Sunday, 27 March 2011

New York 2011 Day 4

Last day and the final time we'd get to eat this..

..and see this. *sniff*

My main regret is I didn't buy any to take back to Japan. Today was the last day in NYC, so we didn't have much left to do. I wanted to buy some guitar accesories that are cheaper than Japan and Australia from Guitar Center in Union Square. She bought some red shoes.

From there we made our way to the Central Park area. I wanted to go to the Apple Store, check out FAO Schwartz, and walk around Central Park.

The iPad 2 was out but I didn't feel compelled to have one. Biggest feature seems to be the camera that should have been on there from day one.

At FAO Schwartz they had the piano from the movie "Big" on display.

Being the final day, the weather was just about as perfect as it was going to get. The sun was out and the chill was almost gone. Just my luck. We walked around Central Park.

I was secretly hoping to see my squirrel friend and here he is to say goodbye!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

New York 2011 Day 3

Even since the last Cheese Day, I've been on the lookout for the best cheese I tasted that day, Tete De Moine.

As just about any food imported into Japan costs a lot, this cheese will set you back about 7,000 yen! In Australia it's pretty expensive but here in America it's still expensive, but a more digestible US$40 for almost a kilogram.

Luckily the cheapest place I could find it was conveniently located only about two blocks from the hotel at Ideal Cheese. Sampleman was happy and there is a nice aroma of fresh cheese. The guys were kind enough to let me take some photos too.

It was fortunate that we bought it today. As a last minute check I found out they'd not be open on a Sunday. Taking cheese back into Japan seems like it's ok.

Before we got the cheese, I thought it'd be a good idea to stock up on things that I can't get so easily back in Japan. Namely good anti-perspirant deodorants! I had a wonderful, long time in Bed, Bath and Beyond merrily throwing things in my shopping basket. Colgate toothpaste, sunscreen, Mr Bubble bubble bath and two Arrid XX Cool Shower deodorants. I picked up a cheap Moka Pot and a stainless steel thermos as well for good measure. I didn't really account for the sales tax, but it was worth it.

After wasting too much time doing all this we walked into midtown Manhattan's Rockfeller Center area.

Moving right along we made our way towards SoHo and decided to have lunch at Katz Delicatessen, most famous for the classic Meg Ryan "orgasm" scene in "When Harry Met Sally".

We had to wait in a line outside and inside the place was totally packed as well. As you can see from the sign, we were sitting very close to where the scene was shot.

We had one of their famous pastrami sandwiches. I'm pretty sure it's what Meg had :) It was amazing.

Feeling well fed we walked nearby to the Bowery area. I wanted to see the legendary CBGB, or at least where it once was.

Now the place is John Varvatos, an expensive rock'n'roll boutique selling overpriced wares to wannabe rockstars. Sure, it's slightly better than being turned into a bank, but this place smells like Ed Hardy consumerism. The punks must not be too pleased.

It's nice that they left a lot of the graffiti memorabilia on the walls and vents.

For the money I shouldn't have, but I ended up buying a pair of limited edition green Connies from there. They cost a bit more than they'd cost in Japan, but here in America I could've bought something similar for a whole lot less. Still about the same as in Australia, so not all bad.

She bought an "All My Friends Are Dead" book at the New Museum on Bowery. Her birthday was the next day so I got her a Marimekko bag from Crate & Barrel in Soho.

Friday, 25 March 2011

New York 2011 Day 2

We packed so much into our first day the remaining days were quite lax in comparison.

The weather was much colder than last time, and definitely colder than Tokyo, constantly around the zero mark and even dropping below that. It didn't really make us want to do a whole lot.

