Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 08 2017

Return from Fukuoka

We had to wake up early to catch the bus to the airport. I slurped down some (delicious) coffee jelly before we hit the completely empty Sunday-morning streets of Fukuoka. The Tenjin Bus Station counter was abandoned, but we got tickets from the machine; Chenbl shopped at the tourist shop while I took photos of a man sleeping on the stairway railing. He woke up, saw me, and went back to sleep again. Must have been a late night, or else he couldn’t afford a taxi (not surprising considering how expensive taxis are in Japan).

The bus headed leisurely down the ramp and past the intersection we’d just crossed, stopping at every stop regardless of whether anyone was getting on or off, the driver politely stopping for any and all pedestrians. This would have been maddening if we were in a rush, but the airport is located near the city.

There was a rather long line at “security” (this is always the biggest bottleneck at airports), but fortunately the Japanese haven’t gone full-on aggrostupid as U.S. airports have, and we were through in a timely fashion in one piece. Getting on the plane meant walking across the now-sunny tarmac an up a ramp, 1960’s tourism-ad style. The flight was mercifully free of ear-related complaints, though I accidentally spilled some of the tuna from the rice triangles Chenbl had bought for breakfast into the innards of the seat belt mechanism. I wonder how long it will take them to locate the source of that smell.

I’d barely shed any tears rewatching Moana before we were circling down to Taoyuan; the flight was a tad bumpy, especially as we were in the back to the plane, but I was surprised to see a woman collapsed on the terminal floor afterwards, apparently overcome by motion sickness.  Immigration and customs were walk-through, we returned the handy wifi box Chenbl had rented, and getting on the Airport MRT was a refreshing change from the dirty old bus (though I still find the design of the cars strange). I barely had time to unpack before heading out again to CKS Hall for band practice/recording, stopping by the concert at the Katagelan Village for the concert that was going on there. Wonderful music in both cases.

So, that was the trip. It was good to get out for a bit.

 

posted by Poagao at 10:53 am  
May 06 2017

Last Day in Fukuoka

Our last full day in Fukuoka dawned cloudy and misty, so we brought umbrellas and rain gear when we headed out this morning. We stopped into the Bic Camera to browse a bit, letting me sample some more of that lovely X-Pro2 shutter action. In addition to letting you try out cameras, something that isn’t really done in Taiwan except for spaces like the tech center next to Guanghua Market, they also let you try out earphones, which is practically unheard of (get it?) in Taiwan. Thus I was able to ascertain that a particular pair of Sony earphones sounded pretty damn awesome, and reaffirmed that I really don’t like Audio-Technica earphones.

By this time it was getting on towards noon, and we hadn’t even had breakfast, so we embarked on a long search for katsu-don, eventually ending up at a place that was actually near Bic Camera. Though a couple was able to cut in line in front of us by being Unnecessarily Cute, the food was actually quite good. The sun even came out while we were eating. I noticed that Japanese don’t seem to have a problem sticking their chopsticks in their rice. I suppose that’s because they don’t burn incense. I hope some day that people in Taiwan don’t have a problem with it either.

Our next stop was a huge bookstore with an ok selection of Japanese photobooks. The books ranged from complete abstraction to complete fixation, with little in the sweet spot. In this context, you can better understand the appeal Daido Moriyama has had over the years.

We then spent an inordinate amount of time looking at stuff in the 100-yen store. The light outside was now very nice, but for some reason we had to be inside looking at plastic things.

Eventually we did manage to get outside, walking across the little island at the middle of the city and having noodles at a narrow shop, before visiting a lovely temple nearby. As the temple was closing down, a bar across the street was opening up, a woman taking down the curtains from the upper floor and the bartender opening the windows downstairs. I noticed that many of the cars in Japan are breadbox-shaped, models that aren’t seen outside the country.

We saw a bunch of temple areas on the map, something which the guidebooks had neglected to mention, and we soon found out why; they’re huge cemeteries. So we beat a retreat and headed towards Hakata Station, which I still find impressive. It’s like a little bit of Tokyo, lifted straight from Shinjuku.

Alas, the station is also home to another 100-yen store, so we browsed that for a certain amount of time before exiting into the night in search of dinner. I managed to eat most of my beef rice, but spilled most of my miso soup. Oh, well. We then walked through the Canal City Wonder Mall or whatever it’s called, picking up some Yichiran instant noodles. Then we walked over the river towards our hotel, stopping at another noodle place whose products had a distinctly unpleasant flavor to it. I wonder how the neighbors stand it.

Back at the hotel, we discovered that there is a public bath on the top floor, which we took advantage of before packing up our loot so we can head out early tomorrow for the airport.

