Wild Times with a US Passport

Perhaps I was being a bit too harsh on my US passportAfter all, citizens can travel to a substantial number of countries either without a visa or by getting a visa-on-arrival; furthermore, starting this January Armenia will be the newest visa-free country.  Armenia – the home of Armenians – why have I heard about it in the news lately…ah, here’s why.

That’s what you were expecting me to write, no?

Cairo - U.S.A Passport to Wild Times Jacket

Yes, this article of Engrish clothing might be on to something.  Case-in-point: I saw it in Cairo.  Those of us from the states (among many other countries) can get tourist visas at a few different Egyptian airports.  In other words, no need to apply in advance.

Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do was wear that jacket while passing through immigration?  Probably not.  Though if one place could get away with it, a certain street in Bangkok comes to mind.


Issues with the Department of State and lobbyists aside, a US passport isn’t so bad, right?

 

 

Identity. Crisis?

Recently, I stepped into a small restaurant in Nanjing, China that specialized in Anhui cuisine.  Anhui is a landlocked province in central-eastern China most well-known for Huangshan and possibly this person.  I told the waiter that I didn’t eat meat, so he asked if I liked chicken.  I told him no, so his follow-up question was “are you Hui?”

The Hui are a mostly Sunni Muslim minority who trace their ancestry to Arabia and Persia from hundreds of years ago.  With the exception of adhering to some facets of Islam, the Hui have mostly assimilated into Han – the largest ethnic group in China – society.  Their first language is Chinese.

Oh, and they have no problems with eating chicken.

Now, if there’s any one ethnic group I’ve been confused for while in China, it is the Uyghur minorityThese folks who are better known lately for  anti-social behavior.  Their first language is Uyghur.

Nanjing - Waiguoren Hotel Stub

But then this hotel has to go ruin my day, stripping me of my nuanced Chinese identity and decorating my luggage tag with the word 外国人 (wài​guó​rén), or foreigner.  Descriptive!  If I ever stay there again, I’ll let you know just to see if they’d give you my bags.

Let’s suppose that the hotel above didn’t often host non-Chinese guests.  Even if that was the case, when I’d go to pick up the bags, employees could have changed shifts.  If I lost the luggage tag, how would “generic foreigner” be described?  Someone could verify it on the computer system too, but it sounds like a humorous gig for sketch artists.

Dublin - Hostel American Passport

Should I ever want to travel again from New York to Nanjing, Jakarta or Dublin, a passport would come in handy.

Why single out Dublin?  The hostel I stayed in there found it necessary to leave a note on top of the passport cover repeating what the covers already states.  Would having a note there make it stand out?  If they scribbled something for mine, why wouldn’t they have done the same for other passports?  Moreover, what if a gust of wind blew it away, or onto another passport?  Shucks, if I was able to choose any citizenship, it would either be Singaporean or Malaysian.


Who are you when you travel?

 

How to Get A Unique Souvenir from Japan Railways

I was never really interested in train travel until visiting Japan.  It might have to do with a combination of uniformly unpleasant experiences riding Amtrak, the primary passenger service in the US, and wanting to be squeezed into a train carriage by the station concierge in Tokyo.

At the same time, I like collecting tickets and boarding passes, to see where I’ve been, when I was there and most importantly, why I went.  Why did I fly to Jakarta from Hong Kong three times in one week (and subsequently, why didn’t immigration care in either place?)?  Why did I have a ticket stub to Shimonoseki, Japan if their most popular export was lethal fish?

But those souvenirs have come to take up a lot of space – just like me? – and a good deal of them have faded due to exposure to sunlight and/or other factors.  So, let’s learn about something practical…

Tokyo - Suica + History Souvenir (1)
The Suica card is one of many mostly prepaid cards that you can use throughout JapanSuica was originally issued by JR (Japan Railways) East – whose network includes metropolitan Tokyo and other cities – and now can also be used on other modes of transit, coin lockers, vending machines, and convenience store purchases (to my compatriots, unlike convenience stores in the US, those in Japan are both approachable and worth entering).

Note: You can only buy Suica at JR East stations, and they require a ¥500 deposit.  In general, the minimum amount that you can add is ¥1000, but just last week I happened across a machine (possibly in Tamachi, but definitely on the Yamanote line in Tokyo) allowing ¥500.

But wait, we haven’t even gotten to the souvenir bit yet!

As I mentioned earlier, having to buy individual tickets and then saving those for my posterity is somewhat cumbersome.  Using Suica, in itself a quality souvenir, you can also print out a ticket recording the history of your last twenty swipes/purchases.  Here’s how to snag yourself a copy of one, and apologies for my camera being shy that day:

Tokyo - Suica + History Souvenir (2)

Using the same machine from which you can purchase a Suica, tap on the button that says Print charge balance history.

Tokyo - Suica + History Souvenir (3)

Do as I command

Tokyo - Suica + History Souvenir (4)
Take your pick.

Tokyo - Suica + History Souvenir (5)
Bummer, it’s only in Japanese.  Though from cross-referencing stations with JR maps and learning that in this case, 入 means enter and 出 means exit, a print-out of your traveling history could be slightly more memorable.

Reading the columns from left to right we have Date, Classification (purchase, add value, fare change, enter/exit, etc), Station Used (if applicable), Classification, Station Used (if applicable), and Remaining Amount.


Even if you don’t speak/read Japanese, do these souvenirs interest you?  Do you also collect used tickets/boarding passes?