After scoffing our morning Ess-A-Bagel, we decided to go downtown to the Ground Zero again. There's been a lot of progress and the site seems to really be taking shape. The towers are quite recognisable, as are the footprints of the former twin towers.
Inspired by the movie, "Working Girl", and the tightness of my wallet we caught the free Staten Island ferry to take a few photo ops of the Statue Of Liberty. I REALLY wanted to go up to the crown of Ms Liberty, but tickets to climb weren't available until May so the cheapest way to get a close enough view was to catch this ferry.
It was much better than I expected for the (zero) price. You don't have a lengthy security line, and the queue itself passed through very quick. It was going to just be an up and back trip. There doesn't seem to be too many people hanging around to look around Staten Island.
While waiting to catch the ferry back we heard the cool sounds of Heth and Jed. I liked how they fed their sound in a looper to provide a bit of a beat, and echoed sounds. Quite trippy.

Around Wall St I noticed a lot of fire escapes. I took a few pictures of them. Why? I don't know. It kind of reminded me of West Side Story.

Next stop was Little Italy. It's our first time here. It felt pretty much like a tourist trap, but we couldn't leave without having the delectable cannoli, and by night we had a pizza at Da Nico. Even with tax and service, it was much cheaper than pizza in Tokyo, and definitely closer to the real thing from Italy than Japan's version of what it should be.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

New York 2011 Day 1

Before the earthquake happened I had planned to go overseas using my "use or lose" leave days.

Out of all the places I'd thought of, America seemed to have the best fares. It was between San Francisco or New York. We probably SHOULD have went to San Francisco, but there were places, and things to do that we missed last time that it was a good enough excuse to go again.

I was in New York between the 24th and 27th of March. I intended to go the week earlier and changed because of what was supposed to be the last week of the kid's classes, but now in hindsight of all the disruptions caused by "311", I'm really glad we went when we did.

Our flight was to leave Haneda airport at 6:40 am, so we decided to get there the night before and "sleep" at the airport. There were less train services going towards the airport. The Chuo line even completely lost power for the longest few minutes. We were extremely lucky to make the last service going to the airport for the night.

It's fantastic that they are doing international flights to and from Haneda now. It's far preferable than taking the long trip out to Narita. The airport is nice. While we didn't get much sleep, there are plenty of places to crash for a snooze. There is also free wifi internet available.

Leaving when we did allowed us a full day arriving in NYC at 6:15 am.

We booked into the Pod Hotel in Manhattan again. For a nice clean place with the privacy of your own room, the price is great. I thought all the rooms were the same tiny size, but this one actually had a bit more walking space around the beds. Nice.

I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but one big reason of coming back to New York was the chance to get some more Ess-A-Bagel goodness. As soon as we offloaded our baggage, we made a bee-line to get some. I once said that there was a bagel shop in Tokyo that was close to these ones, but having these again, I have to say these can't be beat.

Suffice to say, every morning we'd be having bagels for breakfast. If I stayed in America too long, I'd be filling out my bones in no time.

Although we could see the Chrysler Building from a distance near our hotel, last time we didn't go up and take a closer look. Strangely we totally forgot to check out Grand Central Station too.
I'm a fan of the original Ghostbusters movie so the New York Public Library was on my "to see" list. None of the rooms looked like the haunted rooms of the opening scene (believe me I searched), but it was a bit of deja vu to see an exhibition called, "Radioactive". That hit a little close to home.

From here we made our way to Times Square. Nearby there were fliers informing of closed streets for a film shoot. Interesting!

An unusual building not too far away from here is the Flatiron Building. From seeing it in pictures I imagined it to be a longer building. Across the road we had some cannoli from Eataly. Mmm.

A cat was behind a restaurant window that although looking nothing like Nikon (the cat, not the camera), reminded us of our little camera-shy buddy in Tokyo. At first I thought this one wasn't real. She didn't move all that much. This one didn't care much for the camera either. Bah, cats pfft!

One very interesting urban renewal project in the meatpacking district around Chelsea is the High Line, an above ground disused railway track turned into a kind of park walkway. It's not totally finished yet, but it gives an unusual perspective of NYC elevated from street level.

Nearby there are quite a few boutiques taking advantage of this location. Another surprise here was Chelsea Market, a former biscuit factory turned into food shops and restaurants. Looks great.

