Saturday, October 31, 2009

What's the big deal?

Jusco is our local grocery store right down the street. That I know of, there's nothing fancy in it or around it, nothing special that would draw you in for any particular reason. It's just regular, everyday grocery store that just happens to be (as all things are in Japan) overpriced. Nary will you find a sale, or anything interesting worth going for, above and beyond everyday grocery items.

Having said that, I've always wondered at the crowd that gathers before the opening moments at Jusco on the weekends.

Some force draws people here, every Saturday and Sunday morning, to line up, if for nothing else but to be the first ones rushing through the aisles. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, as if it were the day after Christmas, scores of people line up and wait to get in. Upon looking inside the store, you'd guess that there was going to be shortage of food, a famine of rice or eggs. Alas, though, a 12-foot high mountain of soymilk boxes stand ready, and all of the shelves are stocked completely and neatly, with not a box or can out of place. $4 apples are on sale in the bins, just like they are every other day.

At 9 on the dot, the doors open, and you are ushered in to the sound of chiming bells and chirping birds, which is slightly reminiscent of a soundtrack that Rogers and Hammerstien wrote more than 40 years ago. All that's missing is Julie Andrews in a habit, although, in her place, are not hills alive with the sound of music, but the store employees, who have lined up on both sides of the entrance to bow and ask your honorable forgiveness for making you wait until 9 to get in, as well as share their honorable pleasure for the opportunity of getting to serve you so graciously each and every day.

And as the doors open, I am typing this on my 6-inch keyboard (while it's fresh in my mind), and 70- to 80-year old grandmas and grandpas barrel past me, angered by my lack of urgency. No joke. It's just what I imagine being on Supermarket Sweep is like, only with the smell of moth balls permeating your nose. Mothers with small children race past me to get to their kiddos shoved into the kiddy carts so that they can be first to the rows and rows of regular-priced frozen vegetables waiting to be purchased.

I just don't understand. Yet, something draws me as well. Is it the music? The honorable apologies at the door? The scads of oba-chans and oji-sans giving me the foreigner eye? Maybe. Whatever it is, I just can't bring myself to arrive any later than 9:00. I need to be there with the crowd. And now that I think about it more, maybe I believe, just like them like them, that one of these days, the eggs will actually be on sale...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vietnam, Part 2 (Wendy, Ricco, Jen, and Rachel do Halong Bay)

10:45 - After three days in Saigon and on the Mekong Delta, we arrive at our very posh hotel room in Hanoi. Thank you, travel agent Jackie Wong.

2:00 - We grab lunch at Acalon, a high-rise eatery overlooking the pagoda lake. We play 'how much is it in dollars game' with Dong, as we still can't, five days later, wrap our heads around the currency exchange. I eat the most delicious spring rolls. Ever.

7:00 - Jen and I sit down for a seriously delish Thai meal. And huge glasses of wine. We have a great heart to heard, and I am, as always, glad that Jen is my friend.

8:15 - We grab a good-looking kid to tuk-tuk us around the city for an hour. Our hips together don't fit on the seat, so we take turns sitting over-under.

9:15 - We meet up with Ray and Ri for the famed and not-to-be-missed water puppet show. Ri tells us that he has just been propositioned to buy weed, which, as a good boy should, he turned down.

10:00 - We all agree that the water poppet show would have been better had we all been stoned.

Halong Bay

8:45 - We get into a comfy van and brace for the four-hour ride to Halong Bay. Almost immediately outside the city, Jen spots cornfields and remarks, "Is this Heaven? No, it's Vietnam." We are sure the nice older gentleman stuck with us in this van is wondering what he did wrong in a past life to deserve us.

4:30 - We stop at a secluded beach. At first it's just us, and after taking a quick dip, we strike up a three-on-three volleyball game. Before long, other junks arrive, and before we know it, the beach is boasting with hot Europeans and a 7-on-7 game, as well as an entire stand of spectators. Beach volleyball has never been so fun (or hilarious, as I was only sporting a bikini, and not a substantial top of any sort).

5:30 - Before dinner, we sit down to chat with Peg and Paul, an amazing couple who just happen to be 2 of the 8 other people on our bus. Like us, they are world travelers, and have visited (maybe my details are sketchy on this) more than 200 countries over the past 20 or so years. It was such a lovely pleasure to chat with them and get to know their story a bit better.

