Spring is trying to arrive

This can be a really nice time of year. Spring is trying to arrive. We’ve had some really nice days lately and today was no different. The temperature was not cold, the sky was clear, and the trees and flowers are JUST beginning to show their colors. In the next two weeks the cherry blossoms should explode. However, during the week the lows are going to hover just above freezing, so I worry a little.

Tomorrow it is supposed to rain, so I really wanted to make sure I got out for a nice stroll in the sunlight. I brought along my camera to record the rebirth. I walked from my place to Nagoya castle and back. It isn’t a far walk, but I was probably out one and a half or two hours.

The magnolia tree directly in front of my apartment.

In front my apartment

 

Along Sakuradori ….

Along the street where I live

 

Along the street where I live

 

 

In front of my local Starbucks

Along the street where I live, in front of Starbucks

 

Of course, Japan only needs an excuse for a festival. This sign says さくらまつり or Sakura festival.

Sakura festival lighting

 

A few trees were in full bloom. Although this looks like a cherry tree, it is actually a plum tree.

Plume tree in full bloom

 

I’m looking forward to the Spring. Although I will be busy, it will be nothing like last year. I don’t even remember anything about last Spring other than “Oh my God, what have I gotten myself in to?!?”

I am still challenged by work, but I feel more at home here in Nagoya and I feel fortunate still to be here.

In case of earthquake, become a fishmobile

I have no idea what the illustration on this sign means.

In case of earthquake ...

 

The English is clear enough. The road is closed in the event of a major earthquake. It is in front of a major hospital in Nagoya. But why the nervous catfish? Theories or translations are welcome.

Fertility Festival – Otherwise known as the festival of the p33n

As promised, today I went to the fertility festival in Komaki. Yet another famous festival very close to where I live. I have never seen so many gaijin (foreigners) concentrated in one place in Japan. It was CRAWLING with foreigners.

Our friends at What’s Up Aichi state,

At the Tagata Shrine Fertility Festival in Komaki, a Shinto priest leads five women who carry offerings to the female god of fertility. Holding all-too-detailed carvings of oversized phalli, the women walk the short distance from shrine to shrine surrounded by townspeople and visitors with hopes of a bountiful harvest and prosperous year in their hearts. The star of the show, an enormous male member carved especially for the festival from a local cypress tree, soon makes its way from Kumano Shrine on the shoulders of the town’s 42-year-old men (the age is considered unlucky for unrelated reasons).

While the festival is generally light-hearted and the sake flows generously into the cups of pilgrims from far and wide, a serious aura also pervades, revealing the venerated place that the ceremony holds in the local lore. Don’t be surprised to come across the local clergy blessing the offering with the utmost gravitas.

Early in the adventure, the pressure was put on me by a colleague. “You speak Japanese, go ask where the [6 foot penis] is.” I was successful in my inquiry, and led our group of about 10 people to the giant member on the mountain.

Some claim the photos are not safe for work (NSFW). To see more, click through. Continue reading “Fertility Festival – Otherwise known as the festival of the p33n”

Some final Thai thoughts

I had a list of topics that I wanted to cover in my Thai posting.  I got most of them covered in my entry, but there are few I didn’t get covered.

 

Gender fluidity

One thing I noticed in Thailand was gender was very fluid.  I’m not talking about sleazy bar areas where ladyboy shows are the norm.  Just in normal, every day life, sometimes gender was difficult to determine.  Was that beautiful girl and guy?  Was that odd looking man a woman?  There were definitely times where Tomo and I would ask each other, “male or female?”  It was a very interesting to see in everyday life – the group of security guards at the airport, the maid who came to turn down our room in Koh Samui, the server at Ice Monster, and any number of other places.

 

Plastic surgery

Apparently Thailand is also known for plastic surgery.  I didn’t know that.  We saw a lot of Thai women with Angelina Jolie-esque lips that didn’t quite fit.  But the icing on the cake was two women on our flight who looked like they had a little “work” done in Thailand.  I looked at them and thought, “can they really think that is sexy?”  I just don’t get it.  I understand vanity, and I certainly want to look good, but where does their perception of looking good come from?  That’s what I don’t get.  Wear funky clothes if you want, get a cool hairstyle, but don’t inject a bunch of junk in your lips to make them look like … like what?  Puffy lips?  Sigh.  I could also go on and on about bad wigs on men in Japan, but I’ll pass on that for now.

