawakami's:



Because we had JR passes, getting to Narita was pretty simple. We took the Shinkansen to Tokyo Station. At Tokyo station, I used the JR passes to get us reserved seats on an express train to Narita. Hilary was pretty hungry so I got us some of the perfectly packaged onigiri that a guy was selling. It was the first onigiri that Hilary had, and it was unfortunate that we discovered she really really liked them on her last day in Japan. I ran back up 4 or 5 escalator sets and through mobs of several thousand people to buy the rest of the guys stock for emergency food rations.

When I bought the tickets to Narita, I forgot which terminal to get off at (the airport is LARGE), so I picked terminal 2 thinking that if I was wrong we could get off at Terminal 1. Unfortunately, we discovered that I was both wrong in my guess, and that Terminal 2 was actually the 1st stop. I had us stick in the train anyway, and just sort of confidently walked through the ticketing thing, briefly flashing my ticket and the JR pass. For some reason the inspector lady took the ticket of the guy behind us though.

Anyway, our flight to Hong Kong from Narita was in one of the extremities of the airport, and we had polished off the onigiri earlier so we were on the hunt for food. We found a place dealing snickers and yogurt, so we spent the last of our yen on these emergency rations which came in handy later.

The flight to Hong Kong was about 1700 miles, which were uneventful except for when we flew over Osaka (which was pretty large and flashy), and when we were over the ocean once, and I saw all these lights below us which was kind of strange. Other than that, it was pretty uneventful.

What was more eventful was when we stepped out of Hong Kong airport, and were almost blown over and drowned by the soupy, steamy humidity, which made the air hazy even at 11:00 PM. Elton, very truly a saint, drove all the way to the airport to pick us up. He took us to our hotel, and made sure that were were all checked in before finally returning home. More on that later.

So that wraps up Japan, it was an amazing experience, worth every minute and every penny to get there and back. What makes me most happy though was that Hilary enjoyed it as much as I did, and she got to meet so many people. This trip was more about the people than the sights, I think, but both of us find more value in that anyway. We aren't sure when we are coming back, but if we do we will have people who would look forward to it. I'll start bloggin on Hong Kong next.

There is no charge...

for awesomeness

- Panda

Friday, June 18, 2010



Hilary and I got back from Hong Kong yesterday! The flights went well, everything was smooth, the only problem was that we were up for a long time. Tons of photos to post, I need to finish up the ones from Japan before moving on to Hong Kong. After trial and error, I think the best option is to try linking from a photoservice like Flickr, so that's what I'm going to try to do from now on. Flickr gives you only a small amount of storage though, so I won't be keeping large images on that website. [Looks like the photos are overlapping with the links on the right side... if people think this is really distracting I will try to resize them in future posts]

Ok... so Matsushima!


If you ever followed any of my posts from my time in Japan several years ago, you probably saw a photoset of Matsushima (I posted probably 3 or 4 sets). There's a reason I've posted so many photos of it - it's an absolutely gorgeous place!



To quote Basho:

"Indeed, the beauty of the entire scene can only be compared to the most divinely endowed of feminine countenances [Hilary], for who else could have created such beauty but the great God of nature himself? My pen strove in vain to equal this superb creation of divine artifice"


Basho (1644-1694), the master and popularizer of Haiku, considered Matsushima one of the pinacles of Japanese landscapes. I suppose the rampant tourist industry in the city itself has taken away a chunk of the charm Basho was describing, but we took a boatride through the islands because the views of the islands are more pristine. We really enjoyed it.


Unlike Kinkazan, Matsushima is actually located a convenient distance from Sendai, and our JR passes made it a piece of cake. We headed straight for the boatrides, and bought a ticket for an hour long loop around a large portion of the islands. The islands were pretty cool, but I since I had seen it before I had more fun taking photos of Hilary...






Another fun thing we did was feed the seagulls! The last time I took a boatride - with Myron - we saw people throwing these little french fry things at the birds. I saw people doing it this time as well, so I ducked into the boat and asked the lady standing at the little concession stand inside if she was selling any "umicarasu no tabemono" (seagull food stuffs). She chuckled and took out a bag of prawn chips that were actually human snack food but seemed to be the popular item to throw to the seagulls. It was only 100 yen for the bag! Happily I bought a sack, and brough them outside. We had a blast feeding the droves of seagulls trailing the boat.



The seagulls are pretty tame, and are a lot of fun to take photos of because they come so close





A cool surprise was the two eagles or hawks (very large raptors, whichever they were) that suddenly appeared behind our boat. They followed us, diving into the boat's wake to catch the prawn chips that fell in the water



Hilary insists that I post some photos of me, so here's one she took. I'm still confused about the expression I am displaying here



After the boatride was over, we walked over to some tourist stands to get some icecream and buy omiyage. We got a really cool hat that's big and pointy. I'll post photos of it later. Anyway, that was our trip to Matsushima, I have a blast every time I go there... sayonara Matsushima, who knows when we'll be back