Arrival in Taipei or “It’s really hot and humid outside.”

Had to adjust my clocks, as I’m now UTC+8 instead of +9. Almost missed my flight by initially getting on the wrong train (right track though). Thankfully the airline staff was really, really, helpful.

I did forget to move the knife out of my food bag and into my checked bag though, so lost that. Still, I purchased a cheap one for pretty much that reason. I’m only sad because it turned out to be a pretty decent knife, often better than what the hostel had to offer, even if smaller.

Also I got frisked, (before that happened). Not sure why, but I was in such a hurry I didn’t really give a damn. Besides, I’m sure being drenched in sweat made it unpleasant for the guy. Turns out trying to hurry with 60lbs of crap for over two kilometers in 80F weather is… well I’m not in shape. That much has really become apparent to me during this trip.

Not looking forward to walking another 1km in 90+F (65% humidity!) weather in Taipei, I was approached for a taxi and thought, “Eh, what the hell.” $40, but it’s an hour long trip from the international airport to downtown Taipei. So, I didn’t think it was unreasonable. More than most of Korea (though taxis in Seoul were about that price).

My hostel is about 1.5km from Taipei 101, so that’s neat.

Also a preview from my last night in Seoul. I liked it enough to clean up the dead pixels and the weird line that occurs on high ISOs.

This hostel has AC going constantly. So hopefully that will alleviate some of the issues revolving around it being too friggin’ hot.

I meant to write a joke about that, and how only about three people here are familiar with Paul & Storm, in my last post… but it was too friggin’ hot. So hot I managed to burn (or cut?) a bit of flesh on my left thumb’s pad, just a few millimeters below the nail. Don’t remember doing it, but as I switched trains I noticed it hurt.

Sunday June 10th Photoset: Yeosu International Expo 2012


This gallery contains 384 photos.

Dropbox version.

May 24th and 25th: Hiroshima

This is a long one folks.

From Osaka station, it took about two and a half hours to get to my hostel in Hiroshima. It would have been a little shorter, but for my unfamiliarity with where things are and the strange pace I take on when carrying my luggage.

After finding my way out of the Hiroshima station, I found myself with two options, I could grab a local train and then get on a streetcar, or just get on a streetcar and ride for an extra 10 minutes. I opted for simplicity in a new place rather than saving a small amount of time. Also there was a guy with a Care Bear bag (thanks phone!). Maybe it was just cheap, but I like to think it is some weird cross cultural hipster thing. Continue reading

May 23rd and 24th: Osaka Around Shin-imamiya/Shinsekai

Funny story. I ended up staying in the “shady” part of Osaka. Hell, one of the worst parts in Japan, I guess. I didn’t know ahead of time, the reviews for the place I stayed were reasonable, and there was a zoo and a tower within walking distance, and it was only a few stops away from Universal Studios, couldn’t be too bad, right? Continue reading

Wednesday May 23rd: Nagoya Central Park

The morning after Nara, I had a bit of time before I could go to the hostel-hotel thing I was staying at in Osaka, as such I decided to wonder around Nagoya in the daylight for once.

After checking out of the hotel, I then left my bags with the front desk. That was a nice change. One I would repeat in Osaka and Hiroshima as well, which made sense to me, as I had such a limited time in each location that to waste those hours between check out and check in time would have been quite foolish. Continue reading

Tuesday May 22nd: Deer Nara,

I had decided after arriving in Nagoya that I wouldn’t spend a day at a hostel in Nara, rather I would spend an extra night at the hotel and simply commute to Nara. It was only about 100 minutes hotel to station. That and I really didn’t want to move again and then walk somewhere around 15km to explore Nara (not that I knew I would walk quite that much), and then 3 more in Nagoya.

Commuting also meant that I would have a chance to briefly get a few pictures of the Nagoya subway, Kyoto shinkansen platform, and Kyoto station interior, not that any of those came out particularly well.

Well, the shinkansen arrival picture was okay.

Continue reading

Monday May 21st: The Eclipse and a tiny bit of Nagoya

Just to start off with, the last post I still hated writing about and I’m not particularly in a great mood for this, that and I’m feeling the pinch of time, having a few hours left today and tomorrow to hypothetically catch up. It’s not going to happen. Anyway, this is going to be a shorter than usual post, and if you want a way more awesome article about the eclipse that almost had my pictures in it, look no further than a friend’s article on astrobites. If you want pictures waaaaaay better than mine, head over to In Focus.

(Hey look, I found the “Read More” button!)

Continue reading

Thursday’s Photos: Jazz, Scotch, Sake, and Zen Buddhist Vegetarian

Dropbox here.

Wednesday: Tea, Monkeys, and the Yakuza

I decided to go visit the monkey park and maybe the bamboo forest. Realizing I hadn’t been in a tea ceremony, and that there was a place just East of the hostel, I would sign up for one Thursday. I went up there and tried to schedule the ceremony for noon. However as he checked with the tea master, it turned out noon wasn’t that good tomorrow.

