A Slice of Japan in the Heart of Bangkok

Hunting for a short-term apartment or long-stay residence here in Bangkok has been a bit of an endeavor. There are so many options. There are different parts of town that I don’t even know about yet. There is a possible upcoming beach trip with my Thai family, for which I can’t seem to get exact dates or information and don’t want to pay for a room in Bangkok during those days.

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I’ve spent a couple days looking around at viable options nearby. I’ve yet to venture out of my current area, Sukhimvitt. And really, the farthest I’ve gone was a couple streets over! So I decided to stay at a less expensive place down the street, with a small kitchenette and more room, until I can get a better idea of things. Also, I still don’t have a solid clue about my plans for work or volunteering, but that’s a whole other beast I don’t want to get into here right now.

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The new place, Luxx, is a Japanese style residence hotel with a sushi bar downstairs. It all feels very zen. In a city that constantly wears me out and leaves me feeling hot, dirty, and threadbare, grasping for any semblance of cleanliness and tranquility, I decided to stay here, which is a bit down the road from the major hustle and bustle. I can even see a few trees outside my window. It’s a bit more like an apartment in a residential area, with cute small scale restaurants and shops near by, rather than high-rises.

But most of all, I chose it because it reminds me of Japan. Ever since leaving Japan I have missed it quite a bit. Though I was often frustrated by the language barrier, I started to develop a real fondness for the place. The simple way they do things, the infinite cleanliness and order, the civil and proper way of things was wholly endearing to me. Perhaps this speaks to my OCD need for control by such things as cleanliness, civility, and order, but I did like it very much. Japan, to me, is somehow effortless, both serene and bustling, quiet and yet speaking volumes, its impact seen and felt around the globe. Both deep and powerful, yet simple and graceful, much like their Samurai archetype, Japan is respectable as a country and culture. And there are so many folds to its consciousness that I was not even able to see in my brief visit, but can only sense. There is something intelligent about the place and people that I admire.

IMG 0275 225x300 A Slice of Japan in the Heart of BangkokAnd yet, Thailand is trying its best to grow on me as well. I do believe its a beautiful country, with beautiful people -both inside and out. Most everyone is both friendly and rather attractive. There is something about the way a smile affects people here that is so rewarding. You see people’s faces light up when you smile at them. You have no choice but to feel happy in so easily making others happy.  I’ve not yet seen much of what this great city has to offer, much less the country as a whole, but I know that it is vast. Much like the food on which Thais so pride themselves, the culture is rich, varied, and vibrant. It has depths,  layers, and nuances that I’ve yet to uncover but can sense here as well.

IMG 0278 300x225 A Slice of Japan in the Heart of BangkokFor now though, I’m going out to buy a piece of luggage. I did my best to live with only a backpack, but several new acquisitions produce more than my backpack can hold. And for simply staying in the city it has become cumbersome. So I’ll don my sun hat as not to disrespect my prized fair skin, and venture out onto the dirty streets to sweat and walk long distances because I’m too stubborn in needing to avoid the confrontation of haggling prices for taxis, motor bikes, or tuk tuks. Plus, I’m listening to my Pimsleur Thai while walking around so that one day here soon I actually can haggle for something and perhaps decrease my newbie status as aFarang/Falang (white person or simply western foreigner).  As I’ll need a deep cleaning after this outing and am looking at more places tomorrow, I’ll post something more in a couple of days.

 

Sushi Zanmai, Tokyo

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Sushi Zanmai is an awesome, popular place for sushi in Tokyo’s, Tsukiji Fish Market. It is a bit touristy and has a long line out the door, but it’s worth going here as the fish is great and the prices are fairly reasonable. I went to their main restaurant, but they have also another, smaller restaurant within the market as well. I also had a line, albeit a bit shorter.

I had read about this place in guidebooks and that it’s one of the best sushi places in Tokyo, that it takes hours to get in, but that it’s worth the wait. So I decided to go check it out and endure the wait, even amidst the random fish smells and despite the throngs of people.

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My wait was only about 25 minutes at 11:00am. Again, I must emphasize how awkward it is to not speak the language, have people yell at you as if you understand what they’re saying. and then, assume you understand what they’ve just told you. In addition, there are all these customs and rules in Japan that you’re supposed to go by; and you are partially expected to know them (like not poring your own beer or sake, which is something one cannot help if they’re dining alone). All the while, people constantly stare at you, as an obvious tourist, which cannot help but feel judgmental at times. And I’ve been told by expats and various others that the Japanese are a rather elitist group when it

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comes to tradition: that they do not think anyone but themselves can truly master their customs properly. I cannot justifiably speak to this assertion, all I know is that I did not know nor abide by all of their customs properly, though I did try.

