Beer Garden Life in Hanoi

Life is full of difficult choices. Mine today was to go to the beer garden at lunch and have a relaxed afternoon or go to the beer garden in late afternoon and stay for dinner. Not easy!

In the end we went for lunch (at 11.30 am), with the secret idea in the back of my head that one might always go there again in the evening – as it is more or less around the corner.

The motorbikes in front tell you that we were not the first (there were lots more motorbikes inside).

One corner of the place looks like this:

The difference to the other “Bia Hoi” beer places is that this here is the only one with real tables and real chairs which makes it more comfortable for Westerners like me to sit and relax. There is even a roof – which means you do not have to care about rain! A dangerous place!

The draft beer is being served in 0.25 l glasses. In our place it is a bit more expensive than elsewhere: 9,000 Dong a glass (0.68 Leva  or 0.35€). Whatever else you order you always eat boiled peanuts with the beer…

Today it was a little vegetarian selection – as it is the first day of the new lunar month and people do not eat much meat then.

Morning glory with garlic and chillies, a potage with bean sprouts, tomato, lotus, various other veggies and clams (only very small ones) – and a plate with fried tofu.

Believe me it took quite a few beers to wash it all down as there also was some rice in addition.

To give you an idea of how much garlic they use in Hanoi, here is a picture of the garlic left over after the morning glory was eaten (and all the garlic in between the stems and leaves):

The sofa helped digest the light fare and now I am ready for dinner and watching Vietnam beat Indonesia in football…happy times!

Is it really already over?

Back in my “everyday” environment in Hanoi. A different world from Japan.

Saying good-bye was made easier by a last ramen noodle soup at the Haneda airport:

The flight was excellent (5 hours and something) – considering that we did not fly with Malaysia Airlines…but renowned Vietnam Airlines :)

What I was looking forward to were the higher temperatures in Ha Noi. Japan was quite “fresh” and I was wearing socks all the time.

To my unpleasant surprise it has become quite cold here as well and the next task today will be to “upgrade” from the summer “blanket” to something that keeps us warm during the night. Hopefully it is only a short aberration.

The first task this morning was shopping for today’s food at the market before 7am – as long as there was still a wide choice of stuff.

And a little “banh cuon” for breakfast – bought in front of the house on the street )

The next few days will be chilling and “digesting” the last 18 days in Japan. And getting used to Vietnamese cuisine again after the all so different Japanese fare. I suppose, I will master this challenge…oh, and getting a new supply of Havana Club is also high on the agenda.

Hotter than hell – but better!

There are no fast trains to Kinosaki. The local train you catch in Fuchikiyama is full of (during the week elderly) people who all want to enjoy the hot mineral springs in Kinosaki. There are seven public bathes and many ryokan (Japanese inns) with onsen bathes (hot mineral water). Onsen is a national cult in Japan. They are crazy about this as they also are very health conscious.

Here in Kinosaki all people do is walk around trying out the different public bathes, eat and rest! We too. Because, frankly, there is nothing else to do here. We are out of luck with the weather. It’s drizzling all the time. Otherwise we could do a little hiking.

The shops in Kinosaki are full – not only with souvenirs and tourists but also with crab. Everywhere crab.

I was really looking forward to that. In November crab season started at the North Japanese sea here. What I had not taken into account was that I am already very privileged living in Hanoi where we buy my crabs alive – at a fraction of the price that they cost here. OK, we do not have the long-legged spider-crabs in Hanoi – but the rest are more than good enough for me. Why spend so much money when soon I can have as much as I want…

What I had instead was the “usual” combination:

a little sake

…and a “hint” of sashimi:

Oh, people do not just wander around the little town. They are all dressed up in their Yukata, the traditional light cotton kimono. You receive it upon arrival at your inn. Our landlord pleaded that we should wear it, and only it, all day long – at home in the inn, when going to a public bath or even in restaurants and bars. Last night we could not do it as it was bloody cold outside with a strong cold wind and My was shivering enough without the light Yukata.

I must look particularly funny as they did not have geta (the local wooden sandals) in a size that would fit my duck feet. Surprisingly they found a kimono big enough to wrap it around my sumptuous body. Maybe I look like a sumo wrestling trainee with German Birkenstock shoes.

Yesterday I had to take the first public bath alone as my My, with her completely different Vietnamese background, had never been naked in a public space before and was afraid of the experience of doing “a great wrong”. So, we managed last night to arrange for a private bath in our inn – as a starter for My and I explained to her how everything would work – as men and women are separate and I could not be with here to support her. This morning, when we took our first public bath at 7.30am in preparation for breakfast she was brave enough to face the challenge.  I believe from now on things will be much easier…

Especially after such a breakfast in our room:

As expected, there is no internet in our ryokan and I won’t be walking around town in a kimono with a laptop under my arm to find a Wifi spot.