It’s been an interesting trip; I’ve seen quite a few places I’d like to revisit when I have more time and freedom to explore them. But we’ll just have to see.

posted by Poagao at 11:18 pm  
May 05 2017

Back to Kyushu

Though Yahoo weather still forecasted rain, the day dawned clear and brilliant. It was nice staying in a higher-end hotel, even though it was purely because we couldn’t find any other hotel with rooms on that date. The Google Maps walking route was a farce, however; the hotel wasn’t really that far from downtown. It just seemed that way, we found as we walked over to Kokura’s castle, which is actually a replica of the original castle built there in 16-something. It was actually built in the 1950’s. Still, it was interesting, with a rather silly video presentation, and the grounds were lovely in the bright daylight. I watched several men trying out the plastic samurai swords in the gift shop, mockingly threatening to cut down their girlfriends, while Chenbl shopped for cat-themed washcloths. We then caught an elderly woman rifling through our bags for some reason (nothing was missing).

After we were done with the castle, we walked over to the river, where a full-on German-themed beer festival was underway in the summer-like heat. An older white man was blowing the saxophone in a way that caused me to momentarily wonder if Sandman had stowed away in my luggage, but no, he was part of an expat band. The Ramblers really should look into that gig.

Chenbl and I got some sausages and clams, and paid a 1,000-yen deposit on a glass of mango beer (“Otherwise, I’d lose all my glasses,” the white dude at the stall said), and sat down by the river to eat it. It wasn’t bad. We then walked across another bridge to the city’s old market, which is located along a canal. Most of the shops are actually over the canal, and the light coming into the rear windows was nearly lovely enough to make me just walk into the backrooms of the stores, but I refrained. The neighboring alleys were home to many restaurants that were currently closed. I was liking Kokura quite a lot more in the light of day than I had the night before.

But we didn’t linger, though I would have liked to. Maybe I’ll come back someday for some real exploration. Instead, we went to the rocket-ship-esque main station and caught a train back out to Mojiko, where we toured some of the old buildings. One of them’s claim to fame was the fact that a young Albert Einstein and his wife stayed there in 1922. Half of the second floor was dedicated to Things Einstein Had Done Things In. Everyone was walking around carrying their shoes in plastic bags due to The Rules.

We walked over by the harbour, and I sat outside talking to an old Japanese man while Chenbl shopped and the daylight faded. It was getting cool as we walked up into the more pedestrian part of town, looking at the old empty houses that lined some of the alleys. Then it was time to leave; Chenbl went to buy tickets while I went down to the seaside to say goodbye to the place.

We caught a train back to Fukuoka, and promptly fell asleep on the train before realizing that we needed to transfer to a faster train at Moji Station. Of course, we didn’t, and as a result stayed on the slow train that stopped. At. Every. Damn. Stop, making what would have been a half-hour trip more like two hours long. So I slept, took photos of other passengers and the conductor, and updated my Instagram a bit. It was late by the time we pulled into Fukuoka Station, and after a subway ride and time spent buying stuff, the only thing open for dinner was the food stands. Unfortunately, we were served food with rather unpleasant seasonings. But beggars can’t be choosers. We’re at our hotel now, not a great hotel, but not poorly located. Again, no idea what we’re going to do tomorrow, which is our last full day here.

posted by Poagao at 11:43 pm  
May 04 2017

On Honshu

I woke up in Junku’s house to the sounds of various insects and other animals, as well as the fresh countryside air flowing naturally through the structure. Over a delicious breakfast, Chenbl and I tried to use Google Translate to have a conversation of sorts with Junku’s mother, but I’m not entirely sure it went smoothly. There’s just no way to tell.

After breakfast, we took Junku’s wife to the train station so she could go see her parents for the holiday, and then we set off up into the mountains to find the “Taiwan Village” Junku had heard about. It turned out to be a rather haphazard collection of structures in a field, but no actual Taiwanese were there (until Chenbl and I got there, I guess). We did find the son of the Taiwanese-Japanese couple who run the place, though. He just joined Japan’s self-defense forces a couple of months ago, though I personally wonder how that could be because his hair is far too long. After I accidentally let three cats into his shack on the assumption that nobody wouldn’t want cats in their place, he promptly tossed them out.

Junku then drove us down the mountain and up another to a forested park area. “Who’s hungry?” he asked. “I’m hungry.” I had no idea where food could be had until we climbed up to find a series of steel tables astride a small stream. There was no kitchen or food in sight, but it turned out that if you liked, noodles would magically appear in the stream of water flowing down little canals in the tables. You would then fish the noodles out of the stream with chopsticks and eat them with wasabi. I sat on the wrong side of the table for left-handed noodle fishing, however, so it was a bit awkward…supremely awesome though. I really wasn’t expecting noodles, and yet there were noodles. Which is the best way to have noodles.

