Thursday, July 22, 2010

Friends in town

At home from Hong Kong, I had a week to teach, clean, cook and do all the routine things we do before Jean and Andy arrived from their week in China. They had such great stories, I can't wait to go. I told Brian that would be our next trip. Allan's determined we don't make plans until he's sure he can get off work - can ya blame him?
I went to Haneda Airport on Sunday, July 11th to pick them up and we rode the train to Oppama, where a Mikoshi parade was in progress right across from the station. We watched for a few minutes, but were too anxious to get the luggage home to spend too much time.

After a short rest, we drove to the base to meet Allan, who had finally made a successful dive with the Bubble Club. This time they chartered a boat in Izu, and were treated to an onsen (natural hot springs) after the day of diving.
We had dinner at Ootoya, where they serve Japanese homestyle food. It's a favorite of ours and Andy discovered tonkatsu, a breaded, fried pork cutlet that is always served with cabbage to help with digestion.
Allan worked on Monday while I took our visitors to Enoshima. This is a resort island where walking is always uphill or downhill. It's great exercise (or torture depending on your perspective).

Andy and Jean did well with chopsticks (first photo). No English was spoken at this restaurant, but we pointed to what we wanted and were all pleased. Have I mentioned that I've gained 3 kilos in 10 months? It's no wonder...

We headed for the shrine where Jean rang the bell. The large wooden box in the center is the donation box. After making a donation, one would ring the bell, I presume to announce that you made a donation. I've seen a father take money out, then have each of his children touch it before putting it in the box. Hey, cover all your bases.

We came to this plaque with handprints - I don't know what it is, but Andy's hands fit nicely.

I call this the 'luck circle'. You walk through, circle to the left, walk through, circle right, walk through and circle left a second time. You will have a long, happy, rich life (or not).
After Enoshima, we made a quick stop in Hase to see the 800 yr. old big Buddha, then to Kamakura to pick up the train back to base. We spent some time touring Kamakura before heading home. We planned to meet Allan in town and find a place to eat, but after such a hard day of touring, we were exhausted! Allan merely worked all day, so it seemed only right that he cook for us. Isn't he the best!?
Tuesday is conversational English with four very lovely ladies, who I hate to cancel, so they had two native English speakers for the price of one. Jean asked questions for nearly 2 hours and the ladies took us to lunch at a traditional Japanese restaurant. It's close to the house and I hope to get Allan there soon.
Allan, Gene and Andy had lunch at the Officers' Club, then Andy toured the Japanese battleship Mikasa, docked a short way from the gate. After our lunch, we met up and toured central Yokosuka. When Allan was finished for the day, we ate and drank (sake and beer) at Watami. If you come, make sure we take you to Watami - it's goooood. I was the designated driver, you know what that means.

Since Wednesday was a day off from touring, Jean and I worked on photos and blog stuff ALL DAY. Andy enjoyed a little English language TV.

Thursday morning we packed up and took the train to Tokyo, dropped our luggage at the New Sanno (American military hotel) and headed to the Meiji Shrine. Allan and I went here last year with Jorey Ramer, but it was fun to go again. Here in the path leading to the shrine are Allan, Jean and Andy by the sake casks.

Inside the courtyard, you may purchase a wooden card where you print your prayer, then hang it. Most I can't read, but here's one I can. Nice sentiment.

After the shrine we headed for a little shopping in Harajuku, where the normally subdued Japanese youth were going crazy for sales in a mall area filled with hawkers announcing 50, 60, 70 percent off.

Dinner was at Allan's favorite Tokyo restaurant, Gonpachi. Jean and Andy were not disappointed.

BTW... All of these photos are from Jean's camera. I didn't need to take mine out. She was fascinated by the bizarre styles that are becoming kinda normal to me.

Friday morning we were headed for the fish market. This place fascinates people because it's the largest fish market in the world. To me, it's just a really slimy, smelly place.