6:30 - We decide to top off lunch's bottles of wine with two more for dinner, as well as two bottles of reallybad cherry brandy. Our eight-course seafood dinner becomes a lively discussion.

8:00 - I tried squid fishing. And failed.

8:05 - Another bottle of wine is ordered. Jen tells the waiter to put it on Kyle's tab (where Kyle is Jen's husband who is not actually on holiday with us).

9:00 - We open up the third bottle of cherry brandy. Hilarity ensues.

10:00 - Jen challenges Ricco to a drinking contest. Jen wins. For the next hour, Jen continues to drink Ricco under the table. I think he lets her. But, still, he doesn't even know what hits him (except that it was probably a bus).

10:30 - We decide to make mischief. Ricco and Rachel attempt to pull up the anchor by it's rope. I attempt to steer the boat right out of the bay (all the while wondering what kind of captain leaves the steering room open at night?). We attempt fishing again, and re-inact the love scene from Titanic. Jen, still the most sober, captures it all on film.

11:30 - We return to one room where Ricco falls asleep. Jen and I, now resigned to sleeping in one twin together (as Ricco-bear is sleeping in MY bed), take advantage of the situation by dressing up Ricco in earrings and a red cowboy hat. We leave him like that, take pictures, and go to sleep.

Approximately 2:33 - I am awoken by Ricco, who is about to mistake the window next to our bed for a restroom. Suspicioisly, his cabin is exactly the same as ours, so I'm not sure what that was all about.

Approximately 3:15 - I wake up boiling, and realize the air con is actually on heat setting. No wonder.

6:55 - We are all abruptly awoken in the morning for 7 a.m. sharp breakfast. Evidently there was no come-and-help-yourself option. Breakfast at 7 or no breakfast at all. So much for our only day of sleeping in.

6:58 - Ricco denies all soul searching and bearing truths of his heart. Or wearing earrings and a cowboy hat. Or trying to pee out the cabin window. Except that we have pictures to prove it.

8:00 - We take a wooden boat into the heart of the caves of Halong Bay for an early-morning view. In an effort to force ourselves into sobriety, Ricco, Jen, and I jump in for a swim as the rest of our fellow passengers look on. Within a few minutes, Jen's back in the boat, and Ri and I are left in the lagoon. Never one to turn down a challenge, and to the cheering and encouragement of our entire boat, we swam the entire way back to our vessel. Hangover gone.

11:15 - We get back to Halong Bay and gather our belongings onto a smaller boat which will take us from our large boat to the dock. Because she was in the bathroom at the time, the smaller boat, after failing to quick count the passengers, started to leave without Jen. We quickly stopped them to wait for her. As she finally makes it on board, Ricco says, "Wow, Jen, you really missed the boat on that one."

4:00 - We arrive back at Hanoi after a four-hour trip. I have never, ever been so glad as I was to find out that a) the receptionist spoke kinda-English, b) that she knew what a tampon was, and c) that she pointed me in the right direction to find them. Disaster averted.

5:00 - Naps for (almost) everyone!! (Because Rachel prefers hour-long-runs-though-crazy-death-defying-traffic over real rest....).

7:00 - We find a fancy massage place and treat ourselves to 90-minute, posh massages. Because we are decadent...

9:00 - Dinner out. I order spring rolls and what turns out to be softshell crab, which is served and meant to be eaten whole. With the shell. And there's no way I'm eating that. Luckily, the spring rolls are divine.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our First Night In Vietnam

(Written into the Iphone more than a month ago, this post, and the next have been back-dated to reflect the true date. Since the time was so long ago, there are no more memories than the ones described within these two. The writer gives sincerest apologies for neglecting to write more about this trip...)


11:30 - Having just arrived in Vietnam, taxiing to our hotel, greeting Jen, and heading back out, we walk up the street towards the places we saw on our way in and want to go now. Hungry, we are side-tracked by a BBQ restaurant hat is still open. Never to turn down food or a BBQ, Ri makes the exec decision to stop in for our midnight meal. We are server barely-dead prawns and a plate of raw meat, both for self BBQ-ing.

12:04 - We see an employee using scissors to clean out his toenails. Except that the scissors he was using are the kind that are the exact same as customers are given to us to cut our meat with.