Do not trust wily strangers

Do not trust wily strangers according to the authorities at the Grand Place and Emerald Buddha Temple. They forgot to mention unscrupulous taxi drivers.

Do not trust wily strangers

I really enjoy the English message on this sign.

I am back from Thailand now, somewhat sad to no longer be on vacation and somewhat happy to be home. I am really tired, but I think it is more a case of being depressed about the end of vacation, being alone again, and having to work tomorrow. I’ll survive.

There’s so much to show and so much to tell, I hope I have the energy to write it all down in a way that is interesting to people. There’s not so much to report on Koh Samui. We were staying at a resort and we were somewhat isolated from any sort of city. The room was peaceful and we enjoyed good meals and nice massages. Unfortunately, those all came at resort prices instead of Thai prices. We were ready for that, so it was fine.

I see why everyone loves Bangkok. People refer to Japan as a place with organized chaos. Bangkok is just chaos. However, on the chaos scale, it really isn’t that high. If Tokyo has a chaos ranking of 1 and New Delhi has a chaos ranking of 10, I’d put Bangkok at only about a 4. Is it crazy? Yes. Is it packed? Yes. Does it feel impossible? Not at all.

A little crowded

I’m not sure how to organize my thoughts in this blog. I think I’ll just try to discuss in a reverse chronological order and share some general impressions.

 

Bangkok

We had a few recommendations of things to see in Bangkok. Also, Tomo had a good guide book from Japan that listed places to go. I had Time Out Bangkok. I usually love the Time Out books, but for some reason this one didn’t help me out initially. I think when you know the city the book is very helpful.

Our first night in Bangkok was really just a quick turnaround before we went to Koh Samui. We stayed at the JW Marriott, which was very nice. We got in trouble for taking pictures in the lobby, I guess they still had heightened security measures following the Jakarta bombing in 2003. I won’t post a picture of the lobby because I noted that their website did not have an image, but you can google if you want.

We didn’t explore Bangkok on our initial arrival but really enjoyed the Executive Lounge!

We returned to Bangkok Thursday (March 5) afternoon, vowing to have a plan ahead of time so that we didn’t miss out with our limited time. We stayed downtown at the brand new Centara Grand at Centralworld. The location is extremely convenient – close to public transportation and good shopping areas (ranging from exclusive shops to uniquely Bangkok). There is a ton of development in this area, and I’m sure 15 years ago it looked nothing like this, and 15 years from now it will look nothing like it does now. Bangkok still has the feeling of the business pouring out on to the sidewalk, much like Singapore did 15 years ago. The last time I was in Singapore, it didn’t feel that way. I anticipate Thailand to go through the same transition, unfortunately.

Ritzy shopping near the hotel

 

Shops spilling into the streets

 

Shops spilling onto the sidewalk

 

Our hotel was brand new, only opening in December of 2008. While I can recommend the location, I have some difficulty recommending the hotel yet. They are definitely having some growing pains associated with the hotel. For example, it took us 20 minutes to check out on an internet pre-paid room. It turns out the room wasn’t charged to my credit card ahead of time after all so we had to sort that out. I’m waiting for the double billing!

Thursday night, Tomo was determined that we were going to get a certain chicken rice meal for dinner. The restaurant is one of the typical open-to-the-street infernos of boiling water, soup, chicken, and beer. The temperature range of Bangkok is hot to hotter.

A little warm

Tomo’s guide book and his natural guidance got us to the restaurant with little difficulty. Thanks to both. Here’s Tomo waiting for the food.

Waiting for food

 

Here’s my dish with spicy sauce drizzled on top…

Dinner

 

And here’s the whole restaurant and its fabulous decor.

The epitome of style

 

I know that I would have gone back there had I stayed longer in Bangkok. Nothing like hot soup to cool you down on a hot night. It is reminiscent of Swee Kee chicken rice in Singapore (apparently a beloved but lost restaurant).