We were both disappointed that last time we missed out to see the broadway musical "Wicked". So to end our first day we decided to try our luck hopefully scoring a set of tickets.

Being a weekday we thought we might have a chance. Close to showtime hordes of people poured into the foyer in large groups. I thought we'd have no chance at all BUT.. we got in!

Our seats were fairly close to the stage.

What did I think of the show? The story, acting and sets were great. I was a little disappointed with the songs. There was nothing particularly memorable. These weren't songs you'd be whistling on the way home.

Still, I was totally wrapped that we got to see it and it was a great way to end our first day back in NYC!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Earthquake Weekaversary

Usually weeks pass by extremely fast here in Tokyo, but this week has been the slowest week ever.

I felt now was the right time, a week since "the big one" that I should update everyone and hopefully inform them of my experience here in Tokyo.

The overblown media attention has got my friends and family back home in hysterics worried about my safety here in Japan. So it needs to be said that I am safe and well.

People should firstly understand that most of the damage occurred around the Sendai/Fukushima area which is around 300km away. The destruction in Minami Sanriku was largely caused by the tsunami that followed the tremors. This photo essay by Max Hodges shows some tearful, but dramatic images.

Please have a good look at a map of Japan, people!

There have been so many reports of higher radiation in Tokyo, but from what I read even in a worse-case scenario of a meltdown or windblown radioactive debris and acid rain, the risk being far away here is reasonably low.

This video is a good representation of the Fukushima plant as depicted with Nuclear Reactor Boy wanting to have a poo.

Although there have been reports of rolling blackouts, I have yet to experience any shortage of power. It's strange seeing the vending machines switched off. Surely that will be enough to supply a small town of electricity! The train schedules have been cut back to save electricity but knowing exactly how they're running is still a bit vague.

The supermarkets and convenience stores are still devoid of bread, milk and noodles, (and toilet paper!) from people's unnecessary panic buying, but other foodstuffs are plentiful and I am not worried about that at all.

Reports that people are panicking and leaving Tokyo in droves is just not true. I was out yesterday and today people are going about their normal business as calmly as before.

What may be of concern are the ongoing aftershocks.

Usually in Tokyo it's not unusual to feel earthquakes, but ever since last Friday there have been so many I've lost count. What is a little more comforting is that they are about the usual strength (between 4.6-6), and last only around ten seconds. I'm not scared, but it does put one "on edge".

I am weary, but not so much from what is happening around me. The calls to come home make me tired. Four years here I have a lot to prepare, and with that a lot of "baggage". I'm not quite ready to leave just yet. Still a lot of unfinished business.

Before this all happened, I had already planned a short time-out of Japan. So, next week I'll be in another country, and have a much-needed reprieve from what's going on.

Friday, 11 March 2011


I guess this is one way to get me to write a new post.

I was just minding my business at about 2:50pm waiting for my train to leave, and there was this shaking like they were trying to lift the train up, and it got all rickety and started shaking more and more.

This was definitely the biggest quake that I felt since I've been here. Later I found out it was an 8.9 quake, bigger than the famous 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake!

We were told to leave first the train, and then the station. The announcements were in Japanese so I didn't know what was going on. For some reason I was thinking that I was going to be late for work.

I tried calling my workplace and the line was dead. People were lining up to use payphones. Cars everywhere were in gridlock, and people were walking around everywhere like it is when there is a festival on. So many people!

I found some wifi and let my family know I was ok. I even Skyped so I could show them what was going on around me. I waited and waited, and just decided to walk home. Lucky I have good bearings (and gps) to get back. Thankfully I wasn't TOO far from home, as they even decided to shut down every train line for the night.

From then, up to the time I write this there have been a lot of aftershocks, but nothing more than what is a usual rumble in day to day Tokyo.

Let's hope it stays that way.

Never one to miss a video opportunity I filmed the event as it happened. Yes, my heart was in my stomach.

What would you do in a situation like this?