Friday, October 21, 2016

Kyoto Day 2- Part 4 Downtown Kyoto

One of the most intriguing and appealing aspects of Kyoto, for me, was the juxtaposition of traditional Japanese culture and aesthetics with the ever spreading influence of modernity and technology. They're exquisitely proud of their culture and heritage, maintaining a delicate balance between modern convenience and gadgets with their long-standing traditions and attitudes. This results in a feeling of going back in time, despite the omnipresence of cellphones and convenience stores. It feels as though life moves at a slower, more considered pace than in the bustling megatropolis of Tokyo. There's a dignity, a quiet grace to Kyoto that's difficult to encapsulate in clumsy foreign words. It truly is a whole different world, one that is not newer, but older. All the modern amenities are there, no doubt, but there's a completely different vibe to the city. People walk more slowly, the streets were less crowded. Kyoto-ites are very proud of their home and I can understand why.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Kyoto Day 2- Part 3- Heian Jingu

After my adventure to Kiyomizu-dera and zipping back down the steep mountain at dangerous speed on my rental bike from the 9Hours capsule hotel, it was time to appraise my options for the next portion of the day. I stopped at a small kissaten for a cup of coffee and to sit on my phone and research where to go next. It was a lovely break and the small coffee shop was next to a river, providing a serene view by which to sip my caffeine. Once I ventured back out onto the road, I started towards another temple- but grew lost. I asked a jindikushaw (rikshaw) driver if I was heading the right way and he informed me my destination had closed for the day, but suggested my next stop; Heian Jingu!

Back onto my rental bike I hopped, pedaling away happily. Heian Jingu is easy enough to find- you'll know you're close when you see the giant red torii gate looming over the street, making the cars look like wee little toys. After the crowds at Kiyomizu-dera, Heian Jingu was a bit of a respite with a relatively small populace of visitors. This is not to diminish the beauty of the location- it's absolutely beautiful, having been a palace at one point in it's long life. Brilliant red paint gilds it's frame, decorated with ornate gold and green designs. There's a large expanse of open space leading up to the temple itself, providing a sense of isolation and sanctuary despite being deep within the city.

It was well worth visiting, and I was pleasantly surprised to have found it in such an unexpected manner. After exploring the grounds, I wrapped it up and headed back onto the road. I only had so long with the bike and wanted to take in as much as I could before my sojourn was cut short..

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Kyoto Day 2- Part 2 - Kiyomizu-dera 2013-01-26

After waking up a bit and getting some caffeine and food from the cute little onigiri stand by my hotel into my gullet to power me through the unavoidable hang over from my long night drinking and socializing with the crew at Pan and Circus guesthouse, I ventured forward on my rented bicycle from 9Hours capsule hotel and pedaled out into the city. Make no mistake, Kyoto is an absolutely beautiful city! Even on a cold, dreary winter morning the architecture and cityscape were lovely to take in. The sky was bright and weather crisp, making it an especially good day for a bike ride. I completely adored exploring it by bicycle, even when my dumbass decided to visit Kiyomizu-dera first thing in the day. The large, beautiful temple just so happens to be situated high atop a rather steep hill. Getting there was quite the journey and my glutes were on FIRE, but the trek heading back down the mountain was a blast! 

Despite it being a cold wintery morning, visitors were flocking to the famous temple en mass and it was surprisingly crowded. From school children to girls in stunning traditional Japanese robes (which can be rented for the day from many small shops), foreign tourists and curious locals. Even with the horde of visitors, I managed to find a safe location off the heavily traveled path to park my bike and ventured into the melee for my own glimpse of the famous locale. Small shops were abundant, selling various omiyage (locally sourced souvenirs) or snacks. Omiyage culture in Japan (and in Korea) is something else- it's an unwritten cultural mandate that for any vacation you're lucky enough to go on, you must bring back some kind of rarified local specialty as a treat for all those left behind, from coworkers to friends. Because this is such a widespread obligation, many, many shops and train stations (for those last minute shoppers) carry large packages of prepackaged locally created specialty goodies for easy dispersal among all your cohorts back home. All the food on sale looked so amazing, from fish on sticks grilled over charcoal until their skins grow crisp and the smoke-infused meat drips juice with each crackling bite to large steamed dumplings stuffed with a medley of delicious fillings bursting from their centers.

