Thursday, March 31, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
After many delays and an uncomfortable traveling experience, I was so happy to find a little stand in the Hokkaido airport that sold containers of sushi. It was an unusual breakfast for me, but to the Japanese much more usual. The fish was very fresh though and with the rice actually made an excellent breakfast the was gentle on the stomach. Cost: $11.30.
The next day, I did some sightseeing in Tokyo. I was not very hungry that morning, so I avoided the big American style buffet in the hotel. Instead, I got a cream puff in the subway. It was warm from the oven with a seriously rich cream filling. I stood in the subway, making a mess of myself from all the powdered sugar and started to really enjoy this trip. Cost: $0.80.
I went to an old section of Tokyo called Asakura. After a few hours of walking around, I was very hungry but a bit unsure where to eat. I strayed a bit from the tourist areas and found a narrow street lined with tiny restaurants. None of them had any signs in English, so eventually I picked one at random and sat down. This place was tiny. They had about ten seats total plus a small bar in front of the kitchen. The kitchen was the smallest restaurant kitchen I have every seen. Everything needed to be coordinated so the three people in the kitchen did not knock each other over. The cook was stationed by a small stove tucked in the corner. A woman washed dishes at a small sink right next to the stove. A steep stairway led upstairs to what likely was storage. A few shelves held bottles of saki. They seemed a bit surprised that a westerner had come to dine with them, but they quickly had a menu in my hands. The menu had a bit of English, combined with limited English spoken by the waitress. I told her to make me something good. A little while later they delivered chicken on skewers with a sweet teriyaki sauce, accompanied by a cold Asaki beer. Cost: $6.00.
The next day, in downtown Tokyo I want to a local noodle shop with my work colleagues for lunch. Noodle shops are great and I wish we had something like it in the US. I ordered a Golden mushroom soup. You sup the broth with a large broad ceramic spoon and eat the noodles with chopsticks. You can see by the picture that it was good. Cost: about $10.
That night I flew to Shanghai, China. I stayed in a small Chinese hotel and I think I was probably the only Westerner there. The front desk staff spoke no English, but the rooms were only $32 a night. In the morning there was a breakfast buffet set up that consisted entirely of Chinese foods. No bacon, eggs, and hash browns. There was no coffee, in fact there were no drinks at all. There were steam dumplings, vegetables, noodles, rice noodles and fruit slices. It was a simple but good breakfast, of course eaten with chopsticks. Cost: Free, included in the price of the hotel.
The next day I had the chance to spend a couple hours in Shanghai, exploring the Yu Garden area. While exploring alleyways a bit outside the tourist area, I stumbled upon a street lined with outdoor food vendors. There were so many choices, but I was drawn to a man making fresh bread turnovers stuffed with turnip greens, onions, and spices. They were cooked over a propane flame in a big covered flat pan. Fresh and steaming, I hope to learn to make these myself. Cost $0.40.
A little while later I stopped by the JR Dumpling shop because I was still a bit hungry. The shop was tucked under a staircase in a little alcove. It was piled high with stacked steaming baskets over boiling water. There were many different varieties, but all the signs were in Japanese. So, I selected at random. Inside was a spiced meat that was tasty. No better than the frozen dumplings I buy in Columbus, but good for the price. Cost $0.80.
Walking from work to the hotel the next day I stopped by a woman cooking potstickers at the side of the road. These dumplings were being made fresh, boiled then fried. A line of people were waiting to be served, which is always a good sign. They came with a sweet soy sauce which made it possible to eat all eight. Cost $0.75
That night was my last night in China and I decided to go to a Chinese restaurant (hah!). I went to a very busy place that had about thirty tables, all full. The menu was all in Mandarin, but there were pictures. I picked out Ma La Tofu and a hot and sour soup. They arrived at my table covered in red spicy peppers. It was so hot I could not eat it. My stomach turned to fire and I started worrying about vomiting. I ate a bit, washed it down with a cold beer and headed for the door. I was worried that I would offend them by eating so little, but they did not care. They were happy that I got up so they could seat the next customer. Cost: $4.35.
I noticed plastic food all over the place. It was at the airport restaurants, small little cafes, even large formal restaurants. I liked it as it gives a quick easy way to see how much food you get at what price. I have not seen anything like it anywhere else in the world. It seems like a good idea, but perhaps the complication is that you need some very talented artists to produce this food.
Monday, March 21, 2011
I was on a flight from Detroit to Tokyo for my first trip to Asia. Work had me going to Japan and China to meet some people, take a few plant tours, and conduct some planning for the upcoming year. It promised to be an interesting trip and I was looking forward to it.
The flight from Detroit to Tokyo is a long one, lasting almost thirteen hours in total. As we were nearing the end of the flight and going through preparations for landing, suddenly the captain made the announcement that there had been an event on the ground and that the airport in Tokyo was closed. A few minutes later he came on and said that there had been an earthquake, that it seemed to be a big one, and that we were being diverted to a small airport in the north of Japan in Hokkaido. Of course everyone on the plane was alarmed and had a million questions, but being in a plane, we had no access to any information. It was only once we landed in Hokkaido that I was able to turn on my cell phone and get some information. At that time there was just a short article on CNN saying that there had been a large earthquake.
Our plane was directed to park on the runway and there we sat for twelve hours while air control tried to figure out what to do with us. I counted at least ten other large planes also on the runway that had likewise been diverted. The situation was confused and we were low on the priority list as at that time Japan was dealing with many much more serious issues. I watched the sun set for a second time outside my window and settled in for the wait. No food was served and I spent most of the time sleeping and watching movies.
Finally they decided to allow us into the airport, at around 4am. We sleepily went through customs and immigration and were handed blankets. The airport was full of people sleeping on the floor. A large group clustered around the only TV, watching to see what the latest news was of the quake. At that time there were still only a few sketchy details on the tsunami and the ultimate death toll. Despite searching high and low I could not find an ATM that worked or any food, so I resolved to make the best of it. All the hotels in the area were full. I tried to sleep, but it was difficult with the many people walking around and the bright lights.
At around 8am the domestic side of the airport opened up and I was able to find a working ATM and a few food shops opened. I discovered that the Japanese do not eat a breakfast anything like a western breakfast. They eat noodles, rice, fish, that sort of thing. I was so hungry at that point, that anything sounded good. I ended up purchasing some sushi and an iced tea and I happily wolfed it down.
The hours passed by and I waited for news on my flight. At that point it was unknown how long we would be stuck in Hokkaido, but it was very likely that it would be a while. I found a lounge with free internet and soft drinks for $10 and I gladly parked myself there for much of the day. The Japanese lived up to their reputation for being orderly and clean. Despite an overflowing airport, the facilities stayed in very good condition throughout the day and there was no loss of patience.
That night Delta passed out meal vouchers and I had my first meal at a noodle shop. I selected a mushroom soup with fried tofu, which was very tasty. At this point it had been several days since I showered, changed clothes, or had a good sleep, so I was starting to get worn down. At 11pm, my flight finally departed to Tokyo and I slept the entire flight.
Arriving in Tokyo, I found that it was so late that all trains and busses had stopped running. My only choice was a $400 cab ride to my hotel. It was worth it though, as I was not about to spend another night wandering the cold hard floors of an airport. All in all, my situation could have been much, much worse. I was not on the ground when the earthquake struck. Many people lost their lives and property.