Our next stop was a freshwater trout farm, where customers were fishing in concrete pools of crystal clear water, to be bagged and taken in to the adjacent restaurant for their choice of cooking, or even served raw as sashimi. We helped Junku fill several containers with spring water, which he said was the best water in Japan.

After a lunch of pork chop rice, we drove to Akiyoshido Cave, which was packed with tourists. We got a discount with our passports, but Junku wanted to pick us up on the other side of the cave, so he didn’t go in. The scenery went from a Miyazaki film to Lord of the Rings as we approached the huge entrance, which has a river flowing out of it. The interior was magnificent, but I had to keep my wits about me and not get too wrapped up in the splendor due to the fact that the floor was wet and slippery, and there were several points where one could conceivably just fall into oblivion. I wonder how the first people to explore the place felt. At the end was a long man-made tunnel back to the surface, the sides of which were adorned with a painted depiction of the ascent of man from lowly reptiles to literal happy anime campers.

I put on A Tribe Called Quest’s latest album, We’ll Take it From Here, for hip-hop fan Junku as we drove through mountain fields of strange pointy rocks, followed by Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN as we drove down to Nobase, Junku’s favorite fishing village, where we sat on the dock watching hawks dive into the water looking for dead fish. “There aren’t any big fish!” one of the fishermen told us. So we drove to another port town where pink and blue boats ferried people to and from nearby islands. A rather pitiful marathon was underway nearby, and as we walked the otherwise empty streets, ice cream cones in our hands, people wearing skin-tight pants and numbers would walk by, panting. Junku told me that the name “godzilla” is a combination of “gorilla” and “gochira” which means whale in Japanese. So the next time someone asks where godzilla came from, you can reply starting, “Well, when a gorilla and a whale love each other very much…”

We arrived at downtown Mine just as the sun was setting. It was a ghost town; it really felt as if everyone had abandoned it. The few restaurants, however, were all full. We tried several before finding seats at a place that served not only sake and plum wine, but food as well.

But we eventually were done with food-related things, and retired to a karaoke bar that was most likely in style in 1963. There was one other customer, an old bald man who had obviously seen better days. We began drinking, and Chenbl stunned everyone when he started belting out a series of Teresa Teng hits. Junku was in tears, and everyone clapped during every break. I sang a few songs, and even the old guy got into the act, the bar’s owner propping him up to keep him from falling over. The owner used to run a brothel full of Filipinas, Junku said. That was in the 80s.

We drank and sang late into the night, as the owner called us a taxi when it got time to go back. The taxi driver, it turned out, was a relative of Junku’s, so he got a discount.

The next morning, this morning, Chenbl and I got up around 8 a.m., dressed quietly, and went for a stroll around the lovely village, down the perfectly paved roads, across babbling brooks, past newly planted rice fields and old wooden houses adorned with just the right amount of flowers. It truly is a lovely place. Eventually Junku appeared to water his seedlings, accompanied by his frisky cat Rice, who jumped and ran and played in the grass, but came when called. I’ve never seen a cat do that.

But we had to go. Junku was going to take us back to Asa Station, but he decided to take us all the way to Shimonoseki instead, which was nice of him. He wanted to walk around town with us, but he couldn’t find any parking. In any other country you could get away with parking on the street, but not Japan. Even stopping to let us out was risky. I was said to say good-bye to Junku; he is the real deal, living his photography, and I look forward to great work from him in the future.

We walked up the coast towards the giant bridge from Kyushu to Honshu, stopping at a small harbor with the obligatory shrine. Massive cargo ships were dwarfed by the bridge as they sailed through the strait. We then took a bus back to the fish market for some fresh sashimi, which we consumed sitting on boxes by the harbor. Periodically a rogue wave would adorn our meal (and us) with salt.

After visiting the old trading company building again, we headed to Chuo-fu, up the coast. Chuo-fu is home to some (mostly scary) shrines, and some very nice houses along a lovely canal. Most of the famous houses were closed. We wanted to ride the nearby gondola up the mountain, but it had closed at 5 p.m., so we ended up taking the bus to Shimonoseki station just to see what was up there.

Not much was up there. We met a young guy from Hong Kong, who accompanied us on the bus trip, but said good-bye at the station. He’s traveling alone around the area, which seemed to awe Chenbl for some reason.