Between the majestic mountain views and ancient, ornate temple buildings it was an extraordinary place to visit. Well worth the sore legs!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Kyoto Day 2 - Part 1- Starting the day at 9Hours

For the duration of my stay in Kyoto, I stayed at 9Hours capsule hotel

Most of the capsule hotels in Tokyo are tailored towards businessmen who's long hours of work and the obligatory post-work drinking with colleagues and clients may lend them towards missing the last train home. Many even go so far as to prohibit women outright, which may be intended to differentiate the capsule hotels from love hotels, though I don't really see how a couple could do too much in a capsule- it wouldn't be impossible to get down and dirty in a capsule, but it wouldn't be ideal- and in a class conscious society like Japan I don't feel many women would be particularly enthused by the prospect, but I digress. Capsule hotels are often a budget friendly option for people who need a place to sleep, but due to the prohibition of women in many it makes it difficult for a lass like myself to get the full experience. 

Luckily, 9Hours is a different animal entirely, a capsule hotel that bills itself as a luxury capsule hotel and offers boarding for both sexes. The floors are segregated by gender, so ladies needn't worry about some creep keeping you up with his furious fapping (or snoring) late into the night in the capsule next to your's or peeping in on you while you rest. To be fair, having never stayed in a non-luxurious capsule hotel, it's hard for me to say if this hotel is truly opulent, but it was nice? Sorry, I just find the term luxurious applied to a capsule hotel a bit silly. In essence you're paying for a sleeping pod, which is a bit sci-fi and fun, but you're also opting out of having a private hotel room to yourself. No matter how swanky the pod, you're still 3 feet away from your neighbor in any direction, so you can only hope they aren't the type who saws logs all night long. The bathrooms/showers are shared, and while irrefutably many steps above the hostels I've stayed in, they aren't exactly overwhelming in their extravagance. They do offer a large, deep bathtub, as well as hair dryers and other amenities, which is lovely if you choose to make use of them. I didn't, but that's just me. Other women were happily blow-drying their hair or taking long baths. For me, this was primarily a place to rest my head and store my belongings (they have space to store your things in the lobby area). For my purposes, this was a great find and affordably priced with sufficient amenities and a few perks that were of great use. 

They even provide pajamas!

One of these perks was their bike rental, easily available at the front desk. I rented a bike for the day and in a few short minutes was mobile! I highly recommend this route for exploring Kyoto, as you get a completely different view of the city than you would from the bus, taxi, or train.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Kyoto Day 1 2013-01-25

After a long, stressful Christmas season working myself to the bone at Tokyo Disney, it was time for a well-earned vacation from the rat race. I booked myself some tickets to Kyoto, packed up a weekend bag, and prepared to board my first Shinkansen. I bought my ticket at the Tokyo Station Shinkansen booth/kiosk/center, where I watched the front desk girl struggle through processing a transaction in English. When I approached, I resolved to go through the entire process in Japanese, and I did! The young lady was quite relieved, though far too polite to say anything about the matter I could tell she was grateful not to be forced to stutter through a foreign language, regardless of my own proficiency in her language we were able to get things settled and I walked with tickets in hand for the days I needed.

Fair warning: bullet trains can be expensive. It would certainly have been cheaper for me to have flown from Tokyo to Kyoto, but I wanted the experience of riding a bullet train since they're nonexistent in my country. Seriously, America, what the hell? We were world leaders in the locomotive industry, and now we've fallen far down the roster with only a few old lines still running. Nearly every other industrialized country has a high speed rail system, and if there were one running from Las Vegas to any major city in California (though L.A. seems the most obvious due to proximity) it could completely bolster the tourist flow, both to Sin City and the coast! I get that population density versus open expanses make it less viable for the western areas, but what about the east coast? Cities are much more densely packed together and having a high speed transit system connecting the major cities of the region could lead to a renewed prosperity as people are capable of traveling. But I digress.

