New York’s Halloween Tower

Manhattan, New York - Halloween Tower

The Halloween Tower, by Madison Square Park in Manhattan, New York is rather nondescript.

As of today, the 31st of October, 2014, there is still scaffolding cloaking much of the 12-story structure.  Chances are you would have no idea that this diminutive (for Manhattan) tower is the home of Rubie’s Costume Company, purportedly the world’s largest manufacturer of Halloween garb, as well as a handful of related businesses (Anyone going as a Citibiker tonight?)

Although the exterior doesn’t lend much to the imagination – as opposed to one of the buildings that is already decked out in Halloween attire – you could still try convincing a member of the lobby concierge to trick-or-treat up there everyday of the year.

Whether or not you celebrate this holiday, or Mexico’s el Día de Muertos or like having an excuse to introduce to youngsters’ and their gums what a Charleston Chew is, I hope you’ll realize that there’s more to the Flatiron district of Manhattan than just an overrated Italian market and hamburger shack

 

 

Waiter, There’s Food Floating in my Food: Japanese Oden

Tokyo - Oden (1)

What’s that floating by the cash register of many Japanese convenience stores?  Is it an aquarium?  Or are they products that just couldn’t cut it even at US 7-11s?  Perhaps you’re getting a sneak peek at my weekly nightmare.

Apologies if I disappoint you, for it’s just oden (おでん).  You’ll likely find this dubious collection of buoys – er, food – starting in September or October depending on where you are in Japan, as it is most popular during the colder months.  Oden also wields a passport and can been seen in Taiwan and the RoK as well…though depending on the year, it may not have needed a passport.  No matter where you try it, it’s a cheap source of protein.

The big question: What are you?  As you might have guessed, fish plays an important role, both in the stock – also known as dashi, made of kelp and katsuobushi – and as a bobbing ingredient.  Eggs, a starch called konjac, tofu, and <insert meat here> also go for a swim.

Tokyo - Oden (2)

You can even find your favorite oden in a vending machine.  Collect all 1000.

From left to right, ganmo (がんも)- a disc of fried tofu with vegetables; gyuu suji (牛すじ)- beef tendon; tsumire (摘入/つみれ)- fish balls.

 


Now, we’re going to focus on one member of the oden clan: chikuwa.

Chikuwa (竹輪) is a tube-shaped fish paste cake. Maybe I had something to do with it.

Did somebody say delicious?  (To be fair, I welcome all oden onto my plate.)

In any event, while studying abroad in Tokyo, I turned the tv on twice.  The first time, a singer from Chiba named Jaguar belted out a few of his “greatest hits.”

The second time, this:

Tokyo - Chikuwa Oden (1)
This fella decided that music sounded best when seafood was involved.  Thus, he fashioned a flute out of chikuwa.  He might spell trouble for this guy.

Stay weird, Japan.  And stay weird, it does…

Okayama - Chikuwa Oden (2)
A few years later, on a trip to Okayama, I happened to pass by this statue of what else, Chikuwa Flute Man.  Completely unplanned.  Might be tougher to play without a nose, but I digress.


How does oden sound – yes, it’s also a pun – to you?

 

 

Foreigner

Just as being human can have its pros and cons, so can being a foreigner.  No kidding, right?

I can blend in throughout a fair amount of the world.  Rummaging through bazaars and souks in Istanbul, Cairo and Dearborn are mostly hassle-free, in many parts of Southeast Asia my doppelgängers run amok and in Northeast Asia, I’m ok – from the nape up.  Unrelated tourist tip: commit to memory, the location and names of a few different neighborhoods of where you are visiting.  Even if you haven’t been there before, pretend to taxis or hotels that you know the score.

But then when the cat is let out of the bag, – for instance, when someone says something to me in a language I don’t understand, or when I use soap to wash my hands – that’s when the adventure starts.  No more sauntering into mosques without a hitch, no more ten-cent falafel and no more wandering into the prohibited parts of town:

Yangon - Foreigners Prohibited

Not that the average Burmese resident would confuse me for a peer, but I wasn’t sure why this section very close to The Strand Hotel in Yangon was closed off.  Judging by her reaction, nor was this vendor.  Naturally, I was very hungry, and all of those stalls in the background were awfully tempting…

Shenzhen - Bar Near Shanghai Hotel (No Japanese)

Although this particular Shenzhen, China bar no longer exists (I took the photo in 2006), it’s rather forthcoming proof of a comeuppance for Japanese visitors.  You see, numerous bars in Japan are not keen on rolling out the welcome mat for the rest of the world.  That is, foreign clients aren’t welcome, but female hostesses are.

In any event, this sign reads, from the left “{Prime Minister} Koizumi worships the devil (at Yasukuni Shrine) Six Times, on the right “Militarism” and in the center “Japanese people forbidden from entering.”  No word-mincing here.  Or here.

Or it could be that only foreigners are allowed:

Colombo- Bally's Lounge (Only for Foreigners)
Bally’s is a discotheque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, though I’m not sure as to what distinguishes it from any other…the presence of restrooms, perhaps?

Pyongyang - Bowling Alley (Only Foreigners)

Likely the most random of the four photos, I shot this at a bowling alley in Pyongyang.

Upon looking up what 좌식변기 is defined as, “legless toilet” seems to be a popular choice.  In other words, Westerners rejoice.


Have you come across similarly alluring signs in your travels?

In Other Words, An Airport Terminal

Shanghai- Delayed Flight Lounge

I can’t remember exactly which Shanghai, China airport it was where I spotted this dubious “delayed flight lounge,” but you can be sure that it is no different from the rest of the terminal.  Not to mention, when considering the usual on-time records at Chinese airports, I’m still questioning the reasoning behind this idea.