Night was falling, so we took a bus back to the ferry and got on a boat to Mojiko. Water sprayed us as we sat on the roof of the ferry, but the lights of both coasts as well as the cars on the bridge were entrancing. We walked around the town a bit, stumbling on a fair which featured fireworks and a snack of tough beef kabobs that were not really worth the price.

Then it was the train to Kokura, which is bigger than I’d imagined. The station is impressive, the monorail sticking out of the building like the contemporary hotel at Disney World. Our hotel, however, is far from the station, necessitating a long walk in the dark. But now we’re here, and I’m sitting in our room looking out over the lights of the city.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Don’t know what we’re going to do, exactly. I suppose we’ll think of something.

posted by Poagao at 11:47 pm  
May 02 2017

From Fukuoka

We got up and checked out of our hotel in Fukuoka around 8:30 this morning, walking to the nearest subway station, where a room full of identically dressed Japanese businessmen smoked in unison. We took a train to Hakata Station, where we boarded a JR train bound for Mojiko, at the top end of Kyushu Island. The weather was cloudy when we exited the construction site that is the current state of the old train station there, but I was just happy to see the town of Shimanoseki across the strait, including the impressive bridge between the two islands. On a whim, we took a small boat to the island in the middle of the two islands where two famous samurai duked it out in the 1600s. The one who won, named Musashi, retired from duelling and went on to write the famous Book of Five Rings, which I read as a teenager.

We took another boat over to Shimanoseki, and on the way one of the crew thanked us for Taiwan’s aid to Japan after the last big earthquake. He even bowed.

In Shimanoseki we bought some delicious caramel ice cream and strolled around the fish market. I’d guess the sushi there is really good, but we didn’t have time to try anything as we were on a schedule. We browsed a couple of historic buildings, but we had to get on a ferry back to Mojiko. Chenbl spent most of the afternoon Facetiming various relatives.

Back in Mojiko we caught a train to Shimanoseki (again), and then on through lovely countryside to Asa Station, a small town, where we were met by my friend and fellow Burn My Eye photographer Junku Nishimura. We went shopping and then out to Junku’s rice fields, where he and his father repaired an old red tractor while Chenbl and I dared each other to touch the electric fencing (we didn’t). All around us was a symphony of frogs.

We sat by the field chatting as dusk fell, talking of wild boars and photography, and then drove back to Junku’s family’s house, where a delicious dinner was waiting. We ate, drank plum wine, played with cats, rocked out to vinyl hip-hop hits from Junku’s extensive collection, looked over photobooks, and generally had a great time.

posted by Poagao at 10:48 pm  
May 01 2017

Fukuoka 3

We were planless when we headed out the door this morning. Utterly without a plan. Planes flew overhead, but we had no plan. One option was to head to the coast, and another was to head north towards the bullet train station. The decision was put off when Chenbl chose to have “Chinese” food for brunch, based on a guidebook review of a place’s dumplings. Verdict: No. Just…no. Also, do Japanese people think this is good Chinese food? Nobody else in the place seemed aware that anything was amiss. Then we went to the Bic Camera store to gawk at cameras and accessories. After trying all the cameras on display (no Leicas, alas, nor is the Sony A9 out yet), the Fuji X-Pro II’s shutter sound and feel are amazing. It would make me want to take shots just to experiences that lovely little sound and motion. Too bad it’s so big and ungainly, not to mention a crop sensor. Still, if I were in the market for a new camera…but let’s not go there, shall we?

We circled the hotel a few times and somehow ended up walking towards the cargo port. I felt like walking one way, and Chenbl had other ideas. So, in some kind of metaphor for life, we ended up…well, let’s not go that way either, shall we? Let’s just say we ended up heading north towards a more affluent, hospital-rich area of town, where we had some mochi and coffee jelly after watching an extremely polite construction worker get yelled at by a taxi driver. Poor fella, just doing his job and all.

The nice weather was dissipating as we walked across another bridge towards Hakata Station, and buildings got bigger and nicer. People were getting off work. I understand that a long holiday starts tomorrow, so I expect most people will be going places. We checked out the train ticket situation at the station and then had dinner at another street stall where Chenbl, who hadn’t learned his lesson about Japanese cooks and Chinese food, ordered more dumplings that turned out to be even worse than the ones we had this morning. Then we gawked at a night-time construction event before walking through the lightly drunken crowds back to Tensen and towards our hotel, encountering a homeless fellow being fed by an Indian convenience store clerk. The homeless dude sat outside the store, on the curb smoking a cigarette and making comments about passersby.

 

posted by Poagao at 11:51 pm  
Apr 30 2017

Fukuoka 2

I started out the day dog-tired after a night of very little sleep, but the day was nice, and I was woken up further by the loud students begging loudly all along the way to the station. We had some very nice katsu don in the basement maze of restaurants before heading upstairs to the train platforms, passing the very Japanese smoking rooms, complete with instructions.