After dinner, we walked the long walk to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Although heavily touristed, it is still a pretty cool place. Apparently this too is headed for eventual “redevelopment.” Surprisingly, I took no pictures as we wandered around the shops even though I had at least one camera with me. Why? Here Tomo was able to buy some fisherman’s pants (or Thai pants). We also enjoyed the beer garden, food stalls, and live entertainment at the market.

Food stalls at Suan Lum Night Bazaar

Ordering food at Suan Lum Night Bazaar

 

The next day, we planned to visit The Royal Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun, taking a river boat to avoid the congested streets. The river boat turned in to our first transportation rip off, but I’ll leave that for a different section. Bangkok started their Skytrain in 1999 and has been quite helpful getting out of the congested traffic. We took the Skytrain to the Central Pier to catch a river boat.

Skytrain walkway

 

Once we got to Central Pier, we boarded a river boat to go to the Grand Palace. We only spent 120 Baht (about $3.50) for an all day pass as we were told this was our only option (not true). The view from the river was interesting, and the amount of detritus in the water was remarkable. It is always scary to see dead fish floating in a river, but we certainly could along the Chao Phraya river. The boat was very convenient though.

On the ferry

 

Plying the Chao Phraya

 

The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

We arrived at The Grand Palace and there you are first directed to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the buildings of the upper terrace.

The four main monuments are a reliquary in the shape of a golden chedi; the Mondop which is a repository for Buddhist sacred scriptures inscribed on palm leaves, contained within a beautiful mother of pearl inlaid cabinet; a miniature Angkor Wat crafted by the order of King Mongkut (Rama IV); and the Royal Pantheon in which statues of past sovereigns of the ruling Chakri dynasty are enshrined.

Scattered around the terrace are statues of elephants and mythical beings. The models of elephants are a recod of the famous white elephants acquired during the reigns of the various kings of Thailand.

– Guide to the Grand Palace

Of course, like you, I know the definition of “reliquary” and “chedi.” In case you have forgotten, a “reliquary” is, as you would surmise, a place where holy relics are kept. “Chedi” is the Thai equivalent of the Indian “stupa.” Ah, so it must be clear now. A “chedi” is “A bell shaped monument erected to house a holy statue or an object of a prominent person, such as the ashes of important monks and royalty, or relics of the Buddha. In Thailand they are called phra chedi and are most commonly used as a relic shrine. The bell shaped chedi is a copy of the Indian stupa or cetiya, in Burma known as zedi or pagode, in Vietnam as chua, in Tibet as chorten, and in Sri Lanka called dagoba.” (Source).

Of course, the minute we walked in the entrance of the terrace, the sparkling buildings, colors, and giant mythical beings required immediate photography. I was worn out by the time of the actual Grand Palace.

Here’s a mythical creature …

Mythical creatures at the Grand Palace

 

And here’s another mythical creature and a woman with matching hair. I had to get the blue hair and the blue skin together.

Separated at birth?

 

Images of the Mondop …

The Mondop

The Mondop

 

The golden chedi was previously featured …

golden chedi

 

The model of Angkor Wat, in detail. To me, it looks like the model is made of sand and a good rain would wash it all away. That’s not the case, but it sure looks that way.

Angkor Wat model

 

Some additional mythical creatures.

More mythical creatures

 

And two of the scariest things we saw – us. Yikes. That’s what happens when you take your hat on and off, wear it frontwards and backwards, and get really hot standing in the sun. Don’t we look good? What is going on with my hairline in this picture? This photo is taken outside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Non-mythical hot and tired creatures

 

On the backside of the temple is, I assume, a protector of the temple.

Protector of the temple

 

I learned something important as well, there is no skateboarding of roller skating around the temples. You know I was really looking forward to shredding the temples on my board, but the rules are the rules.

No skateboarding allowed

 

I took some photos of the Grand Palace, but I find them rather uninteresting so I didn’t post them here.