Just outside the market, this guy was working on his IPAD. He looked really un-nerdy, so Jean asked to photograph him.

He agreed, then asked us to look at his English language web site. Yep, he gives tours of Tokyo.

The fish market is an unlikely tourist place. It is extremely large, several city blocks by my estimation. Andy and Jean liked it and since I'd tried to talked them out of it by saying it wasn't interesting, Andy told me that yes, it is in fact quite interesting and I should take all visitors to see it. Arrrggghhh!

Here, somebody is being interviewed. Can you see the camera and sound equipment? The guy in the gray vest is asking the fellow at the far left questions. It might be on the news that night or maybe there's a documentary about the Tokyo fish market. Maybe you'll see it. Prepare to be dazzled.

The Senso-Ji Temple was our next stop. Shrine, temple, shrine, temple, we give Buddhism and Shinto our attention when guests are around.

This is the market leading to the temple, and I like this one. We watched a machine make cookies and bought some freshly baked one with a filling and no preservatives. The vendor told us we had 3 days to eat them.

This was a common site. Andy loves his soft serve ice cream, and he indulged whenever the mood struck. I had my share too. He had never had 'green tea' or 'sweet potato' flavor before, but they're available wherever soft serve can be found in Japan.

And here is the Senso-Ji Temple. This site has been sacred to Buddhists since the 7th century and the temple and other buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt over the years, most recently after World War II.

There are several buildings within the area, including a pagoda and one that's dedicated to a deity who looks after women. I like a religion with a deity like that.

Here's something we enjoyed. Pay 100 yen (about $1.15 at the current exchange rate), and pick up one of these metal cans with a small round hole in the top. Turn it over and a stick with a kanji symbol falls out. Find a drawer with the matching symbol and pull out your blessing.

Jean's got a 'best blessing' while the rest of us got a 'good blessing'. Hey that's great, I've gotten a 'bad blessing' before. I think it was at this same temple. Imagine paying to get a bad blessing. I don't care who you are, that's not funny.

And we went to Ginza, the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo. If you're looking to spend $500 for a pair of shoes, here's your place. Oddly (or not), none of us bought anything here, but it was a good place to help you appreciate a white sale at Macy's.

Dinner on our last night was at the hotel, and we were very happy with the cuisine. Allan had beef wellington and cherries jubilee, complete with flame. I tried a seafood plate, since they do good seafood here. You could get squid or octopus if you aren't careful.

The breakfast was good as well, plentiful and economical. The military and the affiliated civilians are well cared for in Japan. If you know anyone who's spent time here, you probably have heard good things from them. You won't hear any complaints from the Schreibers.

So after 16 days in temples and shrines, Jean found the Pearly Gates. They're in Tokyo... whoda guessed?

I hope Jean and Andy had fun in Japan and will make another visit. When they do, she'll understand when I say 'irashaimasei'.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To Hong Kong and beyond

On July 1st, eight Americans, on three separate flights, arrived in Hong Kong within 40 minutes.

The scheduling for the trip was made by the seven who came from the US, and it conflicted with an Industrial Hygiene training session at Yokosuka base, so Allan wasn't able to join us. Fortunately, he thought I should seize the opportunity to travel with my best friend, Jean.

A young Chinese girl named Winnie gathered us up at the airport and got us to the Park Hotel in Kowloon. Kowloon is not on Hong Kong Island, but on a peninsula of mainland China that juts out into Victoria Harbour facing south toward Hong Kong Island.
The name 'Kowloon' means nine dragons and refers to the 8 hills of Kowloon. The emperor is the ninth.

The following morning, we went by double decker bus (1st photo) around Hong Kong Island. The ride was an adventure, as the road was narrow, steep, curved and sometimes bumpy, none of which bothered the driver.

The scenery was like the a movie about the Amazon, lush and mountainous. The area had some interesting architecture like this concave building. We reached the town of Stanley where our adventure begins.