The air was murky despite the sun. Our train almost immediately met countryside and then back to suburbia on our way to Yanagawa, which took over an hour. It was nice to be speeding along on a Japanese train again.

Yanagawa is a small place, and I was wondering where the bucolic canal scenes were being hidden. We took a bus on a long journey of about 20 feet to the pier, where we got into a small wooden boat with a dozen other tourists and a happy old man, who pushed us out into the canal accompanied by a long, complicated, and no doubt fascinating diatribe about the history of the area, none of which I understood. I did understand, eventually after we went under several low bridges, that he was trying to decapitate us all. He also sang songs. I held a bottle of coffee in the cold water with one hand while doing a Facebook Livestream with the other. It was a lot of fun, and I’m sure living right on the canal would be a very neat thing. It kind of reminded me of the canals we used to ply our little boat on when I was growing up in Florida.

We disembarked, all of with our heads more or less intact, at an old Western-style building full of souvenirs. Chenbl deliberated buying mud-skipper instant noodles (“made with real crushed-up mudskippers!”) but decided against it, wisely I felt. Then we walked around the nearly empty neighborhood for a bit before deciding to eschew the tourist bus and walk back to the train station.

This took a while, but it was interesting walking along the canals and fields. Chenbl kept facetiming various people, so we had a host of friends along for the walk, which included some eel with rice enjoyed on the side of a canal.

The day was cooling off by the time we arrived back at the station, and we endured the annoying idiotic pseudo-English of a mainland Chinese family while we waited for our train to Dazaifu, which we’d already paid for.

Dazaifu was almost completely deserted by the time got there just before 7 p.m. We walked up a row of empty shops and tori gates straight out of a Miyazaki film into a temple complex that made the shops seem like they weren’t even trying. Huge thousand-year-old trees, ancient shrines…the works. All shut down, however. We were too late. It was kind of eerie, but somehow comforting. Like we had Japan all to ourselves for some reason. Or we’d slipped into another dimension somehow.

Luckily, the I-lan noodle shop by the train station was still open, and I swear I had the best noodles EVAR there. The fact that we’d hardly eaten all day might have also had something to do with it. The shop closed after we were done, and we caught a train back to Fukuoka.

I was still full of noodles, but Chenbl wanted to sample some of the food stalls along the river, so we walked through a loud crowd along a waterfront every bit as splendid as the one in Kaohsiung would be if Kaohsiung were serious about creating such a thing. The food was ok, nothing to write home about, but it seems to me that the people of this town, and it is, I have to say, a town I quite like, are noticeably more boisterously happy than in other parts of Japan. I wonder if this impression is going to hold out.

Dunno what we’re doing tomorrow. Couldn’t tell ya.

posted by Poagao at 11:50 pm  
Nov 06 2016

Back

The next day, our last in Barcelona, dawned clear and bright; the girls went to see museums, while Carlos, Chenbl and I took the subway downtown and walked around a food market. Outside the door was a duo playing 1920’s jazz, with old Pepe on the trumpet and Russian Mikhail on the stand-up piano. Both were very good, and we bought one of their CDs before sitting down to have lunch while listening to the music. Pepe’s trumpet was a very old Schilke, the original silver plating gone, revealing the brass. “We played at a beach for a while,” said Pepe. “That was when that happened. I used to have a Conn, but it was stolen. This is just as good.” I asked him if I could have a go on it, but he would only let me play if I’d brought my own mouthpiece, which I hadn’t. “It would be like letting you kiss my wife,” he said. Fair enough. The group also included a banjo player, but their permit for the market space was only for two musicians. After their allotted time was up, they packed up and left, Mikhail shoving the piano down the street. The next act was a heavily tattooed duo who played the same song twice. It included a lot of shouting, so we kept walking over to La Rambla, where I saw a black man being pulled over by police. Thankfully he wasn’t shot or beaten as might have been the case in the U.S.

The girls Lined us and said they were going to see the Picasso exhibit, so we tagged along. It was located in the old family palace of the Aguilars (I think?), and was nice except that it jumped over four decades of Picasso’s work. I was interested in seeing his progression from a formal artist into a far more abstract and surreal one, but the jump from 1917 to 1957 was abrupt and somewhat disappointing. Afterwards we walked to the nearest train station, where you could apparently just walk onto a train. I thought this might mean trouble when we tried to exit at our destination, and sure enough, the Filipina manager there took personal offense at our transgression, and detained us for a far longer time than it should take for people at a train station to find out the price of a train ride.