It is 2.30pm and I have just come back from another round of hot bath soaking. Now it’s sipping an Asahi beer and relax until we go to the bath again around six pm before going for dinner…sometimes life is tough and you have to be strong…

These lines were written two days ago. Yesterday we have left Kinosaki and after a stop-over in Nagoya, the Toyota city, arrived back in Tokyo tonight.

 

 

 

Kyoto – Imperial Capital for nearly 1100 Years…

I know that you guys are not exactly history buffs. But being a capital for about 1100 years is heavy stuff! Not many other cities apart from Beijing can match this!

Kyoto has great charm. Despite a population of slightly less than 2 million the atmosphere is laid back. Not as hectic as in Tokyo. There are a lot of cultural places here. 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites! In one town! And I am so fucking happy that “my” Pirin National Park is one. Here they have 17! OK, so be it. They deserve it even :)

When I look at the Western world and Japan the background is so different. Japan is not an old culture. They came from the Kamchatka region and the Amur valley in Russia less than 2000 years ago. Tough cookies even back then.

During these few days I gained a lot more insight ito noadays Japan. I have always known many Japanese people (business people) in Europe (less in the US).

Japan at one time in the seventies became the big hitter in Asia and the West – and famous for what the Chinese did later: come – see- copy. But they soon improved on that – as the Chinese do today. Japan became number one in Asia and one of the leading economical powers in the world.

And there was a lot of talk about them. In the US and Europe. We were frightened by them. We perceived them as a threat to become second/third world countries. I remember saying in the late seventies that they deserve to be number one on the planet because they work harder than anyone else, even the Germans!

This is the past! When have you heard the last time that Japan is a threat to our Western economies? I bet, you can’t remember.

And this is exactly the current situation in Japan. They have worked their asses off to achieve something. Now that they did, they have become soft. And only use toilets with preheated seats (sorry, my Japanese friends, that was very unfair – but still true). A country where the “old” people are still scarred by the hard work they did all their lives and where the young have become egoistic…

One of the interesting things in Japanese culture is that even in the emperor’s palace there were no paintings of actual people (like we have them in Europe since more than 1000 years). It is landscape or general scenes. No individuals, no portraits. Because the individual did not count in relation to the whole. That was everyone’s attitude.

They were a nation with common values. Now they are being torn apart between traditions and Western life. I did not want to say that now, because I have been saying this for a long time without having been in the country. Sadly, being here confirms my impressions.

The Japanese are still one of the most hard-working and caring people around. I love them! Enough for now!

 

 

Takayama, Hida – A very special Region

Takayama proved to be a marvellous choice! I would call it an absolute MUST for everyone who visits Japan. It is a small mountain town with tradition, and when you enter it you feel time slowing down. And people are outgoing and real. For this very reason it is a rather popular holiday destination for Japanese from all over the country. Despite the tourists it is so peaceful there. The atmosphere just absorbs them.

Takayama reminds me much of Bansko 15 years ago. Soon I will post a few pictures.Time went far too quickly. If I had known what to expect from Takayama before I would have booked a longer stay.

Takayama used to be the “capital” of the Hida region. Nowadays Hida is famous for its beef. They make more fuzz about that than about Kobe beef. I will write a separate thing about my beef experiences there.

I am pressed for time. This afternoon we went to Kanazawa at the seaside. The third biggest town on Honshu and with a very interesting history. It boasts one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan – and some of the best seafood. We sampled both today.

Sadly, our hotel here was the first one that cannot provide a plug adaptor and so I use my notebook as long as the battery lasts.

Tomorrow we head on to Kyoto…

 

The Heart of Japan

Public transport in Japan is outstanding. You all heard of that. But the truth is even better than the image. Sheer perfection. Whether it is the metro in Tokyo or the trains in Japan. Spotlessly clean. Comfortable. Extremely well staffed. Everyone friendly, helpful, smiling!

We took the “bullet train” from Tokyo to Nagoya (the Toyota town). There we switched to the “Panorama Hida” express, that goes into the Japanese Alps, and therefore has panoramic windows so that passengers can enjoy the views! And in addition: the windows were squeaky clean! How many time have I travelled through beautiful landscapes without seeing anything because the windows of the bus or train were dirty like shit!

On the way to Nagoya we passed Mount Fuji, the legend.

Here we are along the river Miya-gawa – that would lead us to our goal TAKAYAMA.

 

After setting up shop in Takayama we felt like finally having arrived in the real Japan. A town with a strong atmosphere. Slow moving. Hundreds of small breweries making Sake. At the same time famous in all of Japan for its festivals in spring and autumn when the town becomes horribly crowded). The door to the high Alps.

We will stay three nights here. And we are VERY lucky with the hotel. Before our travel I had to change the whole schedule for Japan – and according to our old schedule there were no rooms available in this pearl. It is a mixture of Japanese inn but with the luxury features of a Western hotel.

