Wednesday, April 23, 2008

China trips past (not present)

Interested in my 2006 trip to Beijing w/my cohort in crime Liz?

Wanna know where I am now? This spreadsheet is up-to-date:

Miss you guys!

PS: MY PHONE WORKS!! YAY! I'm Text-messagable again!


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Where Technology meets Tradition: Japan - Take 3

No blog series from Japan would be complete without a mention of the toilets here. This is a control-panel for the toilet in the Ikeda's house. The buttons on the upper left are "Close", "Open lid", and "Lift seat and lid". The blue buttons are for "half flush" and "full flush". The green button is "Stop", the brown button is "wash", the pink button is "douche", the yellow button is "dry", and the two grey buttons control the strength of the spray. I have never touched the lower green button, and I suggest that when you're in a foreign country sitting half-naked on an electric toilet, you don't either (Nara, Japan)

Here it is: This is the toilet controlled by the control panel. And let me tell you.... It's DREAMY! You hit the soft-touch button for "lift one lid", and get ready and have a seat on the throne... And the seat is heated gently, so there is no wincing, grimacing, or sitting on your hands for 20 seconds. Once it senses you're seated, it warms it up to "ooh, AAH!" temperature, and it feels REALLY REALLY good. And the water that is used for "wash" mode is heated too. I have no idea why these toilets haven't caught on in the rest of the world. They're WONDERFUL. (Nara, Japan)

Smart train signal: not only does it tell you to stop, it tells you where the train is coming from (Nara, Japan)

Daizo and I departed for Tokyo on the Shinkansen (Literally, "New Main road Line"... Which is why in English we call it the "Bullet train"--much more of a 'ring' to it!). It strikes a very sexy silhouette! These babies get up to around 285 km/h on the wide open spaces. And they're all through urban areas, so the Japanese have had to innovate a lot to figure out ways to keep the trains QUIET. (Shinkansen terminal, Osaka, Japan)

On the way to Tokyo, it is possible to see Mt Fuji. I had never seen a photo of Mt Fuji that showed the amount of industry that is in that area (all the photos I've seen show Mt Fuji, picturesque in the background, and the bullet-train in the foreground). I thought this was apropos: the cloud-shrouded (smog-shrouded?) Fuji San (Mount) with factory smokestacks (the source of the shroud?) in the foreground. (On the way to Tokyo, Japan)

Here's something I did NOT expect to find in Tokyo: legroom!!! The Bullet-trains travel in both directions, so all the seats turn forward and backward. MAYBE this is the reason that there's legroom, I'm not sure... But it was WONDERFUL to be able to stretch out! Considering the time spent at the airport, the bullet train is the fastest way to get to medium-distance places in Japan--and far more convenient. (On the way to Tokyo, Japan)

Stepping out of the Shinkansen station, I looked up and saw this: awesome buildings! Tokyo is FULL of them! They're not just for office space, they are also meant to be beautiful, which is something that seems to be universal here--attention to detail and appearance (Tokyo, Japan)

"DOME!" I had a lot of fun reading the English on signs here. Lots of times they make no sense at all, other times you can make sense of it, but it's not correct, and lots of times, they're fine, but unintentionally funny. (Tokyo, Japan)

Walking down the street in Tokyo I had a few new experiences: 1) Saw my first vertical parking garage 2) Saw pylons in the street that light up and flash so they are easy to see 3) Bought a dinner coupon from a vending machine 4) Saw real, live squid swimming and changing color right in front of my very eyes!

One of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo was Yoshinoya. It is fast-food. The entire restaurant is bar-seating, and this is where you buy your meal: a vending machine. You select your entree from the list, push the button, and it dispenses a ticket for you. You present it to the staff behind the bar, and they bring you the food. No hold-ups, no employees handling money. Seems pretty smart to me! (Yoshinoya in Asakusa neighborhood, Tokyo, Japan)

This is a parking garage. You pay at the little both on the right. The circle on the floor is the turn-table (no more three-point-turns!!), and beyond the turn-table you can see two white lines heading toward a yellow metal cage. This parking garage is VERTICAL. You just pull straight in off the street and into the cage. Then they press a button and your car is lifted into the garage. The garages vary in height, but many are 10-story buildings (only as wide as two cars, but 10 story-high). This one is capable of garaging 35 cars at one time. (Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan)