We packed up our stuff at the hotel, which was actually pretty nice, and boarded the high-speed rail back to Madrid. Chenbl watched the Phantom of the Opera on his tablet while I dealt with more ear pressure problems. I’d caught a cold earlier on the trip and was all stopped up.

The best thing about our hotel in Madrid, the “Sleep ‘N”, was that it was quite near the train station. Somewhat worse was the fact that they disregard requests for double beds and just give you whatever they have. “It’s just the way we do it,” the clerk said. I suppose, then, that giving bad reviews to such behavior on online review sites is just the way I do it. The rooms were also tiny, the wifi unworkable, and the walls paper-thin.

Chenbl, Carlos and I had a big breakfast the next morning at a corner cafe with a classic boomerang-shaped counter. It was good but salty. After that we saw Carlos off at the airport bus station. I was dizzy from cold medicine, so we resorted once again to the tourist bus, riding around the route three times before I spotted a sign familiar from my childhood: Steak ‘n Shake! When we got off the bus and entered the store, however, we were disappointed to find that the kitchen was broken, and all they had were shakes. We went to the Five Guys burger joint on Gran Via instead, and I counted far more than five guys in there. It was good, but I was expecting a bit more after watching the “Oh My Dayum” video.

The tour bus people had said that service stopped at six, but the bus just ordered everyone off at a random point on the tour at around 5:40, so we had to take the subway back. The airport bus was late, of course, this being Spain. But traffic was light, and we arrived in plenty of time. When we tried to get a tax refund that everyone had told us could be done at the airport with receipts, they told us that they needed special paperwork from all the vendors, so…Spain again. The China Eastern flight was late again as well, of course, and the plane was full of rather rustic types who propped their bare feet up on the seats, shoved their way into bathrooms ahead of people who had been waiting, and planned excursions to sneak into first-class for the night. The cold medicine helped me sleep, however, so I didn’t really care about any of that. When we got to Shanghai, the other passengers rushed the bus to the terminal like it was the last flight out of Saigon. We had time to take the subway into Shanghai to walk along the Bund and turn down many offers of fake watches. Dinner was at Yershari, a Mongolian affair with lots of lamb. The subway ride back was interminable, and I kept nodding off. Before we retired, we had a midnight snack at a roadside stall off the highway. Fried noodles, at last.

The next day was the last of our trip, but our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so we caught cabs to the subway. Our driver, a plumb middle-aged woman, couldn’t figure out how to put the Volkswagen Passat into reverse, which was slightly alarming, but she got us there in one piece. The sun was out, but the smog cast a pall over everything. On the subway, we stood and watched as any available seat was snagged immediately.

In Shanghai we got off at the Qinghua University stop and met one of the girls’ friends, an old classmate apparently. She took around looking at the old houses of the foreign concession quarter from old colonial times. It’s now very ritzy. I thought that I’d spotted the same foreigner, a middle-aged skinny white dude with a beard, several times before I realized that that area is (once again) mostly foreigners. It’s more Tianmu than Tianmu ever was. Rich, affluent businesspeople, trendy joggers in shorts and sunglasses. Fast walkers discussing stock options and answering each other in loud, clipped declarations while their golden lab sleeps on the sidewalk beside a salad dish of filtered water.

It was interesting, but I would have rather sought out any of the few remaining old hutongs and wandered around there. But perhaps those have vanished as well; they were being torn down right and left the last time I wandered around the city in 2006.

That afternoon at the airport, the Chinese immigration officer asked if I was mixed. I said yes, not wanting to include the fact that I am not actually ethnically Chinese. It was good enough for her, anyway. Although my ears were giving me hell on the flight back, I was delighted to see the lights of the Taiwanese coast appear on the horizon. This trip has been eventful, but I am quite glad to be back home.

 

posted by Poagao at 1:35 pm  
Nov 02 2016

A Day in Girona

I wasn’t in the best of moods when we left the hotel this morning. Oh, the weather was fine, and Beatriz and hubby had picked out a place for us to visit for the day, but something was just off, and I was irritable and moody…at least more than I usually am. Which is saying  something.

We got onto the big double-decker train that would end up in Paris in six hours, and got off at Girona, north of Barcelona and near the French border. The pleasant square in front of the station cheered me up a bit, and my mood improved more when we came across an entire construction wall covered with the characters from my namesake and favorite childhood cartoon, Top Cat. I took a selfie with the original TC and kept walking.