Riding the bullet train is lovely. It really is a pleasant travel experience. Not only did my window seat offer ample leg room for this tall girl, there were outlets to plug in my devices so that I would reach my destination with a fully charged phone, camera, ipod, what have ye. Some of my fellow riders opted to nap, others drank while others tucked into ekiben, or station lunchboxes. Ekiben are fun, with different bentos offered for different regions, packed with local delicacies or specialties. I made sure to pick one up for the journey back. 

For this ride, however, it was late and I left after work. I made sure to grab a coffee and bustled through Tokyo Station to ensure I caught my train on time. I'd booked a room with 9Hours capsule hotel, so no worries about finding a room. Just had to catch my train!

After arriving, I happened upon the Pan and Circus guest house/bar where a friendly fellow was standing outside smoking as I happened to stop for a curious glance. He invited me to join him and his friends inside, which might have been a dangerous idea anywhere else in the world, but I had a good vibe about the place. You can see more photos of the interior further down but it was really quite lovely! Very warm and inviting interior, and the guests were all very welcoming and friendly. I talked with a Korean gent, a man from Okinawa, a handful of Kyoto locals and several others. By the time I left for my hotel I truly felt like part of the gang, as the photos evidence. One young local man was even so kind as to cook dinner for all of us when it grew quite late and we were all a bit too tipsy to shuffle off to a conbini. I even met a girl who had the Japanese-ified version of my name! Say what?!

More photos after the cut!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Calico Basin Hike

Just outside of Las Vegas lies countless, nearly endless expanses of desert, rock formations and mountain ranges. Some mountains are capped with forest and get snow during the colder months, others get a sparse coating of desert shrubbery allowing the mineral filled rock below to shine. There's no mystery as to why our Red Rock National Recreation Area has earned it's name- the rocks are resplendent and come in shades of red, purple, beige and more. Wild burros, mountain lions, big horn sheep and rattle snakes proliferate the area, though they generally tend to be too shy to be spotted with any frequency. 

Given our proximity to great swaths of nature, hiking (and skiing!) are popular activities. I've been a fan of hiking for quite some time, having even been in a public hiking club during my junior year of high school. As such, whenever I get the opportunity to venture out into the great outdoors, I'm generally pretty quick to take it. On this particular day, my friend Julie and I had made plans to go for an adventure together. 

We met up early and after psyching ourselves up for the journey at her apartment, we packed up the car and headed out! It was a beautiful day for the excursion, early enough in the year that the sweltering summer heat had yet to fully settle in but warm enough to be comfortable. 

Have you ever ventured beyond the city limits of Las Vegas? One of the best parts of living in the city is how much nature is actually available and accessible just beyond it's limits. Lake mead is about 45 minutes one way, with aquatic recreation available, while Mount Charleston offers snow sports during the winter months and camping among the trees. Today, we went to Calico Basin!

More photos after the cut!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hong Kong Day 6- Final day

As all good things are prone to doing, my vacation to Hong Kong was rapidly coming to a close. On this, my last morning waking in my awkwardly angled little room at the Harbour Hotel (where I had to dance around the door strangely to enter or leave due to the angle it opened at), I prepared my things and went for one last lap around the neighborhood. The staff at the Harbour Hotel were kind enough to allow me to leave my luggage with them for safe keeping until it was time for me to catch a taxi to leave for the airport. For breakfast I stopped over at the steamer shop where I'd been eating breakfast most days. The food was extremely affordable and their menu was quite vast! Everything I sampled was delicious and piping hot and fresh from the steamer. Delicious! Even with my cracked tooth my enthusiasm for eating was not to be overly hindered, especially given this incredible opportunity to enjoy Hong Kong cuisine. 