We were pretty exhausted and rather overheated after our time at the Grand Palace, so we splurged on a pricey tourist meal in an air-conditioned restaurant that must make a killing because it is right near the exit of the temple. Clever. It wasn’t THAT overpriced, and the AC made up for it. Then we decided to wander over to Wat Pho to check out the reclining Buddha and maybe get a massage as recommended by a friend. Before lunch, I could not imagine letting anyone touch my body. I didn’t even want to touch it, so I didn’t think a massage would be in the cards. After lunch though, I started considering the massage again.

On our way to Wat Pho, I took several photos of the area just to get the general feel of Thailand. Here’s one.

Street, Bangkok

 

Wat Pho

Inside the grounds of Wat Pho I took a few more pictures. Here’s one showing off the colors inside the temple.

Inside Wat Pho

 

And here is one of the reclining Buddha. A very chill Buddha if you ask me.

A little crowded

 

Here’s a picture of more chedis in Wat Pho
Chedis in Wat Pho

 

We did decide to get a massage inside the temple at Wat Pho. They offer several different massages including traditional Thai massage (fully clothed and focusing on kneading and pressure points), foot massage (reflexology), and other massages. I opted for a traditional Thai message for the first time while Tomo opted for the foot massage. When I got a foot massage in Hong Kong, I could barely walk for 3 days, so I decided it might be a bad idea. I felt bad for my masseuse, who had to touch my kind of wet clothes. Oh well, I guess they’ve touched worse. I got just a half hour massage, but it did help me feel revitalized. We were both ready to go home prior to the massage. Afterwards, we decided we had time to visit Wat Arun. I’ve determined that I prefer an oil based massage that doesn’t solely focus on pressure points. It is nice to have had enough variety now to be able to know which massages I like. I remember one “massage” during the AIDS Ride that actually induced shock. That is NOT the massage for me.

 

Wat Arun

Wat Arun is a single tower that you can see on the Thai coins. We hopped on the 3 baht river ferry (about 10 cents) and headed over for a look. It was not very crowded, and once we were there we noticed that you could climb stairs to a pretty high vantage point on the temple. Here’s a detail of the temple. Doesn’t everything feel like a melting candle?

Wat Arun

 

And here’s Tomo climbing the steep stairs. Of course, it is hard to capture the perspective through a camera lens.

Steep stairs at Wat Arun

 

From the heights of Wat Arun, you can look out over a lot of Bangkok. Here’s a view across the river towards the Grand Palace.

The view from Wat Arun

 

Koh Samui

You have a good idea what Koh Samui was about from my previous entry. It is always nice to be on a beach holiday, and I always get a little bored with it as well. We relaxed, went to the pool, swam, walked along the beach, and generally chilled. Here are a few more pictures of Koh Samui.

Here’s a nice advertisement style picture of our couch in our hotel room or “villa.”

Inside our room in Koh Samui

 

The rocky beach to the side of the hotel.

Hotel beach

 

Fishing boats in Lamai

Fishing boats in Lamai

 

As I child, I hated mannequins. And escalators. You can imagine I was a wreck in department stores. Perhaps the mannequins below were popular when I was a child. They were all over Thailand and were very, very scary.

Thai mannequins

 

The airport in Koh Samui, built by Bangkok Airways, was very “Fantasy Island.” It was all mostly outdoors, including the arrivals area and the luggage carousel.

Koh Samui arrivals

 

Compare that to the ultra-modern brand new Bangkok airport.

Bangkok airport

 

Bangkok airport

 