I was making a silly video on a bridge when I spotted someone who almost certainly another street photographer, from the way he held his small Olympus EM-10 on its wrist strap. He came over and asked me if I was me, which, it turns out, I was. He turned out to be one of my Facebook photographer friends, Jordi Simon. He had somehow recognized me, and we chatted a bit, mostly with me speaking in Chinese to Beatriz, who translated to Spanish for Jordi, and vice versa. It was a nice coincidence.

We proceeded into town and I spotted more street photographers. One guy had stationed himself at the foot of the red bridge with a long lens, which I thought strange. Another was taking mirror-in-windowshop-reflection shots a la Friedlander, and yet another was stalking a tall clown downtown.

What is going on? I thought to myself. Am I about to see a bunch of Girona shots in the HCSP queue? Sure, the light was nice, but nice light is found in many places, and is often a trap in any case.

We kept walking, and I turned a corner to find none other than Gueorgui Pinkhassov sitting outside a cafe, in the midst of ordering a creme brûlée. He and I have had conversations on Facebook before, but we’d never met in person, so this was an extraordinary coincidence. It also explained the plethora of SP activity in the town that day. We chatted for a bit about various things before I let him get back to the workshop he was teaching; at least some of his students were also seated around the table. I told him that I’d originally planned to take his workshop in Tokyo a while ago, but had submitted too late. He invited me to sit in on this one, but I thanked him and declined, feeling that it wouldn’t be fair to the students who actually got their submissions in on time and paid a great deal of time and effort to be there.

img_1967We continued walking up the hill to the obligatory cathedral, and then back down some more alleys to find a restaurant with extremely slow service, so slow that we had to rush back to the station to catch our train back to Barcelona. We could have taken our time as the train was very late, and this being Spain I had to piss like a racehorse once on the train due to the lack of public facilities.

The reason we had to be back in town was that we had tickets at the Palau de la Música Catalana, a lovely old concert hall, to see an organ concert played to the 1926 silent film Faust. The screen was a bit small, but the magnificence of the theater’s interior and the wonderful organ performance made up for it. After the show, we tried to take a look at the third floor balcony, but appparently it’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.

After the show we walked over to the 4cats restaurant, where Picasso hung out as a moody teen, for a delicious dinner that was a bit more expensive than we could really afford. The servers were very good, and there was a mediocre live band that consisted of piano, double bass and a singer. Carlos and I both guessed that they were moonlighting students.

posted by Poagao at 8:16 am  
Nov 01 2016

Where were we again?

Sorry for the delay…been running ourselves ragged as usual, too tired at the end of the day to post. It’s after 1 a.m. now, but I’m too far behind.

We got up early once again (I suppose that’s a given by now), and Chenbl, Carlos, Ewan and I took the metro to the bus station, where we had some breakfast downstairs before going up to join the long line for the buses to Toledo. The line moved fairly quickly, however, and not long after we were on our way. The weather was fine until we headed up in to the hills, when it turned cloudy so quickly I thought there must be a large fire nearby.

I’d decided I wanted to see the city after viewing the countours on Google Maps 3D, and if you’ve been there you know what I mean; Toledo is located on a big hill surrounded mostly by a winding river, and I’ve always loved 3D cities. Though it was cloudy when we arrived, the sun came out again as we rode a series of escalators up the hill into town. The altitude did nothing to hide the stink of piss, however. If only there were some way to provide people in public with a place to relieve themselves…but I suppose only the geniuses of the future will have an answer to that age-old question. At least the Spanish urologists must be doing a brisk business.

We stopped into a soap shop, which is a terrible idea if you want to do anything else for the next hour or so. Chenbl ended up giving the shopkeepers massages and a bottle of Chinese massage oil; he should have done that before the bill was settled, alas. The light outside was lovely but deceptive; nothing worked, photographically speaking. I swear, I have not taken more shots on this trip than any other I can recall.

We took a little “train” tram around the city, sitting with a group of smarmy blonde German kids who rolled their eyes at the slightest provocation, and then walked around, encountering many interesting renaissance instruments. One of the musicians, a middle-aged woman, had hidden a speaker under her dress, I suspected, as the bass line simply couldn’t have been coming from her violin. Or could it? I have no idea. The effect was quite nice, though.

We walked around some cathedrals, etc. The town was no longer a town, I realized. It was empty of everyone but tourists, a mere shell of its former self, which lent it a rather sad feeling. We did pass a wedding ongoing in a chapel. Chenbl had walked right in on the ceremony, not understanding the sign outside, gaining glares from the participants.

The sun had set by this point, and we caught a taxi back to the bus station, and an old, smelly bus back to Madrid. Dinner was had in the same square that I’d visited on my last trip, but where it was cold and empty then, it was now full of revelers; Madrid was celebrating Halloween, it seemed, and police were everywhere. Helicopters hovered overhead while we ate, and occasionally police convoys would speed through the square, lights flashing. This would be a good night to get in early, I thought. But it was late once again when we finally got back to the hotel.