I also went to one of the many shops selling duck and various grilled or roast animal and grabbed a portion of duck for myself. I sat on a park bench and chowed down as best I could with the dental pain. It was greasy and delicious!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hong Kong Day 5- Star Ferry

After my journey to the Peak, I returned to the city proper and made my way to the nearby port where all the ferries departed. By this point in my stay in Hong Kong, I pretty much had the route from Hong Kong station to the pier memorized! Not bad, I'd say. Despite how crowded the city is, it doesn't really take up much land mass, making it relatively easy to navigate, especially by bus and train, and great for walking if you know where you're heading. That being said, some areas were nearly impossible for me to navigate- especially near my hotel, due to my inability to read Chinese symbols and how I'd hit a point of sensory saturation that almost every street started to look the same. 

But onboard the Star Ferry, none of that matters. The city on one side grows slowly smaller and more distant, while Mongkok grows ever closer until it looms above. The lights of the city glisten off the glossy black water, reflecting the nightly light show in synchronized displays. It's truly beautiful, and easy to see why this ferry is world famous.

Once back in Mongkok I stopped for dinner at a claypot rice restaurant I'd passed many times. Sitting alone, awaiting my meal, the proprietor decided to hang with me and discuss the fame her small venue had attained, pointing out different photos of her with various guests over the years. She was certainly a character and when the time came, she returned to demonstrate to me how the rice in the bottom of the hot bowl had crisped into a cracker adding another element to the experience. As delicious as this meal was, I have to admit it put a real damper on the rest of my trip... I ended up cracking a tooth while crunching into that super crispy rice at the bottom of the clay pot, which resulted in one of my molars being extremely sore and angry. The pain persisted until I was able to visit a dentist back in Japan, which lead to it's own nightmare... Dentists in Japan, or at least my dentist, don't like to use much anesthesia. When he was replacing the filling with a crown, a week after clearing out the old filling to take a mold then stuffing in a temporary filling, I could feel EVERYTHING. It was awful, just absolutely awful. He'd force the crown into place putting pressure on the tooth and gums, then yank it out and file at it some, then shove it back in and repeat the process ad nauseum until I broke down in tears asking him to please, please just give me some more anesthesia. Not only am I 5'10-5'11" tall and weigh quite a bit more than the average Japanese lass, I have a high tolerance for pain killers and they don't effect me nearly as much or as long as they might normal people. As I was trembling with tears rolling down my face, the dentist rolled his eyes and told me to quit being such a baby so he could just wrap it up. As a result, I've had severe anxiety about going to a new dentist ever since. My most recent visit to a dentist, here in Seoul, was multitudes better. When I started wincing halfway through the procedure because I could feel things again, they didn't even need to ask or have me raise my hand- the dental assistant/hygienist went and grabbed another syringe of anesthesia and numbed me back out for the remainder. Thank you, kind lady.

Anyhow, for more photos, click below!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hong Kong Day 5- The Peak

Hong Kong is famous for a lot of things, but one of the most notable is the amazing views of the city's world class architecture. Whether you're viewing Victoria Harbor from Tsim Sha Tsui in Mongkok, the square in Wan Chai on the Hong Kong side, or from atop the highest peak in the city- named, unironically, The Peak, it's a beautiful city and exquisite evening light show spectacle to feast your eyes upon. 

Typically, for those eager to reach the Peak and view the city from on high, the cable cars are the option du jour. This also means that the line for the cable cars is extremely long and not everyone is guaranteed to make it to their destination prior to the light show. Being the impatient lout I am, I bypassed this method of gaining altitude in favor of taking a city bus. Not only was the bus much cheaper, but the experience of winding alongside the narrow mountain roads in a rickety old passenger van (seriously, it seemed like a basic cargo van converted to hold seats instead of equipment) that careens around corners precariously was something to be had. Not an experience I'd necessarily recommend for those with weaker stomachs, but I managed to survive the experience well enough despite having eaten ample of the culinary goodies available throughout the area. My stomach is a brute, to be fair, and I've stuffed some questionable things down my gullet to no ill effect. But I digress.  