In a restaurant window was an aquarium filled with squid. Having seen plenty of squid in sushi, I would have never guessed how graceful and beautiful these little guys are in motion. They go forward and backward, and are attracted to light. They seemed to be curious about me and moved closer to the glass when I got closer (Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan)

These are nerd watches: they display the time with a grid instead of numbers. They probably only sell these puppies to engineers (cough, cough--yes, I think they're cool!) (Venus Fort Mall, Tokyo, Japan)

Venus Fort Mall in the Daiba district of Tokyo. At first look, it reminds me very much of Cesar's Palace in Vegas, but on closer inspection, it's much better looking. Cesar's Palace is a great looking place, but even the cheap shops here at Venus Fort still have that same attention to detail and beautiful displays. (Daiba district, Tokyo, Japan)

SO many beautiful buildings! (Daiba district, Tokyo, Japan)

Cool building! (Daiba district, Tokyo, Japan)

This is super-cool. If you have a Japanese mobile phone, just take a picture of the box with all the black & white squares (It's a 3-D bar code), and your phone's web browser will open the website mentioned in an ad. You can also MAKE YOUR OWN 3-D barcode: With your contact information, your phone can create your own 3-D barcode. Then, when you want to share your information with a business contact, you just show your 3-D barcode on your phone's screen, and your associate takes a picture of your screen. Within 1 second, he has a new phone book entry with all of your information. (McDonald's 3d barcode, Tokyo, Japan)

In Marinoche, there were HUGE boxes of tulips placed on the sidewalk, creating a carpet of color. The overall effect was "over-engineered", but on a smaller scale, the flowers themselves were beautiful. (Marinoche district, Tokyo, Japan)

Tulips on the sidewalk (Marinoche district, Tokyo, Japan)

Tulips on the sidewalk (Marinoche district, Tokyo, Japan)

Tiptoeing through the tulips (Marinoche district, Tokyo, Japan)

Kameari neighborhood, Tokyo. The manga culture is apparent in many of the signs. I think almost anyone would want to be here in this old-folk's home after seeing the old cartoon man and lady having fun. Seems so much more appealing than our marketing brochures for rest homes: sunlight streaming in the window, a grandparent in a nightgown reading a book, possibly a well-dressed, old-but-still-looking-good wheelchair-bound dude, relative behind, placing a caring hand on shoulder. Blech! Give me a cartoon of a funny old man and woman and sign me up! (Kameari, Tokyo, Japan)

This clock performs! It was designed by the famous director Miyazaki and sculptor Shachimaru Kunio, and it looks like a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Robots come out, dance around, parts of the clock come to life, all to a mysterious and melodious soundtrack. It's REALLY cool! (NTV Tower, Shiodome, Tokyo, Japan)

So many cool buildings! Park Hotel Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan)

The Fuji TV headquarters (Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan)

So many cool buildings! (Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan)

The top of the building that pokes out is the top part of the vertical garage at the Toyota showroom (Venus Fort, Tokyo, Japan)

The inside portion of the vertical garage at the Toyota showroom. (Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan)

The Hilux Surf (Toyota 4Runner) (Venus Fort, Tokyo, Japan)

On a night walk through a closed shopping arcate, we arrived at Senso-ji--a Buddhist temple dedicated to bodhisattva Kannon (Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo, Japan)

Cool building! This one has a groovy cut-out-cylinder (Tokyo, Japan)

Sexy curves! (The upmarket Ginza neighborhood, Tokyo, Japan)

When Daizo and I stayed in Tokyo with his aunt and uncle, Erico told me that this was her favorite building. So I took a picture of it for her. Here it is! The Tokyo Internation Forum (Marunouchi, Tokyo, Japan)

The facade of this bank building almost looks like a giant waterfall from afar. Very cool! (Marunouchi, Tokyo, Japan)

In front of the bridge at the Imperial Palace... You can't actually see much, but the grounds have beautifully kept pine trees--all groomed into puff-balls (Think of a poof-ball poodle) (Tokyo, Japan)

More cool buildings than you can shake a chopstick at! (Tokyo, Japan)