Transportation Rip Offs

I’ve got a lot more notes to cover, but I think I’ll take care of those in an additional post. However, I promised I’d describe my transportation rip-off experiences. Taxi drivers are notorious for not wanting to use the meter. I had successfully battled them for most of the time in Bangkok. However, my last night in Bangkok, I was completely discombobulated by a taxi driver. Compounded by the fact that I just wanted to take the Skytrain, the experience proved very frustrating. After dinner on Friday night, we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel to avoid getting overheated since we were leaving really early the next morning. Actually, Tomo wanted the taxi and wanted the train.  We flagged down a taxi who didn’t want to use the meter. I walked away but was called back when he agreed to use the meter. We explained where the hotel was, gave him the hotel card, and were on our way. I noticed we were going the opposite direction of our hotel. About that time, Tomo stated, “We’ve done really well here and haven’t been ripped off” or something to that effect. I said, “We, I’d wait before you say that because this taxi driver is taking us for a ride.” I was paying attention and expected a left turn soon to move a little North and get on a less congested road back to the hotel. Sure enough, we made the left turn, and then as expected we crossed a canal. I was feeling a bit more relieved. But then we crossed another canal that I was not expecting. And then after we went under the expressway, we didn’t come across Wireless Road as I expected. And then we went by the new train station which was DEFINITELY not the right direction. At that point I said, “Where are we going?” and restated the name of the hotel. I think I even gave him the card. The taxi driver mumbled back something close to the name of our hotel. We then started passing metro stations, and I had NO idea where we were. I should have stopped us at that point but I was not sure where we were. Again I asked, and he pulled over. “Oh, you wanted to go HERE?!?” He used the excuse that there are two hotels with the same name as the reason for taking us on the crazy ride. While it is true, there are two Centara Grand hotels, there is only one hotel ON THE MAP WE GAVE HIM. We got him headed the right direction and I sat there fuming. I was very preachy to Tomo, “What is the lesson learned here?” I asked. I think I wanted the answer to be, “You are right and I am wrong.” Of course that wasn’t exactly the answer I got back and I feel bad about getting angry, but the Skytrain was soooo close initially.

In my mind I had decided I would not pay over 100 Baht for the ride, regardless of what the meter said. I would stay in the taxi, complain to the doorman, and make him support our cause with the taxi driver. Once we finally got to the hotel, after about 30 kilometers, our taxi fare was 285 Baht. It is important to know that is less than 10 USD. But that wasn’t the point. I said, “I will only pay you 100 baht” and explained to the doorman what had happened. Thais are not big on confrontation and the doorman definitely didn’t want to get in the middle of it. I think he bought in to the idea that the taxi driver thought we wanted the other hotel. I told the taxi driver he was a disgrace to his people. I doubt he understood that. In the end, I gave him 140 baht for a meter of 285 baht and what should have been a 60 baht ride. Someone else was waiting to take a taxi, and I was incredulous when the doorman loaded him in the taxi. I told them. “Do not take this taxi. This man is dishonest.” The person waiting for the taxi said, “I’m Thai, I can handle it.” I was still stuck on the taxi driver disgracing all Thais and told the guy about to get in the taxi, “He’s a disgrace to your people.” In the meantime, Tomo was photographing the taxi driver’s ID in the cab and the license plate. The doorman was muttering, “Have a nice evening” to every complaint I made as I stormed in to the hotel.

Am I a little embarrassed about my reaction? I’m a lot embarrassed, especially after writing it the way I did. Did the taxi driver really get confused about the hotel? I don’t know. It is possible. But for crying out loud, we showed him the map (a little hard to read in dim light) and more than once tried to relate it to a specific shopping area. Since we at first would not agree to use the meter and then he changed his mind, I was highly skeptical of his motives. In the end we made Americans and Japanese look like raging lunatics and I have a sour taste in my mouth for all things taxi in Bangkok.

For me, the money is not a big deal and that’s what makes it a little more embarrassing. However, honesty is important to me, and I hate the idea that perhaps we were taken advantage of.

I think I was already tweaked because earlier in the day we had taken the river boats along the Chao Phraya. At the central pier, it was very confusing which boat to take and we were told the only way to take the next express boat was to buy a 120 baht single day ticket. Once on the boat, tbe ticket lady came along, selling tickets for 18 baht. How is THAT for a nice little swindle? So we paid almost 4 times more than necessary for our journey up and down the river. Again, it is only about $3.50 that I spent, but the misinformation frustrated me.

Don’t worry, the transportation frustrations didn’t ruin the trip. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to handle that kind of situation with more grace. Even better, I hope I don’t get myself in that situation again.

I still have lots of other impressions to write of, including puffy lips and gender identity. More to come in a post later, but I wanted to get the pictures up sooner rather than later.