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I had a sampler of the various kinds of fish offered, along with a few extras that I had in addition to the set sampler that I chose from the menu. There were several set options of various fish, but I tried to choose one that would give me the most variety. The one I chose consisted of: scallop (which was soft, light tasting, and excellent consistency), fatty tuna (which was delicious. The texture was spot-on, with a deep, buttery meaty flavor that could almost be filet mignon. I could eat a plate of it.), broiled fatty tuna (also very delicious. It is the fatty tuna that has been seared on the outside, so you get the best of the flavors both raw and cooked. It tastes a bit more salty the raw version. It being cooked, the texture is even softer and more moist, as the juices of the fat begin to come out), sea urchin roe (which literally tastes like a half-melted dollop of fresh farm butter dropped into the the sea), salmon, shellfish, egg, sea eel, albacore tuna, sweet shrimp, red snapper, salmon roe, and yellowtail (all of which were among the best I’ve ever tasted).
IMG 1553 300x225 Sushi Zanmai, Tokyo My meal was also accompanied by staring off with miso soup and ending with a slice of asian pear and two plums. Though basically gorging myself on fresh, delicious fish, I did not feel a bit guilty or gluttonous by comparison to everyone around me, as they all seemed to me eating just as much in course after course. Moreover, I was only able to go here once on my visit to Tokyo, so I had to make one visit count.

All in all, Sushi Zanmai did not disappoint and, rather, left me feeling more satisfied than I had expected to feel, as I had somewhat doubted all the hype surrounding this place. Despite waiting nearly 30 minutes and spending over $50 on lunch, IMG 1558 225x300 Sushi Zanmai, Tokyoit was worth it. It was a great experience and I would not take it back or alter it in any way.

IMG 1552 300x225 Sushi Zanmai, TokyoThe woman beside me, and really all the people around, seemed to basically  be writhing in excitement to eat this sushi. It seemed to me like it was like a genuine treat and experience for them also, knowing, perhaps, it was going to be the best sushi they would ever taste I their lives! I had the feeling that some of the people around me had come from other parts of Japan or had

saved up money to come here, and that this was actually a life event for them, just as it was for me. All of this made me feel glad that I decided to come here, thankful that I had the

IMG 1551 300x225 Sushi Zanmai, Tokyoopportunity to do so, and vow that I would come back again in the future. I also had the distinct feeling that, because I had tasted such superb sushi, I would never be truly satisfied with sushi below this level of excellence. Alas, the double-edged sword of indulging in excellence!

Also, randomly while I was here, a family sat next to me, of which I struck up a conversation with the father who told me that he went to the University of Alabama in 1974-5, as a sports photographer for the football team! This is so ironic because it is exactly the same time in which my father was at the University of Alabama. It was so random and beautifully ironic. Once again, I am struck by feeling that life is such a funny, ironic place.

Harajuku & the Material Mind

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On my second day in Tokyo I visited Harajuku. I was told that Sunday is a good day to go there because the young people who dress up in crazy outfits and cosplay gear come and and stand around for people to watch, take photos, etc. So I headed out, intent to see the spectacle.

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What I didn’t expect was to go there, spend several long hours, and not even see it. When I arrived at the station I moved, piecemeal and gradual, with the crowd’s procession pinning me on all sides. If you want to see group mind at its finest unison, then you must come no further than here. Where bodies sway with the movements of the mob, where from above we’d appear as one organism, writhing and swaying as if kelp in the ocean, you cannot help but feel a distinct sense of mindless oneness.

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From out of the station I looked around, was unsure of exactly where to go, and so, I did the thing on which I’ve come to rely, and let the mob move me. I joined in the direction of the mass and moved with them. It took me down what must have been the main shopping street of Harajuku. Tons of people were there, young and old, tourists, locals, nearly everyone carrying a shopping bag, people pulling little, hard-sided suitcases that must have housed their shopping.

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Everyone seemed to be there for some acquisition. The tourists hungrily witnessed the New Orleans, Atlantic City, Venice Beach, type kitschy-ness, where wares and neon lights, cheap clothes and sunglasses, souvenir shirts, greasy street foods and good times seemed to abound. As the throng pushed rhythmically down the little street like a gesticulating colon, all eyes are accosted with so much light, color, and variety that, like binging on food, makes your head feel dense and foggy, beckoning the odd urge to steal away in an alley and vomit, purging this encumbrance supplanted on your mind.

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But this is a hard view of it. It was not all bad. In fact, the farther along, the more I enjoyed my mindless journey along the river of sights. At all times, and now looking back on it, it was like drifting through a valley of temptation, where at every corner something yells out to be bought or consumed.

What had started as a simple journey to see novel things had turned out, inevitably as it does, to be a test of my will to hold under external pressure. And let me be the first to say that I am not perfect. As I so often do, I indulged myself a little too much, and awarded myself more than I probably deserved, all in the name of living experience, or “yolo,” as the kids say, I suppose.

So, yes, I did break down and purchase a few things and eat some indulgent treats. But still, as much as I want to feel guilty or chastise myself for not having an iron will. I think, rather, that my will speaks more clearly to me; and it is a good thing that I listen. Maybe, as has repeatedly been the case in my journeys, that by listening to my will and voice, I am continually led to places I want to be and to people I care to meet. And because I trust my inner guiding voice, rather than the voice from without, I believe I’ll be lead to somewhere great, even if it means buying unnecessary jewelry and eating too many sweets along the way!

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Red Bean Paste Ball

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Pork Bun

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Cat Rings

About Me

I'm a recreational artist and writer who is moving from the US to work and travel in Southeast Asia starting in the Fall of 2013. I'm keeping this blog to share my thoughts and adventures. Thanks for being here. Feel free to follow my progress, post comments, and share in my adventure.

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