This building is extremely narrow (maybe 3-4m deep), but they've made it visually striking--a landmark despite its diminutive size (Ginza, Tokyo, Japan)

It was raining in Ginza and I decided to treat Daizo to a coffee at Starbuck's... I left him with the gift certificate card (Thanks Monika!!!) and went upstairs to find the table. I ordered a Matcha Frappuccino and a Green tea donut. Daizo ordered a coffee and a "Volcano", which is sort of like a big chocolate muffin with gooey dark chocolate inside. When he got upstairs (we got a GREAT table!) I found out that the gift certificate DIDN'T WORK!!! I was so embarassed! And who would have guessed--in the most technologically advanced country on earth, the gift card which has worked from California to Lima, Peru will not work in Japan. Go figure! (Ginza, Tokyo, Japan)

The very famous Wako department store. They don't have actual products in the window, just this very stylized-type figure made of what looks like screen from a screen door--all enclosed in curved glass. Extremely cool! (Ginza, Tokyo, Japan)

Yet another outrageously cool building! This one belongs to Mikimoto. Lots of flagship stores are here in Ginza--Tokyo's answer to New York's 5th Avenue (Ginza, Tokyo, Japan)

Tokyo Mode Gakuen Coccoon Tower (Tokyo, Japan)

You can only KINDA tell from this picture, but this waterfall doesn't actually have a stream of water: it has discrete DROPLETS of water, and here's the trippy part: they go forward, then they stop, then they go UP. I took a video but the quality is horrible (Tokyo, Japan)

It was raining that night (it was raining a lot in general!), and the rain hitting these hot lights looked cool (Tokyo, Japan)

Great facade! (Tokyo, Japan)

Cool rainbow-building (Tokyo, Japan)

Tsukiji Fish Market. I felt like Jacque Cousteau--I saw MANY things from the sea I never knew existed! These are frozen Maguro (Tuna) (Tokyo, Japan)

The Tsukiji fish market is very famous. The normal progression of events is to go see the fish auction early in the morning, then have a breakfast of some of the freshest sushi on earth. As you can see, many many many people had this idea. The sushi may have been the freshest, but it was REALLY expensive... And while I DO really LIKE sushi, I think of it like coffee: I buy the "good" stuff, because I can't tell the difference between the "good" stuff and the "great" stuff... So given the choice of standing out in the REALLY REALLY REALLY cold rainy windy morning for 45 minutes waiting for overpriced sushi in a restaurant where the line of people outside is glaring at my back, waiting for me to leave so THEY can have 7 minutes in the warm restaurant to eat THEIR overpriced, way-too-fast sushi that they probably can't tell the difference between good and great..... Daizo and I went next door to the "Rice bowl with Pork" fast food... We sat immediately, warmed up, had a great meal with nobody waiting for our seat, and only spent 800 yen. (Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan)

Got stick legs? Try Stick Pants! (Metro, Tokyo, Japan)

Lantern at the Meiji-Jingu. The high-rise behind is a university (Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan)

The Meiji-Jingu (Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan)

Cool building (Tokyo, Japan)

Tod's (Omotesando, Tokyo, Japan)

Cool balcony! (Omotesando, Tokyo, Japan)

When will the awesome buildings end? Hopefully NEVER!! (Tokyo, Japan)

Yet another cool building in the distance. Stacked blocks! (Tokyo, Japan)

See the giant spider? (Roppongi Hills, Tokyo, Japan)

Hachiko, the dedicated Akita dog (Akita is a city in the N of Honshu by the way). In the 1920s and 1930s, this dog was a fixture at the station. (Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan)

Swervalicious! (Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan)

Cool Building! (Shimbashi, Tokyo, Japan)

Twisty! (Shimbashi, Tokyo, Japan)

This building is like a kaddy-wampus layer cake and I luffit! (Omotesando, Tokyo, Japan)

In Harajuku, we stopped to get a crepe. These are like ice-cream cones filled with yummy toppings (bananas and cream, strawberries and chocolate ice cream, etc, etc, etc). I ordered mine, paid, and it was made, on-the-spot while I got out my money. They literally handed it to me about 4 seconds after I got done paying. Quite an efficient system! (Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan)

Gotta love the name! (Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan)

On the way to the Imperial Palace (Tokyo, Japan)