Thursday, November 27, 2014

Japan - The next day - Nara

The bus ride to Nara was alright. You can only get so comfortable on a bus. Though this one was specifically geared to overnight travel. There were only 3 seats across and there was a bit more space in front and behind so you could lean back without intruding on anyone else's space. They even provided slippers for each passenger to use if you so desired. Just to make things more comfortable.

The bus went directly from Tokyo to Nara without any stops. I arrived at my stop at the Kintetsu Nara Station at 6:35 a.m. It was the final stop on the route (one after the stop at the Nara JR Terminal). So, again, I had a lot of time to kill. Most of the temples didn't opened until 8:00 or 9:00.

The first temple I planned on visiting was Todai-ji. It's probably only a kilometre or so from where I got off the bus. I was able to pass the time taking pictures of the many small deer in Nara Park along the way there. They're pretty much tame. You can approach them and they won't run away.

I was even able to pat a few of them on the head. They didn't seem to enjoy it so much like I thought they would. I thought they would like it the same way dogs do. Most of the deer just walked away when I started rubbing their heads.

I visited four temples in total in Nara - Todai-ji, Kasuga Taisha, Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji. Unfortunately, being off-season, many of the temples were under partial renovation and/or had certain areas closed off to visitors. That was really annoying. Especially since I discovered that after having paid to get in.

I was pretty much done temple hopping by 3:00 p.m. I had to rush around because, at this time of the year (late fall), the sun sets early. Not good for photos at all. There are a lot of heavy shadows that make for terrible shots.

Thankfully I was able to find a bus (#70 and 72) from the east side (Todai-ji and Kasuga Taisha) that took me the 7-kilometre trek to Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji in west Nara for Y170. That saved me valuable sunlight time (otherwise I would have walked).

I did walk back from Toshodai-ji to the JR Station (some 4-kilometres away) after finishing there. I had all afternoon/evening to kill, my night bus not scheduled to leave until after 9:00 p.m. That left me an hour and a half, on average, to walk each kilometre.

I have to tell you, unlike Shinjuku, there's not so much to take pictures of at the JR Station in Nara. I tried dragging it out, but it was pretty, pretty boring. Four hours of walking around the station or just sitting in the waiting room. What can you do?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Japan - First Night - Shinjuku

Our trip to Japan finally got off the ground. It was hit and miss as far as flying on standby was concerned for Naomi and I. But we were able to leave on November 18th.

Flying in business class is pretty sweet. I guess that's one of the perks of working for an airline. It's going to be hard to go back to economy in the future, that's for sure.

We arrived at Haneda in Tokyo in the late afternoon on Tuesday. Naomi immediately transferred (on standby again) to another flight to her hometown of Osaka. I headed up to Shinjuku Station where I was scheduled to take the 11:15 p.m. night bus to Nara.

This was my second time to Japan. The first was in 2007 with Diane. On that trip I spent time in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto with side trips to other cities and attractions in the vicinity. This time I thought I'd like to go somewhere different.

I picked Nara because of a picture book on World Heritage Sites in Japan that I took out from the library. There seemed to be a number of beautiful temples there.

Originally I wanted to stay there two days and one night, but circumstances didn't work out. Partially it was because of the busy time (Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan was celebrated on Sunday, November 23rd) and partially because of our unsure travel times. So I ended up pretty much making it a day trip.

Anyway, in Tokyo I had quite a bit of time to kill. From the airport I believe I took the Keikyu Line to Sengakuji on the Toei Asakusa Line (A7). After tranferring I took the subway to the Daimon station on the Toei Oedo Line (A9/E20). Then I took the Oedo (E) subway up to Shinjuku Station (E1/E27).

After departing the station I asked friendly strangers for directions to the nearby Willer bus stop. That's the company I was using to go to Nara. It's on the west side of the station perhaps 5 minutes away providing you go out the correct exit. Many of Tokyo's train/subway stations have multiple exits.

