Tokyo marked our final stop, where we stayed in a NICE hotel in Shinjuku for a few nights then a regular place in Akihabara. Shinjuku is a fantastic neighborhood, all Tokyo rolled in a little ball and open all the time for rum or noodles or little potato pastries disguised as apple tarts. Shin- and Harajuku both have shopping and girls but our fancy designer guidebook* told us to leave for lunch at a boutique katsu restaurant in Shibuya (Maisen), which in fact had the best pork katsu in the whole universe, but otherwise we ignored them. Incidentally and independently, the internet recommended Kaikaya By The Sea**, also in Shibuya, but when we went for lunch the following day we could only get the beefsteak lunch special and not the famous spare rib. Kaikaya was in Daikanyama district, filled to bursting with hip Caucasian photographers and the only organic uni-mart I have ever seen.
*Phaedon Press recommends as your 24 hours in the metro: jogging in the imperial gardens, a spa treatment at the Mandarin Oriental, label shopping in Ginza, dinner at Nobu, and some other even more expensive crap in between. Yeah.
**On the board outside “In some country, there is a port town. In this town, there is a restaurant owned by a mysterious Japanese man who cooks marvelous seafood. Here you are!” On the board inside (hand lettered) “no ocean -> no fish -> no Kaikaya -> no money (me)”
For dinners we split up more, like one day I went out with a Navy colleague for burgers and *serious* watch shopping–a six floor store, progressively more expensive going up. First floor is Rolex, second is Omega and Tag Heuer, third is Patek Philippe, presumably fourth is Louis Moinet and so on, but I wouldn’t know, because I was Not Invited Up. We easily and surprisingly got Saturday night reservations for Maru: Kyoto style duck and lily bun, cocktails of shochu and green tea, hiramasa (yellowtail by a different name than I am used to) adorned with a teensy little maple leaf. Danny had sea cucumber intestines but I declined, possibly gracefully and possibly not. Instead of bottled water we had sparkling elderflower drink, and we roasted our own dried sea breem over coals. Five stars.
When I left Sendai the Akebia fruits weren’t out yet, so it was technically summer, but we saw some ripe ones, purple and soft, in a market in Hanoo (pronounced Hanoh-oh not Hanooooo!) so it is officially autumn on Honshu. With autumn this year, in fact within about two hours, comes broken Nikon cameras for both of us, but that was okay because by then we were staying near Akihabara Electric Town and could go replacement lens shopping at the dealer. Electric Town has the most advanced video game arcades in Japan, so in the upstairs where the horse racing is you can buy cards, like for Magic: The Gathering, except this time they have RFID chips and you play against the computer by placing them on big enormous touchscreens and sliding them around and flipping them over to play your Sword of Necromantik Darkness or whatever. It’s intense. And it’s full of younger men in suits and ties looking very haggard but playing with the fury of a eight-year-old marble champion in the neighborhood finals.
Caught the Shinkansen down to Osaka together, uneventful KIX-SFO, Aurelio and Jess picked me up and we skirted 49ers traffic by stopping for burritos at Taquería Farolito till kickoff.
Wonderful adventure. Time for a nap.
One day we cabbed up to the Happy Valley Cricket Club and walked the whole way across Hong Kong Island to Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay (not the cocktail). Hillsides are engineered to allow for construction, and there are educational plaques everywhere about slope management tactics, in between the fake rocks and the banyans. Along the coastline there are joggers and little gaggles of Indonesian maids out walking their employer’s dogs, and sandy beaches punctuate the pedestrian path.
Marks and Spencer has a branch in Times Square, and so does the awesome Paris chocolatier Jean-Paul Hevin with his troglodyte pistachio truffles. I am convinced that the Chinese barbecue Gummi bears or they couldn’t get their meat that pink, and I wish that when we ordered duck stomach soup we really got it. In crab restaurants you choose your own crab by which is the most wiggly and I absolutely must rave about the Singapore-style chili crab that came on three inches of crusted chili flakes and roasted minced garlic, holy cow.
R66 is a revolving restaurant, actually on the 62nd floor but who’s counting, and the buffet is Shanghainese/ Cantonese/ Indian fried food that goes perfectly with champagne. The couple at the table next to us was taking panoramas by keeping their tripods still and hitting “go” every two minutes, but we had no tripod, so, sorry.
Crucial things about Hong Kong that are different or the same as any previous visit: 1. In an effort to further economic integration with the motherland, some stores now advertise RMB accepted, and all banks offer RMB sovereign bonds. (different, or at least I never noticed). 2. I wanted moon cakes but they were out of season (different, but not the fault of any change. Just, you know, not New Year.) 3. Horse racing is unspeakably popular (same!). 4. The illustration below indicated why I STILL think you should just learn the Roman alphabet. Really.
We left as we arrived: with a destination chosen at the last minute and tickets purchased only shortly thereafter in a World of Warcraft themed internet cafe, sprinting for the departure gate as boarding closed on the last flight of the day, and battling typhoon rains during takeoff and landing.
24 hours in Macau. Taipa is easily reachable by a ferry* that runs to and from Hong Kong 24 hours a day to satisfy the Asian gambling lust, but mainland Chinese aren’t allowed to stay in either Special Admnistrative Region without special overnight permits so lots of casinos perk up the exact amount of time after midnight that the first ferry arrives plus the time it takes to get a taxi downtown. Macau used to be one of the Portugese outlying territories so the bilingual signs are that and Cantonese, and the big battlements on the hill are called Fortaleza do Monte.
*Or helicopter, but $600 for a 16 minute helicopter ride isn’t funny. On the ferry they serve plane food and you get boarding passes and it’s like a real trip, not a boat ride down the coast.
The very first thing you see coming out of the ferry terminal are signs for Jai-Alai, the cyber-awesome cracked out racquetball from Basque country, except it turns out to probably just be the name of the casino at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf (Chinese characters: water-people-water-gate) because we couldn’t find a court. Between the Jai-Alai and the Miami Shopping Center (really), there is Volcania, and just beyond that they follow the Vegas theme of having spare copies New York and Paris in case of emergency but instead of a spare real city they seem to have Kabul. In case of… destruction?
A very excited brush painter who kept informing us how much of a masterpiece he was creating for us and how it should hang behind glass in a museum (as well as some less intelligible rambling about hunting and calligraphy) painted our portrait in a spectacle of showmanship. My favorite Macanese (?) designer is Wun Ying and I will show anyone my handbag and wallet and coasters if you remember to ask.
Late afternoon snacks of deep fried pigeon, especially when the proprietor provides plastic food gloves so you can eat with your hands, are extremely satisfying. We went silhouette shopping for presents and missed the sunset in pursuit of the perfect mask before cabbing to the big fortress to do another nighttime photography shoot on the cannons. The Macau Tourism School runs an educational restaurant that closes too early to be healthy (last order 9:30!) but has a great wine list and the best carrot passionfruit sauce on bacon panacotta I have ever had.
While earlier I had been assaulted by a guard at the Babylon Casino for accidentally taking a picture of high-stakes baccarat (sorry, I shouldn’t have done it, but chill out), Casino Gran Lisboa is flashy and sumptuous and has cool ceramic chips so we lost $20 at roulette in order to keep the $5 piece. Tons of people excitedly playing dominoes and no alcoholic drinks on the casino floor.
Ferry home to Hong Kong before sunrise.