An Unforgettable Breakfast in Sapporo, Japan

We have both been duped by today’s title.

I wish I could say that one particular series of breakfasts last month in Sapporo, Japan was unforgettable in the positive sense – then again, I did have control over what was to be eaten – but to be fair, it was only partially unpleasant.

I was drawn to Hokkaido’s largest city by, what else, food, and indeed sampled more hits than misses.  Down the line, we’ll cover more of what I ate, but today the focus is on three jet lag-induced breakfasts.

A short walk from my hotel led me to Nijo Market (二条市場), arguably Sapporo’s most famous.  Much smaller and more relaxed than Tsukiji, its Tokyo counterpart (if visiting seafood markets/shortening your lifespan is on your list of priorities, check out Shimonoseki’s Karato Market too), it also has products much harder to find outside of Hokkaido…

Sapporo - Nijo Market Goods
China gets a lot of flak for offering nearly every species of flora and fauna on its menus.  Well-deserved?  Yes.  But Japan and the Koreas aren’t too far behind.

Case in point, over at the Nijo Market, you can buy bear-in-a-can ( kuma in a kan), seal (海豹 azarashi) curry and tinned Steller’s sea lion (todo).  I heartily welcome these asterisked additions to my diet.

Sapporo - Steller's Sea Lion and Onikoroshi Refined Sake

It was a tough decision, but I went with stewed sea lion.  How do you wash that down at 7:30 in the morning?  With a US$.80 juice box of sake called “Demon Slayer.”

The stew was well-seasoned with ginger, miso and bamboo shoots, and you definitely knew it wasn’t your standard issue beef or pork.  Or tube-shaped fish paste cake.


 

Sapporo - Yamazaki Pan, Chocolate Wafer & Whipped CreamGetting my daily dose of bread was next on the list, so I flocked to the nearest convenience store for inspiration.  The brand Yamazaki Pan comes up with rather bizarre crust-less bread creations, and if you couldn’t read Japanese but knew about Japanese food, you might be forgiven for thinking that they are all stuffed with mayonnaise and yakisoba.

That is unless you noticed the handy graphics depicting what is likely inside.  In this package, we have Fujiya chocolate wafers and whipped cream.  The wafers seemed a bit stale, but on the whole the sandwiches did the trick.


 

One of my favorite aspects of eating in Japan is hunkering down at a kaitenzushi restaurant (回転寿司/conveyor belt sushi).  Not only do they have nearly unlimited tea and pickled ginger (made easier because they are self-serve), but you can also often find ネタ (neta, toppings/ingredients for sushi) unique to that establishment.  I’ll go over this in more detail another time, but matsutake mushrooms, raw chicken and hamburgers have been spotted in addition to seafood.Sapporo - Kaitenzushi Shirako

Those are head-scrathcing enough, but what about 白子 (shirako)? 

Shirako, or milt, is the seminal fluid of various fish.  I gagged.  It wasn’t so much what I was eating but the texture of it.

That’s a lie.  It was both.

Needless to say, that was the best lemon I have ever eaten.

Mouthwatering Foods of Australia

Whether the food is similar or different to what previously had, many travelers are eager to try something new whenever they travel to other places. In particular, those visiting Australia would want to know what kind of delicacies the land has to offer. Australia is blessed with a variety of both traditional delicacies and those influenced by other countries in the region.

Hamburger

Hamburger with Beetroot
One thing that separates Australian hamburger from the rest of the world is the fact that beetroot is sliced then decked on top of the pattie that is made from the Australian beef. Though the pattie is entirely made from beef it is not finished without adding of beetroot. If a hamburger is on the day’s menu, emotions get high when people explain how it cannot be whole with no canned beetroot.  A great meal for lovers of beef…and beefroot!

Green Chicken Curry Pie
This is made from stacking Thai chicken green curry inside a pie resulting is a delicacy that can only be found in Australia. When it comes to Thai food, it is loved by Australians, and the same is true with pies. A combination of these two creates one of the best kept secrets of Australia.

Chicken and corn soup

Chicken and Corn Soup
A lot of Chinese food has been embraced by Australians, this is true as every city and town have restaurants where one can always have chicken and corn soup. This delicacy tops the menus in these restaurants. It is made from a mixture of powdered ginger, sesame oil, and creamed sweetcorn and crumbed chicken stock cubes, boiled in chicken stock. Later on shredded chicken is added and the mixture is left to cook. A few other additives are included later such as corn flour and eggs. In the end the outcome is the famous Australian delicacy. This also works great for those who love chicken.

Grilled kangaroo

Grilled Kangaroo
Kangaroo is the unofficial national animal of Australia. To get the best out of it garlic, juniper, pepper, and rosemary are added, then it is accompanied by fruits such as plum, red currant or orange. – A taste of kangaroo is always a great reason to try out something new.

Seafood Pizza
Though pizza is known to be from Italy, Australians have taken it a notch higher calling it Marinara. Made by smothering the pizza with a variety of the best sea products in Australia that are fresh and of great taste. To get the best flavor a sprinkle of chili is recommended, then accompanied by either beer or cold chardonnay This is good for those who love sea food. The land of Australia has a variety of delicacies both traditional, and acquired that it has adopted from its neighbors; these can be found nowhere else on the planet. With an Australia visa a huge door opens tow these mouthwatering delights.

-by Kacie Jones

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?