I wandered the area taking a bunch of photos then stopped for a bowl of Udon noodles with pork for Y500. That's about equivalent to $5 Canadian.

Shinjuku is pretty amazing. It's busy beyond compare. The night life has a life of it's own. There are bars, restaurants, clubs... what have you. Everything to keep you entertained all night long. There were plenty of things to take pictures of that's for sure.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Last Minute Trip to Japan

Things have been a bit hectic for me over the past week. My roommate is going back to Japan and asked me if I wanted to come along. She works for Air Canada and gets a special employee rate. It's really inexpensive. So, even though I had next to no warning, I jumped at the chance.

The first thing I did was to see if I could get the time off work. It turns out my boss is actually going on a boat cruise the same week, so that wasn't good. One fellow employee, Sam, agreed to fill in for me for the week making my deliveries. So that worked out.

Next I had to try to figure out what I was going to do in Japan. We were flying into Tokyo and, originally, I was thinking about spending the whole seven days there. But, since I had already gone to Japan in 2007 and spent 5 or 6 days in Tokyo, I thought it would be nice to see some other places.

In that same trip I also visited Osaka and Kyoto. At the library I found some guide books and I discovered there were a number of nice looking temples in Nara (which is in the same general area as Osaka and Kyoto). So I decided to split my time between Tokyo and there.

Next I had to find accommodations. My roommate mentioned it was a national holiday in Japan (Labour Thanksgiving Day) on the last Sunday of our stay (November 23rd). So a lot of places would be booked and finding transportation might be hard.

I managed to book a bed in a capsule hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo for the night of the 22nd and 23rd on I proceeded to book a relatively inexpensive hotel room in Nara for the 20th and 21st.

Next would be arranging transportation between Tokyo and Nara (and back). The least expensive way would be by overnight bus. My roommate sent me some links to some Japanese bus companies. Not all of them were in English though. So she had to help me out with booking.

Our concerns with things being busy because of the national holiday were well founded. We couldn't find a return trip on Friday night (the beginning of the holiday weekend). So she suggested I return to Tokyo a day earlier. I agreed because 2 days (and one night) in Nara should be enough to see seven temples.

Where I ran into trouble was trying to revise my accommodations. I tried to do it on-line on the website, but it didn't work. So I called the 1-800 number and spoke to a customer service representative.

She seemed to be able to make the changes. I was sent an e-mail confirmation that I was only booked for one night. But, when I checked my account on-line it hadn't changed, so I called back the next day. The second customer service rep had similar difficulties in trying to cancel the second night. She assured me that they would refund the amount for the second night on my VISA card. So, hopefully, it all works out.

The last thing I had to do was buy some Japanese Yen. My mom was going to do it for me, but waited too long. The local branch needed three business days to get the money in. So I went with a money exchange company another friend recommended. They're actually giving me a better rate than my bank.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sika Deer - Shanghainese Cuisine

I went to dinner with my friends, Gabe and Daphne, at Sika Deer, a Shanghainese restaurant located on the northwest corner of Finch and Midland on the weekend. Gabe had been there before and suggested it.

The restaurant isn't too large. They have three private rooms that take up a fair amount of space. That being said, we didn't have to wait very long to be seated (even on a Saturday night).

The staff were friendly and fairly attentive. The food we had was tasty and reasonably priced. We ordered a dish of Mapo tofu, $3.75; Double-cooked pork belly, $5.50; Griddle-cooked shredded cabbage with spicy sauce, $8.99; Saut├ęd beef with pepper, $9.99; and Shanghai-style rice with cured meat and vegetables, $8.50.

It's a nice place. A cut above some of the more budget-conscious Chinese restaurants I normally frequent. I look forward to going back for another visit.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fall from Grace: What's happening to our Heroes?

I don't know what to say. It's happened again. Another one of my heroes has fallen from grace.