“Tomorrow noon is not so good. How about right now?”

“Uhh, okay, sure.”

I should note, I may be wrong, but from the very beginning he seemed a little overly happy that I was there. I’m now not sure if it was because of the camera I had dangling off my neck, but it almost seemed like there was an air of desperation? The shop looked to be in good order, and I don’t think they were encountering difficulties I say that because another person came in for a ceremony just after mine.

Still, it was a little odd at first. Perhaps it was also that he got to practice his English, though it was quite good, especially for someone who has lived in Kyoto all his life, in 110 year-old house built by his grandparents. Later the tea master (his wife) seemed quite pleased that the reason I came in was the note on the sign outside. Perhaps it was her idea.

His mother painted these and two more (sorry for low light).

Getting back to it… I was in hiking clothes, not really prepared for a ceremony, but he assured me it was okay, as it was more about what was in my heart coming into the ceremony than anything else.

I was provided a sheet of paper describing Chado “The way of Tea”. I will say reading the wiki, what I encountered was not that complex or long, but I also didn’t pay a huge amount of money, and it was already quite a bit to take in.

This is matcha unlike what I have had before. It also includes an opening confectionery which is wagashi in Japanese. They were basically uncooked sweet azuki mochi with some hint of rose, as they were to celebrate the blooming of roses (Spoiler: I saw some roses later).

As formal as I had assumed it to be, the behaviors were much more strict. Positions on the tatami mats was important, as was the direction of the bowls… though as they are old bowls that were hand painted, I guess that makes sense. Keep mouths and fluids off the paint if you can.

The worst of it was that the traditional form of sitting is to have your legs folded directly under you, knees forward, and guess who scraped up his knee just 30 hours prior? That’s right. They said it was okay if I sat cross legged, but I eventually found a way to sit ‘correctly’ without angering my knee.

Most of the actions preformed were by the person learning to make the tea being instructed by the tea master, I just had to copy the woman acting as the recipient’s guide.

First thing was entry into the room, which I had to kind of skip due to my knee, but you start from a sitting position, outside the threshold, and then sort of lift and push yourself into position saying something at each point. The next bit was the confection, which you slice into smaller pieces using what looks like a tiny chopstick crossed with a toothpick (sadly I didn’t get a picture of that). After cutting a wedge, you take it using the took like a toothpick in a bit of cheese.

These are tasty, no joke.

This is done while the water is heating. Once both are complete, the maker opens the jar of matcha, adds the amount needed with a wooden tea scoop, which is a straight wooden tool with an upward curve at the end, and what looked like a groove cut into the center length wise, to better hold the powder.

Water is then added, using a wooden cup on a bamboo arm, but not a large amount, maybe 1/5th of the bowl. Finally with a bamboo wisk, it is mixed together into a smooth and very bright green liquid. The bowl is rotated in the maker’s hand to admire the bowl, and is then placed in front of the guest with the display prominently facing the guest. The guest then bows to the tea master, the tea maker, and the next guest.

Once bowing is complete the guest takes the bowl with their right hand, places it into their left, rotates about 90 degrees to the side containing no artwork, and then drinks the tea. Finally the bowl is set back down, and is admired from the left and right.

There is also a part where the tea container and scoop are displayed to each of the guests, however that part I only observed. After which thanks were exchanged, and we exited the tea room. I chatted a bit more with the owner while the tea master and maker started to prepare again. It was then I told him I wasn’t just traveling, I was taking pictures and writing about it. More so than ever, he lit up. Quickly he translated this discovery to the others, and they invited me to pretty much take pictures of anything and everything.

So I did.

Afterwards we thanked each other, and I went outside to get a picture of the exterior, as I was just about to head off, he came running out with a card for the store.

Why not? If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, they are on the North side on the Eastern part Gojo Street, just a block or so East of the Gojozaka bus stop. You can stop by on your way to Kiyomizu. They even have a meditation garden. Also also pottery.

Tou Tensei Kawasaki Pottery Shop

After this I headed Westward. I encountered a big and tall clothing store, and figured hey, comparatively, right? Well, turns out I’m at about the bottom of the scale, and their cheapest pants were about $60. Guess I can probably try elsewhere.

I decided to save 220 yen and use my JR pass which meant more walking, but hey, I’d see more. I’d also have to go back to the main train station. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad when I didn’t have my luggage and could actually move. Go figure. I hopped on the train to the Saga-Arashiyama station, which is, kind of a midway between Saga and Arashiyama mountian.

Roses on the way to the monkey park.

The monkeys were on the Arashiyama side, and both parks closed at about 17:00. Thankfully the Monkey Park was actually open until 17:30, and they’re kind of soft on that once you’re inside. That was really good because if you walk casually, it takes about 20 minutes just to get to the viewing area. I did kind of break the rules and took a few pictures on the way there, mostly of signage, no one was coming in so I wasn’t slowing people down. Probably because it was near closing time and it was raining and… oh yes. Let me get side tracked a moment.

