Monday, April 12, 2010

Ohayoo Japan!

We had a fun, fun, fun weekend in Japan!  I haven't been there in (ahem) 17 years, and Nick's never been.  I was surprised at how quickly my language skills came back, except that sometimes some Mandarin would cross my mind and I'd thank someone in Chinese instead.

It's cherry blossom season in Japan - truly a beautiful sight.  We flew into Osaka (Tokyo flights were all full and we heard the Osaka/Kyoto was a really nice area from friends).  We spent a day there and walked around a bit, hitting Osaka Castle and the gorgeous cherry trees in full bloom all around.

These are plots that the Japanese have laid out marking their spots under the cherry trees.  They come and picnic there.  We even saw several drinking at 10am!

We hit the smallest bar ever for an Asahi beer while waiting for our dinner.  Literally the place couldn't have been bigger than 4ftx8ft.  It was great.  Then, we decided experience one of the things that many Japanese do every night - play Pachinko.  I remember when I studied in Japan walking past the Pachinko parlors hearing the sound of the metal beads pouring out of the machines and loud music, but I was never brave enough to go inside.  Now was our chance.  We found the Dragon Fortune and headed inside.  We put 1000 yen (about US$10) in the machine and had to have the gaming "helper" come show us how to do it.  I'm pretty sure that his help would've been prohibited in Vegas.  Anyway, I tried my hand at it for a while, not knowing what I was doing except turning a knob.  Then Nick played and struck gold.  He was mesmorized by the flashing lights, deafening music and the Japanese video saying "Got Fever".  Three crates of metal balls later, our "helper" was motioning Nick to stop.  I thought maybe he wanted to immediately check him into Gambler's Anonymous, but instead, it was closing time (yay!  That's the first time we've closed a place down in a while).  Nick had earned more than 4,000 balls, which translated to about US$40.  Most people traded in their balls for cigarettes, but we opted for a box of lemon drops and cash.

Nick with his Asahi.  Notice that his knees are almost as tall as the bar.

Nick in the zone.

Happening downtown Osaka.

On Saturday, we headed to Kyoto by train via Nara, one of Japan's first capitals.  A friend recommended Nara, and we're so glad that we made the impromptu stop there.  From what we saw of the city, it was lovely.  There was a series of parks with temples and shrines connected by trails and deer who roam freely, asking for treats.

Beware of the deer!  We didn't see any violence among the deer.

Kyoto was lovely as well.  We wish we had more time there.  The Golden Pavillion was pretty spectacular and it was nice to be surrounded by some green for a change.  We're in a sea of concrete and metal in Shanghai.

In Osaka, we saw a Dairy Queen that had been converted into a pet store.  Glad it wasn't vice versa.

Glad to know this building had a map of refuge, if needed.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine was incredibly cool.  The trailways were lined by thousands of torii gates (the traditional Japanese gate that is used at Shinto shrines.  It was dark while we were there and they light up the gates so that you can walk through. 

We had a great time and the Japanese people were very warm and friendly.  We were sad to go, and I had to change my brain back to Chinese mode.  It was easy to do because before we even left for the airport, there were some Chinese cutting in line for the airport bus. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Mass en Francais in China

Yes, you read that right.  Although I haven't been the best Catholic church-goer while I've lived in Shanghai, I wasn't about to miss Easter mass this morning.  So, I carefully mapped out one of the three Catholic churches here in the city (and a spot for brunch, too).  The Chinese are not allowed to worship at any church, and that law was enacted under Mao's rule, but there are still a few Christian churches of various denominatiors around for the expats.  The churches were all built before his reign.

Anyway, I found a Church fairly close by our apartment that had 10:30 mass in English.  Perfect.  So, we drove up, and followed some of the Westerners who knew where they were going.  We walked in about 10:15 and Mass had already started...and it was in French.  So, we sat in an open pew and enjoyed the beautiful sound of the romantic language being delivered by the priest - and the music was beautiful.  Not what we expected, but certainly a very nice experience.    Apparently, like many other churches, they changed their schedule for Easter weekend.  Oops.

Also, this weekend is Tomb Sweeping weekend in China.  It's a three-day weekend where families go to the gravesites of their ancestors and clean their headstones and leave offerings so that they have money and gifts in their afterlife.  Just thought it was ironic that it is the same weekend this year as Easter, when Jesus' tomb was empty.

Happy Easter!

Some pics from the weekend.

Just outside our apartment building the birch trees are wrapped with lights and have snowflake lights hanging from them.  They did this before New Year's and they're still up.

The Bund is a riverwalk area alongside the Huangpu river that separates the two sections of Shanghai - Puxi and Pudong.  It is the site for many colonial style buildings which were built around the turn of the 20th century by European architects.  It's been closed for the last year or so, so that they could renovate it for the World Expo which starts in May.  It was a nice day out, as you can see from the crowds.  We usually don't feel like we live in a city of 18+million, but everyone seemed to be out yesterday.

A famous view of Shanghai and the Pearl Tower.  This is the tower I went up with dad when he was in town.

Pic of the week.  More fun with signage.  Not sure what "stomachology" is and am pretty sure that I don't want to be sick enough to find out, though my nasty illness earlier this week probably qualified for seeing a doc at this health center.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Learning some Filipino, too

Nick and I only have a few TV stations in English, which are all based in Asia.  Our favorite two are AXN (which we affectionately call the American Expat Network) and StarWorld, which is based in the Philippines.

We like StarWorld because they play reruns of favorites like Scrubs and Friends, but they also are running the current American Idol and last season's Glee (which is my new favorite show).  Anyway, StarWorld commercials are in Filipino, so Nick and I are learning some key phrases about toilet bowl bacteria, ice cream, and moneygrams.

One of our favorites to make fun of is for a pizza chain called Greenwich which is currently promoting a pizza with "real American pizza topping favorites" which include shredded potatoes and bratwurst.  I've only been gone from the states for about a month, but wasn't aware that those two toppings were sweeping the nation.