 

Chinese Lesson

延误 yán​wu= Delay
候机厅 hòu​jī​tīng= Departure Terminal

 

Things the World Needed: Tianjin, China’s Ferris Wheel-in-a-Bridge

Tianjin - Tianjin Eye Ferris Wheel

It’s not quite  Tokyo’s “Big O,” but I’ll give China credit once again for gratuitous randomness.

Located in the city of Tianjin, a quick train ride just south of Beijing, the Tianjin Eye (天津之眼摩天轮) opened in mid-2008.  What makes this Ferris wheel stand out is the fact that it is located in the middle of the Yongle Bridge, close to West Tianjin train station.  Why create a separate amusement park when there’s plenty of space downtown?

They should dedicate an hour everyday for cars to take a spin.

 

 

Food From the Maldives: Illiterate Indigestion

Beaches, at least while I’m traveling solo, are at the bottom of the list of priorities.  I might head towards one for a sunset shot, to try local seafood or to admire the terrain, but not to kick back for a few hours.

Thus, you can imagine my…imagination’s surprise when I flew to the Maldives for a few days in January 2008.  OK, my goal at the time was the Indonesian Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, so visiting the Maldives was a result of geographic convenience.

Beyond snorkeling (slaloming) between schools of tropical fish and rubbish floating by a jetty near Hulhumale’ and getting nauseous from diesel fumes from the public boats, I wasn’t sure what else to do.

Oh, right.  Let’s explore Maldivian food.

Right off the bat, you should know that fish, specifically skipjack tuna, is THE staple of the Maldives.  The canned (tinned for British English viewers) variety is more and more common, but traditionally the tuna was cured – in this case, boiled, smoked and sun-choked – into a product called ari.  Coconuts are also par for the course.

Secondly, I was glad though unsurprised that English was often present.  I had no idea how to say anything in Dhivehi, and the written script looked like one’s breath was trying its damnedest to communicate.

That said, here’s when I had a generally good sense of what I ordered:

Food in the Maldives -  (2)

The first meal I ate in the Maldives was appropriately a tuna-centric one.  It tasted canned, and the chapati – known locally as roshi – was lukewarm at best.  What a disappointment.

Maybe I’m being too hard on the food.  I drank the water, so that’s probably where the disappointment set in.

Food in the Maldives -  (3)

The server knew me well.

Food in the Maldives -  (7)

Oops, more water.

Wandering around downtown Male’ on one of my empty stomachs, I sought refuge in a bustling short eats hole-in-the-wall.

What’s on the menu?  Fried things, round fried things, fried round things, and tuna.  With coconut, fried.  And heavily sweetened tea.  And tuna.

The first plates come by.  The lighter things in the lower-left are called gulha, made with tuna, coconut and chilies, and the darker ones are kavaabu, fried with tuna, potatoes and lime.  To the right, we have riha folhi, curried tuna rolls, and in the back, unfortunately I don’t recall the names.  The yellow item that looks like a swimming turtle is NOT an egg, and the glutinous cubes behind it didn’t have much taste.  It’s safe to say that neither of those contained tuna.  Can anyone identify those snacks?

Food in the Maldives -  (4)

Add the fish curry to the list of foods that made me suffer dearly.  I couldn’t speak for a few minutes because it was flippin’ spicy.  That the rice was boiling hot didn’t help things, nor did the spicy vegetables (including red onions, another Maldivian favorite).  Which is to say, I’d order that curry again, if only I knew the name…

Food in the Maldives -  (5)

Papaya shake.  Although I often think papayas have a Bubblicious aftertaste, they are refreshing in shake-form.  What’s the BuildingMyBento standard?  No sugar, no ice.  That’s usually a woeful order. (Ever try warm cucumber juice?  I couldn’t take a second sip.)

Now it’s time to go into the “what am I ordering” category:

Food in the Maldives -  (6)

You’re supposed to spit it out?  No wonder the Maldives is so popular with Chinese tourists.

This potent combination of a stimulant – the areca nut, cinnamon, cloves, and calcium hydroxide (to help with absorption) usually follows a Maldivian meal. That is, I thought it was a dessert, so down the hatch a handful went.

Another afternoon wasted.

Also odd how calcium hydroxide makes its second appearance in two weeks on my blog, yet has never been mentioned before then.

Food in the Maldives -  (1)

The warning notice and the Chinese on the bottom should have been enough, but I still dared to try a thimble’s worth of khaini, ready-to-roll tobacco.  Who needs Amsterdam when the Maldives are ready to serve you.


Have you tried Maldivian cuisine?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying Socks in China: Tougher Than It Sounds

Before visiting China for the first time in August 2003, I truly expected to find clothes cleaners (洗染店 xǐ​rǎn​diàn) all over the place.  Was this the first thing on my mind as I landed in Guilin?  No.  It was the second.  The first was “do I have SARS?”

Frankly speaking, I don’t recall seeing even one brick-and-mortar launderer in Guilin.  Successive trips to China and Hong Kong have shown me that washing clothes is still very much done at home, and drying clothes is for ANYWHERE you can find space.

In order to do that, you first need to own clothes.

Shanghai - Shoe Socks
I took this photo in Shanghai in 2008.  The sign – which in Chinese, reads wà​zi, or socks – is immensely confounding.  Where are the shoes?  The socks?  The employees?

I’m not even talking about the bizarre sign.  It looks like a store that sells fish, keys and blades, you know, not socks.  MacGyver would be proud.

All of this thinking made me hungry.