Once you actually arrive to the mountain's summit, you'll find a large... mall. Typically I'm not especially enthused by shopping, especially in a mall environment, unless it's some grand outdoor market or something with cultural value (I mean, sorry to say but a mall is a mall is a mall, as far as I'm concerned, whether it be in Tokyo, Osaka, Hong Kong, L.A., Seoul, or Vegas...). Sure, there have been some outliers like the time Antho and I happened upon the Sherman Oaks Galleria, aka the mall where scenes from Terminator were filmed in L.A., but we didn't go shopping. Is it weird that as a female I don't find clothes shopping an especially thrilling activity? Perhaps because I'm tall and have a hard time finding attire that fits me well (either due to weight fluctuations or my broad shoulders & broad hips/big bum) shopping for clothes has always been riddled with difficulties and challenges to me sense of self. Leggings and tunics have been a life saver (as has Uniglo while living in Asia). So, suffice to say, I didn't spend an exorbitant amount of time perusing the shops prior to the light show. After the show, however, I did stumble upon a rose blush pleated skirt that I really loved and ended up taking home with me. I found a surprisingly large amount of clothes in Hong Kong that fit me well, perhaps because of their long time as an international hub and catering to giant westerners such as myself. 

There were also some anime exhibits around the mall that were fun to see, and a lovely tea shop that I popped into. Many souvenir shops were scattered about, naturally, given the tourist destination nature of the locale.  

More photos after the cut!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con 2016 After Party

After the fun had at the Las Vegas Convention center for the convention itself, the party moved to the Millenium Fandom Bar for the after party. Have you ever danced with Admiral Ackbar and Fiona the Human? I have. It was awesome!

In case you're not from Vegas, or even if you are from Vegas but lack a certain geeky-socialite je nai ses quoi, the Millenium Fandom Bar is a bastion of beverages and community for cosplayers and regular fans alike. While cosplay is certainly not required, it's definitely encouraged, so what better environment to celebrate the successful con with all the fabulous cosplayers and vendors who attended and plenty who couldn't?

The awesome staff and management of the bar let me set up and draw caricatures, as well, and I had a blast! It was so fun seeing and drawing people in character and with the liquid libations loosening everyone up a bit, it was quite the wild night. This was also something of a low-key going away party for me, as well, because shortly after this I would be leaving for Korea and unable to hang out with my Critical Care Crew until I return from my adventures in Asia. Spider-man and Batsy did a shot with me to send me off, and a very surprised Uber driver got to delivery Batman safely to his Batcave later that evening- in full Bat suit! Don't drink and drive, kids, unless you want to face justice. No one likes Batman when he's angry...and while Batman doesn't kill his enemies (most of the time) there's no guarantee what could happen. Just don't risk it!

All in all it was a super fun time (see what I did there? eh? eh?)! Critical Care Comics took over the sound system for a bit and held the costume contest and a raffle. All proceeds from the raffle went towards funding their efforts to bring a smile to the faces of sick kids throughout the valley, so even if you didn't win a prize you still won some good karma points! If you've never seen a drunk Spider-man MCing it's really quite a spectacle to behold. I may or may not have grabbed his bum... what can I say? I've always had a soft spot for the witty webslinger. Luckily he had given me a free pass to do so once or twice in my life when I casually mentioned the temptation at another time, so it wasn't assault. That's important, folks- don't go grabbing or touching people without their explicit consent, otherwise you're no better than the orange buffoon with the bad hair from the TV that (almost) everyone makes fun of. 

Just because someone is in cosplay does not give you the right to touch them.
EVER.  It doesn't matter how sexy their costume is or how nice they seem, unless they give you the OK to hug or otherwise touch them, respect their bodily autonomy and personal bubble. It's basic human decency, guys. 

Luckily for everyone, the group at the after party were all awesome people and a good time was had by pretty much everyone (as far as I could tell anyway, I for one saw no grumpy faces). I'm absolutely looking forward to attending next year's Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con!! Hope to see you all out at ALVCC2017!!