Here we are, just off the bus (2 men, 6 women). L-R Pilar, Renee, Cecil, Edmee, Jean, Andy, Yasmin and Elizabeth.

The guidebooks say to visit Stanley market, and we did. Jean and I each got a pashmina. I wear one every day in winter. We have a wet, windy cold in Yokosuka, so you want to protect your neck. Jean, Andy and I finished shopping and were wandering when we found Cecil and stopped for a beer while we waited for the others. After two beers each, we headed to Murray House for some lunch.

Murray Barracks, was built in central HK in 1846 and was one of the longest surviving buildings of that era. After being occupied by the British and Japanese (as well as being haunted), it was disassambled in 1982 to clear land for a large bank. Each block was labeled and stored until it was reassembled in 2001 in Stanley. When the rebuild was completed, six ionic columns were left over, so they were placed at the front of the terrace. Click on the photo to get a better view.

We lunched at a great Vietnamese restaurant. We have no Vietnamese restaurants in Yokosuka and I love Vietnamese food, so I was a happy girl.

Just like in Japan, the school children are assigned to interview native English speakers. A group of boys spoke with Andy and four girls, 9th to 11th grade asked questions of Yasmin, Jean and me.

The bus took us back to Kowloon in time to hit the 'night market'. It was a cheesy tourist trap, and one vendor had large beetles in shadowbox frames. Who would want something like that? As it turns out, Jean's son Sean asked her to bring one back as a souvenir. Hey, I just report this stuff...

After perusing the market, we found a few of our ladies at this table (above) having a drink. We all joined them and had dinner next to a table (to the right of the photo) filled with Americans, a few of whom were pilots for FedEx. This is their favorite place to eat, so we made a good choice. The table was on a busy corner, but we weren't sure what building the food was coming out of. Walking back, we did some window shopping for j-e-w-e-l-l-e-r-y, as it's spelled in Hong Kong (British influence).

Here are Andy, Jean and Yasmin (seated) on Saturday during our slow ferry ride to Lantau Island, just west of Hong Kong Island. From the dock we boarded a bus to Tai O, a small fishing village. It's really poor - well, you can see that from the photos.

It looks as though the boat might also be home. We took a long walk to a temple, but I missed the 'Walk of Wisdom'. That doesn't sound like something you should miss out on, but I did.

This was the nicest residence we saw in the village. Jean, who is a contractor said it was made from cargo containers from ships. If you thought you need a bigger, fancier house, what do you think now?

From Tai O, we rode yet another bus to Ngong Ping, a tourist village full of souvenir shops, restaurants, and a BIG Buddha, that can be seen from all over the island. He's right there at the top of the photo.

Andy managed to find a pizzeria and decided to eat there. Not so, Jean, Yasmin, Pilar and Lizzy. We found a ramen restaurant.

After lunch, and a long climb to the Buddha, we took a gondola ride across the island to the train station where we would head back to Kowloon.

This is my favorite part of the trip. We could see most of the island and Victoria Harbour, and the entire airport. The ride took about 20 minutes and cost about $7.

Here's some more interesting architecture. Hong Kong is a modern city, and although it reverted to China in 1999, just about everything is different from mainland China, right down to the currency.

After a train ride back to Kowloon, we set out in search of two stores, Pandora jewelry and Longchamp bags, and made purchases from each. Jean has a bracelet that she added three charms to, and Renee bought an extremely lightweight backpack. I was tempted to get one myself. That night we had fabulous Thai food, right there at the mall.

Our last morning in town, we headed to the highest point on Hong Kong Island - Victoria Peak. The view is great from here. It was once the poshest place to live, but now it's a big ole tourist trap.

Sometimes when you have a camera handy, there's that shot you just can't let go. I was pretty much running after this one, so it's a little fuzzy, but you can see what this guy's T-shirt says - right? and you can also see that he's on the phone - right?

Okay, good. That's all.