As I got to the river just off of Arashiyama, a dark cloud rolled overhead. I heard rumblings. I’ve yet to see lighting even now, but this is the second time in a few days I’ve heard thunder. What the hell was I doing? I’m going to a park, on a mountain. Higher elevation, and trees. This goes against everything I learned as a child about lightning safety. Still, it’s a forest, and it seemed to be staying in the clouds. Real life isn’t Final Fantasy 10, you don’t have to dodge lightning, it goes after more attractive conductors, and really, in a forest of conductors, chances seemed pretty good. I would have been pissed though, as I would have lost my pictures. Well, that and I would have been struck by lightning. Had I survived though, loss of pictures would have been a major disappointment because I captured a few good ones.

Clearly I have my priorities straight.

Monkeys. Wow. Okay. So, the viewing area. As I approached I actually saw a monkey in the distance, I figured what better time? Turns out every minute up in the viewing area. The monkeys are wild, but very accustomed to people. I mean really used to us. They actually were sort of blocking the path and I didn’t really want to get closer lest I disturb them, not knowing yet how they react (or don’t), besides they were still good pictures.

Minimum focal length is 1.5 meters.

So yeah, I had seen monkeys before at zoos and the no longer named as such San Diego Wild Animal Park, but I had never been surrounded by monkeys before. Or been within a few meters of an infant monkey. These Japanese macaques sure don’t mind a whole lot though, as long as you follow the no staring in the eyes bit and the whole keeping food out of sight bit.

Always looking for mom’s attention.

There was also a fishpond and a warthog. I didn’t remember the sign mentioning warthogs, just birds and deer. I decided to wrap up about five minutes after closing, not that anyone had said a thing, but I didn’t want to make it an issue. I hiked back down the return path which was less paved and more slick clay than the way up, so I put the camera away. It already got one shock test this week, no need for a second one on rougher terrain.

I decided to walk further up the single lane path that nominally would lead to a zen temple, but it has been closed for it looks like quite some time. Everything beyond the signs looked pretty deserted, I’m not sure if it has been a few harsh seasons, or years. I saw another crane, making three for the day, but this one was less friendly. I just missed it going into flight twice, but that second time was it, as it had enough of me being within eyesight. There was also a tiny duck that I was about to take a picture of, when it dove under water and swam quite quickly, resurfaced about 30 feet away, saw that I could still be seen, and dove again swam beyond what I could see.

Not pleased I was taking pictures (270mm).

After the duck, I gave up on this side, and went over the other side of the river, discovering there was a hydroelectric dam there, which explained all the other bits along the river. I also discovered my shutter speed was too fast to capture all the numbers on the real time kw/hr output display.

The sun was really setting now and I was focused on getting some neat pictures (I just noticed the vertical images are not re-sized correctly, so this will be fun), not really paying a whole lot of attention. Turns out the people waxing their car were Yakuza. Didn’t really know they had a notable presence in Kyoto. They do. Also Seattle’s Sister City, Kobe, has the headquarters for the largest Yakuza gang in the world.

Anyway it turns out that they don’t really like people with big cameras anywhere near them, their nice car, nor their horrible fashion sense, and for the first time since arriving, I heard anger. I apologized profusely for daring to be on a public sidewalk with a camera, switched lenses to the 300, found a safe distance and grabbed a few for fun.

Don’t try this at home kids.

The reason the Yakuza are tolerated is because they don’t bring violence to innocents and typically ignore foreigners. Sure they extort money from companies big and small, sure they had a hand in about 10% of the bad loans during the bubble and crash. But I guess they responded faster than the government during the earthquake in Kobe 15 years ago. Still public favor is beginning to wane due to the increase in drug abuse and for a time an increase in open violence. This led to the large crackdowns in Akasaka during the last decade. They may still go out in an obviously public way there, but overt illegal behavior is supposedly rarely seen, at least in Tokyo.

I made my way towards the closed bamboo forest, and hiked a bit on the open paths, though so well walked I would hardly call it hiking. Still, there were some further beautiful vistas, and I think I saw the temple under reconstruction, as well as further dilapidated shops along the way. I did find a portion where it would have been true hiking, but it was too dense, and with the sun about down, I decided to head back home.

Just like leaving Kyoto, they waved me through before even really looking at my JR Pass. I can now see how a roommate in Tokyo accidentally (that was the word he used anyway) used his a day after it had expired. I actually managed to read a bit on the train back to Kyoto, for the second time now. I’m much busier than I had ever anticipated.

I supposed I shouldn’t be too shocked. When I’m not out adventuring, I’m turning this into a job that doesn’t pay, updating daily, sorting an increasing number of pictures a day. Yeah, I’m smart.

I still don’t know what I’m doing today, but it’s getting into the afternoon, it’s nearly 15:00. Maybe I’ll walk down South and see the really unassuming Nintendo headquarters.