Crabs in Cambodia

It’s been way too long since I posted anything, which I am blaming on a combination of being super tired at night, having bad wifi, and/or writing in my paper journal instead. But. Here I am in Cambodia! I have a half-written piece on Tokyo, which I will try to finish in the next few days, but here is the cliff-notes version of what I’ve been up to over the last few days:

Tokyo!

  • Day 1, went to Mariakan museum, the museum of emerging science and technology. Cool robots! Creepy androids! Out-of-place exhibit on ninjas, with shoes that they used to walk on water. Met my cousin, her boyfriend, and her friend for lunch in Asakusa, then went to the big temple (Senso-ji) and pulled a fortune. It was a metaphor about fishing. An afternoon visit to the Tokyo National Museum ended when they shooed everyone out by playing “Auld Lang Syne.” Then we had conveyor-belt sushi for dinner.
  • Day 2, went to Meiji Jingu, a huge Shinto shrine, and its beautiful gardens. Met my cousin and her boyfriend for lunch in Harajuku (cold udon is a thing, and it’s delicious), then bought cute Japanese socks. In the afternoon I went to a Hayao Miyazaki exhibit on the 52d floor of Roppongi Tower. Couldn’t understand any of the signs, but the drawings were cute and the views fantastic. Walked around my hotel’s neighborhood (Shinjuku), quickly stumbling on the love hotels and men-only massage parlors, but also passing the very cool neighborhood of Golden Gai. Four alleyways lined with tiny bars, each seating no more than 10 patrons.
  • Day 3, I had a 3 o’clock train to Kyoto. I went to the Imperial Palace in the morning and wandered around the gardens, then went to Ginza, where I went to a soba shop and ordered what I thought was the tea I saw everyone around me drinking. They brought me a teapot full of the water they had been cooking the noodles in. I missed having my cousin to translate/explain, and did not drink it.

Kyoto:

  • Day 1, I arrived around 6 pm, just in time to drop my bags off and get to the place where the river split to see the huge (as in, the whole hillside) bonfires for Bon-Odori/O-Bon, a religious festival. Kyoto lights five fires, each a different character, and all symbolic. I got to the riverside at 7:30, and it was pouring. Pouring. Pouring. I didn’t have an umbrella, just a raincoat, because I was planning to buy a cute Asian umbrella. Goretex let me down, and by the time I got back on the subway at 8:15 (theoretically they lit the fires at 8, but I sure didn’t see anything), I was squishing with every step.
  • Day 2, I went to Kiyomizu-Deru temple, which is up in the hills. I walked down a gravel path behind the temple, and saw a path going into the woods with a little sign clearly showing it was a hiking trail. Could I read any of the words on the sign? No. But it went somewhere, so I started walking. I climbed up the mountain, until I was way above and behind the shrine, and couldn’t read any of the signs I passed, though it was obviously still a hiking trail. I did eventually find a 2-inch sign in English, and found another trail that led back to the other side of the temple. I got a lot of mosquito bites. Walking down the hill towards Nishkin Market, I stopped at Kennin-Ji temple, where I rested my feet and cooled down while staring at the Zen garden. What do you know, it was peaceful. Zen, you might say. I ate lunch at 3 pm, continuing my cultural misunderstandings by ordering something called sashimi (it was slimy… bean curd strips? I don’t know) and pouring tea into the check stand. I then bought way too many souvenirs, and went back to the hostel to do laundry.
  • Day 3, I went to Hiroshima. I got there around 10 am, went to A-Bomb Dome, the Peace Park, and the museum. The museum hadn’t been renovated since it was built in the 50s, but they were in the middle of doing that, so half of it was closed. That meant a whole museum’s worth of people squished into half a museum. I couldn’t see most of the exhibits over the pack of people, which took away from an otherwise moving experience. Lunch was okonomiyaki, a Hiroshima treat of pancake, cabbage, bean sprouts, bacon, egg, noodles, and several sauces and spices cooked on a big griddle. There’s a food court that sells nothing but that, so I picked the most crowded place and waited in line. I had just enough time to hustle to a beautiful garden, where a couple in kimono were getting their wedding pictures taken, then I caught my train back to Kyoto. I went straight to the Fushimi Inari shrine, where there are red torii gates lining the whole path up the mountain. It’s a 2-hour hike to the top, and the sun was setting, so I only went halfway, but it was beautiful.
  • Day 4, I slept late and then went to Arashiyama, a western suburb of Kyoto. I had a kaiseki (Kyoto haute cuisine) lunch, then walked in the bamboo groves. After an afternoon visit to the monkey park (so cute!) I went to Gion in an attempt to see geisha. I saw one from a block away, and then bought a ticket to a super touristy show so I could see Japanese traditional arts, including the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and a geisha dance. I finally had ramen for the first time for dinner.
  • Day 5, I went to Nijo Castle, which was really cool. They had a nightingale floor, so you couldn’t sneak up on the shogun. I had tea in the traditional tea house. Then I caught the train to Hakone.

