Friday, September 29, 2006

Japan, Now With Less China!

Day 0: Initial plans to go to Beijing were scrapped due to general tiredness and Japan's inconvenient location four hours (and US$600) by air from Beijing. Japan is in Asia like the US is in the Americas: It's a million miles from any of its neighbors. (Yes, four hours = one million miles. Stay with me, people, I just got off a 14-hour plane ride.)

So off I went nonchalantly back to Kyoto. A little too nonchalantly. When I landed in Osaka, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't bothered to bring D's address, or even look at it before I left. But I dismissed this troubling thought, since D had booked me a door-to-door shuttle (3,000 yen, or less than US$30, same as the train to the airport). I figured she would have told the shuttle driver her address. As we neared her building, I began to have some misgivings once again when I realized I didn't know her apartment number, and I would have no way of buzzing her to tell her I was downstairs. Oops. The driver let me out, and I went up to the door and just contemplated it for a while. Hmmm. I tried to dial D's phone number via the intercom system. It did not like that. Then I stood there and willed myself to remember her apartment number. Amazingly, it worked! In I went, back where I belong. We had dinner at a place called "Japanese Restaurant" (yes), where I ate approximately everything.

Day 1: I woke up and heard D puttering about. I scoffed at my (unsmashed) watch because it read 3:30am. Obviously, it was not 3:30am. "What time is it?" I asked D. "3:30," she replied. Damn you, D. Who gave you the right to my jet lag?

Breakfast of Champions. Champions who are sedentary 355 days out of the year and then go to Japan and bike and ice skate and "swim" (more on that later) like nobody's business. Seriously, it's nobody's business, so why don't you just click here.

About 10,000 hours later it was time for D to go to work, so I accompanied her to Kyoto Station. She entrusted me with the task of buying her a new bike, because the previous one had been vandalized (we're sure foreigners were responsible -- teenage foreigners, no doubt). I went to the bike shop, but it was closed. As I walked away, a guy on a bike started to follow me and talk to me. No matter where I am, my first instinct is to operate under the Egypt Protocol, which states that "All people are bad, especially men." Therefore I ignored the poor guy, until I remembered that I was in Japan, where no one is bad. He turned out to work in the bike shop. He was very nice and opened the store up for me, and I felt bad for having tarred him with an Egyptian brush.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's JiJi! (Short for jitensha, aka bicycle.)

Views of the lovely Kamogawa.

JiJi and I went biking up and down the Kamo River. It was delightful. Then we went to Fresco (grocery store) and bought lunch.

Clockwise from top: Pocky (original flavor), french fry chips (as gross as last time; just needed to reconfirm), mini hot dogs, inarizushi (D's and my favorite: slightly sweet rice wrapped in fried tofu), chicken nuggets (truly marvelous; I had them almost every day; the ones at Fresco are far better than those at F Market or, god forbid, 7-11). In case you were wondering, yes, it was too much food, and yes, I ate it all (except for the gross french fry chips, which I ate later).

In the afternoon, I left JiJi in the bike garage and went for a walk. It was nice to be reunited with my favorite street in the entire world. But although I still love it dearly, I didn't get those butterflies of excitement walking down it the way I had last year when it was all brand-new. Which almost makes me understand why some people cheat on their spouses. Bring me a newer, fresher street! Preferably one with bigger boobs.

In downtown Kyoto, I browsed through all the usual suspects (Loft, 100-yen store, 300-yen store, Takashimaya). As was the case during my last trip to Japan, a great deal of my time was spent trying to identify what exactly was on offer. For example, what are mailcuts? And is Loft really selling just the butt of a teddy bear?

Next, I went to my favorite coffee shop, St. Marc's, they of the hot cocoa & clam chowder combo.

The fall special was a mango lhassi. It was good, but there are better ones to be had at House of Baj in DC.

Coming up: how not to find a lake, and ancient ski-jumpers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Change of Scenery

One of us will spend two weeks apprenticing as a seeing-eye cat in New Jersey. One of us is off to Japan (redux!).