First it was Lance Armstrong. The ultimate comeback story. Having survived testicular cancer that very nearly cost him his life, he went on to win cycling's greatest, most gruelling race, the Tour de France. Not once, but an astounding seven times. A feat unmatched in history.

This achievement was marred, however, by the fact that he cheated. He took performance enhancing drugs which his team knew about and covered up. Along the way he ruined the lives and reputations of many who sought to expose him. A liar, a cheat and a fraud.

The next person I looked up to and admired who's fallen from grace is former CBC radio personality, Jian Ghomeshi. I had been a regular listener to his CBC Radio One program "Q" for a couple of years now.

It's a talk program where Jian interviewed many well known personalities from actors, to authors, to musicians and everything in between. He was always so well spoken, insightful and intelligent.

Then the bombshell... CBC announced it was cutting ties with Ghomeshi. They fired him from the very show he co-founded. It turns out that they had information on his sexual practices that they found unseemly we'll say.

On his Facebook page, Ghomeshi fired back by saying that he did partake in BDSM (bondage, domination, submission and masochism), but that it was all consensual (contrary on to what he was accused of).

He said a jilted ex-lover was trying to get back at him and that he should not have been let go. He threatened to and made good on his promise to sue the CBC for $55 million.

I, for one (along with many others), supported him initially. I took his word above his three anonymous accusers. That was until more and more women came forward and said he attacked them without their consent.

As well, some of his accusers chose to shed the cloak of anonymity and go public with their claims, unafraid of the possible repercussions of being publicly attacked by his supporters. They put a face to his victims and gave more credibility to their claims.

The full story has yet to be played out. But, at this point, things don't look good for Ghomeshi. I feel saddened, disappointed and betrayed.

To his victims - I hope you recover from your trauma. I hope you find justice for the pain and hurt he caused you. There is no happy ending here. For anyone.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toronto Zombie Walk - 2014

They held the 12th annual Toronto Zombie Walk at Nathan Philips Square the last Saturday of October. It's the third year it's been held there. I'm not sure where it was held before because it's only the second time I've attended.

My first year was three years ago. Last year I was planning on attending, but the weather looked threatening. Because of that I skipped it.

The weather this year was similar. They predicted a 30% chance of precipitation and were pretty close on that count. On my way down it drizzled part of the time and there was even some light rain. By the time I arrived it stopped, thankfully. I was happy about that.

Assembly time for the zombies was between noon and 3:00 p.m.. I got there around 1:30 p.m.. There were quite a few people (zombies, photographers and others) there already.

As usual there were a number of children. Being so close to Halloween I think they quite enjoyed dressing up. None of them were afraid of the grown ups with their scary looking faces.

All the zombies looked great again. Their make-up and costumes were really creative. They were more than patient with the "paparazzi" like me who swarmed them for pictures. I stayed until 3:00 (the time the walk started), then headed over to the Eaton Centre.

I caught the zombies on the tail end of their walk coming down Yonge Street (on their way back to Nathan Philips Square). Their route took them up University Avenue to College Street, across to Yonge, back down to Queen and over to City Hall again.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lunch at Touhenboku

I met Gabe for lunch at Touhenbouku on Queen West on Friday. I have Fridays off so I walked downtown to meet him.

It was my first time there. I met Gabe at Osgoode station and we walked over. Gabe has gone there a few times before. It's not too far from where he works.

At lunchtime, they have a special deal. For $12 you can get a bowl of ramen (normally $10.50) with a bottle of Sapporo beer. After perusing the menu that's what we both decided to get.

I chose the original recipe ramen with pork shoulder (if I remember correctly) while Gabe chose the spicy version with pork belly. We both had the thick noodles (instead of thin).

The ramen was good. Of course it would have been better if the portion was larger. But, that's what I say about most dishes when I go out to eat. If I go again I might try the light version with clear, chicken broth instead of the rich, creamy broth I had this time.