Hakone:

  • Day 1, I arrived at the Ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) around 3:30, having had to drag my bags uphill a kilometer in the rain. But they fed me cold tea and a sweet as a welcome, and then I could get straight in the onsen (traditional hot springs), which was why I had come. They’re public (though segregated by gender), and naked. I did not like the way the 5-year old girl stared at me, it made me self-conscious. The ryokan had 4, and I tried all of them: one before dinner (the genders switched for each one at 7 pm), one after, one when I woke up at 4 am, and one before breakfast at 8 am. The place was super traditional, tatami and sliding doors, and a six-course meal served to you in your room. So many kinds of fish. Some good, some gross. Sleeping in a traditional Japanese bed is like camping on a good camping pad, if someone chopped the bottom of your sleeping bag off (my feet stuck out the end).
  • Day 2, breakfast also had lots of different kinds of fish. I didn’t eat the baby sardines, I have a thing against eating eyes. Then I left my bags and went to the Hakone Open Air Museum, basically a big outdoor sculpture garden in the mountains. They have a public foot-onsen, which was odd but fun. Then I walked to the train station, caught the switchback-single track-mountain train, walked down the hill to the ryokan, picked up my bags, walked to Hakone station, took that train to Odawara, caught the Shinkansen to Shinagawa, changed to another line, took that one stop, changed to another line, walked two blocks, and finally ended up at my airport hotel.

Singapore:

  • Day 1, I woke up early in Tokyo, had sushi for breakfast, and made it out about an hour before a typhoon hit and they closed the airport. It was a bumpy ride. 7 hours later, I landed in Singapore. My hostel (a “capsule hotel,” not really, do not recommend) was in Chinatown. I went to the Chinatown Cultural Heritage Center, a cool museum like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, tried and failed to get chicken rice at a hawker center (they were closed, I got rice porridge and mystery meet from another stall instead), and saw the sound and light show at the “Supertrees” in this big public garden.
  • Day 2, I went to the zoo. There’s this cool place where you go through like 4 doors, and then there are whistling ducks, mini deer, 2 kinds of parrots, ring-tailed lemurs, bats, butterflies, all just hanging out around you inches away. The elephant show was entertaining but also maybe exploitative, I felt somewhat conflicted. Then the botanical gardens, then Little India, then Arab Street. I did some shopping in both places, and had very spicy Indonesian food for dinner. I went to the People’s Park Complex and got a foot reflexology massage, my first, which was very painful but seems to have worked because my feet don’t hurt as much as they used to and the weird cramp on the bottom of my left foot is gone. I had a durian milkshake, but could only down four or five sips before I had to throw it away, it was so gross.
  • Day 3, I went to the gardens by the bay to try to go on the catwalk up in the Supertrees, but it was raining so that was closed. Then I went to the national museum, then I finally got my chicken rice. The airport has a sunflower garden on the roof. And I arrived in Cambodia around 6 pm.

Cambodia:

  • Day 1. My friend who’s doing her Ph.D. research in Cambodia met me at the airport, and we took a long and winding tuktuk ride through all the bad parts of town (the roads were big craters full of mud, so we kept turning around), past karaoke bars where the women sit in rows of chairs so customers can pick one, and past big piles of burning trash. We stayed at a hotel a few blocks away from where she used to live, in the hipster ex-pat part of town, and had a very nice dinner of Khmer food. We went to a hotel’s rooftop bar for drinks, and ordered cocktails based just on the name. Mine was good, fresh apple juice with liquor (tequila I think) mixed in, but hers was a little fishbowl of bright blue liquid balanced on a bigger fishbowl full of lights, a battery pack, and flashing multicolor LED lights.
  • Day 2, today! We woke up early and a driver took us down south to Kep, a town which used to be a French resort town back in colonial days. We dropped our bags, changed into bathing suits, and walked over to the crab market. They wade out, pick up a trap, bring it onshore, and then cook the crabs then and there for you. It was too early for crabs, I had a mung bean waffle instead, and then we went to Rabbit Island. You get on this narrow wooden boat and just head over the bay for about half an hour, then have to climb down a ladder and wade in (there’s no dock). The beach was beautiful, and the sun came out. We both got sunburned, stupidly. Then we hung out by the pool, had crabs for dinner, and here we are, surrounded by a mosquito net to keep out not the mosquitos but the geckos and giant-ass spiders who call this bungalow home. Seriously, the spider that crawled off the toilet paper when I tried to use it was a solid 3 inches.

And that’s it, I’m finally caught up! Japan, Singapore, and Cambodia part 1 in a nutshell.

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