Next to the lobby you have shoe lockers. That’s as far as you get with shoes. The rest in the hotel is barefoot or with socks (the Japanese, of course, wear white socks – I am barefoot). All floors are with tatami mats. In the room you have suemi dressing gowns that you can wear in the whole hotel incl. restaurant and what have you.

Here I am in my typical “Where is my sake?” position (back home it would be  “rakia” instead of sake)

The hotel has a lot of very pleasant features. Like “rotemburo” and private hot baths on the roof-top.

I just soaked in “mine”:

Here is the view complimenting the hot water:

Now it is 10 pm. We had a modest dinner in town as My felt only like a bit of rice and grilled beef.

Our hotel offers every night from 10.30 till 11.30 pm in its restaurant free noodle dishes! Like a get-together.So, in a while I will be heading some floors down, clad in my “samue” ( it took the hotel a lot of apologies and smiles until they could provide me with a “samue” that would fit my godly stature).

My is already sleeping. She had a hard day. Coping with the colder temperatures here in the mountains is not easy for her. Today’s lows during the night are expected to be 3 degrees C. A bit like Bansko here :)

Tomorrow more…

Tokyo – “take 2″

Our area is in midtown Tokyo. A business quarter. But with a lot of small restaurants in side streets. Of course, it rained and I had to buy an umbrella.

Once that was done we strolled along the streets and looked inside the restaurants. It was rather difficult to come up with a decision where to go as all the menus in the windows were in Japanese only (and where there were none, nobody spoke any English)…

My goal was clear: my first meal on Japanese soil had to be raw fish and sake…My would have preferred noodles.

In the end I got what I wanted:

That made my day :) Now I can have other food as well.

On the walk home to the hotel I decided to buy some Japanese beer for a try, from three different breweries:

I was not pleased when I opened the cans. It appears that the Japanese don’t drink “normal” beer anymore. It has to be special “style”, like without carbon-oxide, or with lemon or…or…there is even special “winter” beer. Disgusting! So the beer test is over – it will be sake test in the future…

Now it is Sunday morning, it does not rain and we are on the way to conquer Tokyo. See you…

 

Tokyo – “take 1″

The first few hours in Tokyo were a culture shock. At least for someone like me who comes from “poor ” South East Asia. And I also cold not recognise many parallels to the Tokyo of 1980…

It starts at the airport. Everything organised in a way that even a country yokel like myself would manage. From ushering  people with different passports to (generously staffed) different counters (no queues anywhere at the airport – but maybe because it was Saturday)  to having guys in uniforms patrolling around the luggage conveyor belts advising everyone to check the tag numbers on the luggage to make sure you collected the right one. Everyone very helpful.

The only parallel I detected to 35 years ago was that the level of English language proficiency has not changed much :)

The hotel, in the middle of Askaban, or whatever the quarter is called, a solid business hotel. In the lobby, next to the lifts, trays with items you can take to your room. From instant coffee to one-time-use hairbrushes. But you better don’t take to many items as the rooms do not really have a lot of space for storage. Our double room for the next 5 days has the size of a one man prison cell in Bulgaria. The beds are like on stilts so you can store your suitcases underneath (otherwise you could not move around) – but for Tokyo at about 150$ a night – a bargain. Breakfast not included, of course. The 2 sq.m. bathroom, however, features a toilet with heatable seat, auto-desinfectant and (by choice) either warm water “spraying” from underneath or “bidet function” :)

I have to call it a night now, but soon I will report about our venturing out for the first dinner in Tokyo.

So far, every thing is wonderfully different…

Reunion

Tomorrow will be an interesting day. I will see an old friend again. We have not met since 1980. I wonder if we will recognise each other again :) – Tokyo and me!

I was there “only” two times – in 1979 and in 1980 when I still lived in New York and had a Japanese girlfriend from Tokyo. It was a very serious relation with a very powerful woman – she was the first female stock broker in the history of Japan – and we were madly in love since we had met at an international Merrill Lynch get-together in London. And while we were together she either visited me or I visited her.

It was my first time in Asia – and Tokyo was a big culture shock for me! The whole life there! Also food-wise. It was a time when I still could not stand fish. And then in Japan! Horrible. But the sake went down well :)

Now, about 35 years later, I come back. A different person. And I am curious what Tokyo will be like now…

Tomorrow will tell.

Oh, if someone wonders what happened to my Japanese woman: if everything would have gone right we would have been married and happy ever since. But I was only in my late twenties and she too far away…and the streets of NY full with other women…I have regretted this many times because no other women can make a man happy as these old fashioned Japanese ladies (they don’t grow them anymore, I am afraid) – and I am not even taking about the erotic department. It’s an attitude thing. But no one can turn the clock back…