Due to daylight savings time, our originally horribly early wake-up time of 5 a.m. became 4 a.m. in effect. So after only a few hours of sleep, we were up again to catch the 6:20 a.m. (really 5:20 a.m.) train to Barcelona. Why so early? No idea. Just the way these things go.

For some reason, the air pressure difference on the train was even worse than that of an airplane flight. What the hell? My ears were stopped up most of the way. I know Madrid is higher in elevation than seaside Barcelona, but damn. We traveled through some fog, but Barcelona was sunny when we exited the station.

We met our friend Beatriz at the hotel, and we walked over to a round mall that turned out to be a former bullfighting ring. It was converted after bullfighting was prohibited, but I swear you can still smell beef. The view from the top was nice, even in the haze. Tourists stared at us from a neighboring rooftop pool.

Walking past a massive cosplay event, we walked up to a kind of museum with a massive fountain in front, and Chenbl made a beeline to the vendors selling scarves and fold-out baskets that were surely made in China.

Our next stop was La Rambla, famous site of many thefts and mugging over the decades. We actually stayed here last time, and I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know about it now. Thankfully nothing untoward occurred this time. We went down to the harbor, and I greeted the Mediterranean once again, laughing at the fact that the Columbus Tower in Chinese sounds more like “Colon Puta”.

We stopped by the cathedral, the old Gothic one with the horrible pan flute player out front, and decided it wasn’t work the seven euros to go inside. Then it was a subway to another restaurant (why is everyone on the subway so well-lit? It’s like a studio on there) with good food while Beatriz went off to take care of some business.

Beatriz showed up with her husband, and we all walked along the harbor amid the skaters and young thieves. Dinner was eventually had at a fancy place called Mussol, where they forgot about us, let others ahead of us, and finally let us sit down after a fair bit of haranguing. The food was worth it, though, in that it was good and we were hungry.  Still, I’ve found that the Spanish brand of rudeness is rather special, tinged with arrogance in a way I haven’t seen in too many other places.

The next morning we embarked on a Day of Gaudi. First we went to the big-ass cathedral he spent most of his life working on. I have the feeling that if he were to come back and take a look at it today, he would just shake his head in disbelief. It is too big a project, has taken too long, and been mixed with too many other visions. The details of the original place are brilliant, but the entirety is just a mess.

It was only when I went down to the museum underneath the cathedral did one of the staff yell at me to take off my hat, which I found amusing as during the two hours I’d spent in the cathedral itself nobody had mentioned it. Also, it seems really arbitrary; why a hat? Is wearing a scarf ok? Why? Does it matter if you can come up with some bullshit reason for it? I wanted to point to the photos of the pope on his visit and say, “Well, that guy wore a hat in here…make up your minds!”

Our next stop was a building Gaudi had renovated, followed by an apartment complex he built, and while they were gorgeous in the details, I don’t think I could live there. For one thing, there are no right angles in the places, and I would just get turned around. But my real concern would be that Gaudi’s architecture seems downright dangerous, which no thought for safety in the face of his curious designs. They say that he never didn’t anything without a purpose, so perhaps he just had it in for clumsy people.

We had to wait in line for one of the places; the tickets specified that we get there at 2 p.m., but that was apparently a little joke at our expense by the ticket people (“Oh, you thought there would be a TIME? Oh, dear lord, you ARE naive, aren’t you, precious?”). As we waited, a professional beggar woman moaned and wailed until someone gave her some money, after which she would pipe down until that person had moved a few feet away, whereupon she would start up again. I thought I saw what might have been her handler giving her signals to turn on the waterworks when a likely mark was spotted, but I couldn’t be sure. From what I hear, they’re collected into a van at the end of the day with all their earnings.

After the last Gaudi house (the sunset on the rood was brilliant), we went down and sat on the corner of the broad avenue waiting for Beatriz. Although Chenbl was muttering, “Where is she?” every few minutes, I was glad for a pause in our hectic routine, for once not rushing off to some place, or waiting for someone to catch up, etc. I just sat and watched the people walking, the bicycles and cars, the old man who sat near us for a while before his wife arrived. I wondered who else had sat on that bench. Perhaps even Gaudi himself had sat there at some point. It was pleasant, just sitting and watching and thinking…possibly the most pleasant part of the trip so far. I could have sat there much longer, but Beatriz arrived, and we were off again, into the rush of shopping and dinner and distractions.

 

posted by Poagao at 8:53 am  
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