Tokyo Days 1-2

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My first day in Tokyo was challenging. I spent all day basically walking around aimlessly, frustrated, hot, and a little bitter at the fact that I had underestimated the communication issue of absolutely no one speaking English. Yes, I was, indeed, lost in translation. I suppose it was naive of me to think that everyone took English as children in school like they do in Europe. I had no desire even to speak to the native English people in my hostel. I imagine they thought me rather antisocial, if not rude, because as they were hanging out and being friendly, I simply came in the side gate of the

Ryokan and went to sleep early the two nights I was there. And then when they were all having breakfast together the second morning, talking, laughing, and close as a family, I felt rather like an outcast intruding on their personal space. But I had to leave early that morning anyway because I wanted to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market and Harajuku. And my reservation was up there anyway, requiring me to move on to my next accommodation.

It is very awkward, by the way, walking around with a huge backpack in subways and on the streets when regular people pull around rolling suitcases in crowded areas such as Harajuku (a major shopping area) or Tsukiji Fish Market (market with infinite different foods and cooking accessories) simply to house their shopping. They do a ton of shopping here! So much so that it puts my shopping habit to shame and makes me feel a little better, yet also worse in that everyone at all times of day and all areas of town are dressed up immaculately. Not to mention, everyone here is so very thin, like sickly model thin, both males and females! I imagine they thought me an insane, disheveled, chunky white person.

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So, on the second day, I put in my earphones, donned all-black attire, stifled my insecurity about being the fattest and worst dressed human around and made a better plan. Yes, a plan is almost necessary in Tokyo, if you speak no Japanese and can’t just ask directions or you have no cellular capacity and can’t just look at google maps. Much of the time the street signs are not even in English, so you can’t even navigate by them if you wanted. Whereas my first day I simply walked around going whichever way suited my fancy, my plan the second day was to ride the subway to stops of notable name and simply move in the direction of the crowd, gravitating with them towards bright lights, like moths to a flame. (This plan worked out pretty well.)

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Perhaps I should have befriended the British, Lebanese, or Australians from my hostel and either asked their advice or went around with them. But something about them was not a feeling of freedom and independent open-mindedness that enabled them to venture around the world seeing exotic places, what I felt from them was a slight sense of desperation. It’s as if there was something wrong about each of them. Either they were a little old or single, a little young or awkward, or possessed some over flaw that rendered them abnormal and thus outcasted in their own society. As if they were here not by choice, necessarily, but because they couldn’t stay where they were and just had to go somewhere. Now, even if this is the case, I commend them for venturing out in the world. And, normally, these are my kinds of people. But, I don’t know, here it had the opposite effect on me. I could feel their longing for connection. It was something in this neediness, I suppose, that kept me from connecting with them, as if they wanted something from me that I couldn’t give. And me, being here only a few days, and purposefully unhinging from connectedness in life right now anyway, simply stayed distant with them and remained alone.

A lighter bag, a nice shower, and listening to music helped me to get around on Day 2 without feeling too overwhelmed. There’s something bolstering about being alone, a free radical, unnerved or swayed by anyone. There’s something dangerous and powerful about it, about being able to go anywhere and do anything without help from others. There is something about having confidence in oneself, even if that confidence is wholly or partially unfounded. Simply having the courage to go at things alone, possessing assurance inside you, and wanting for nothing external is liberating. You are what you think you are. And when you lose yourself and your sense of confidence and direction to do things alone, with only your own mind, then you’ve lost all. Having a firm grasp on one’s own visage, desires, and direction is the goal and purpose of a meaningful life. Anything other than that is simply to live a life with no home or soul.

Unicorn Bar – Capitol Hill – Seattle

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The Unicorn is a cool bar in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. I would suggest going simply for the ambience, if not for food and drinks. I randomly sat beside the owner, Paul. We spoke about the place, as I complimented the unique decor. He said they wanted a circus type theme. I’d say it’s like Betsy Johnson as much as circus, but I see where they were going. And I happen to really love it. Along with the EMP, it is a place of my own heart and a redeeming feature of Seattle for me.

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I was aimlessly walking around, with the vague intention of going to a Russian restaurant for dumplings (I couldn’t find that place, as it was quite inconspicuous; and I didn’t see it until I was walking back home), when I passed Unicorn and it spoke to me. So I ended up there. And I’m really glad that I did because I met Paul and the former chef, Josh, who made the menu.

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Paul was able to acquire for me a half order each of the Unicorn balls (fried ginger and jalapeño pork balls with bento ginger aioli) and Narwhal Balls (potato, swiss cheese and caraway, with harissa mayonnaise). In the Unicorn Balls, the taste of the spicy and ginger, with the pork, reminded me of something like a lamb pakora. The texture was meaty, yet not too chunky or flaky. The Narwhal Balls were delicious as well. The swiss melted beautifully with the potatoes; and the caraway was a nice touch. Both were fried in a rather light, crispy batter. All-in-all their tastiness made me contemplate the prospect of a love for fried bar foods. (I am from the south, after all, and southerners do love things fried!) And I regret that I didn’t take better photos to do them more justice.

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I also tried the original corn-dog -the house specialty, in tune with their carnival theme. It was rather good for a corn-dog, a good size, though I couldn’t eat it all after the balls. The batter was great. It tasted like sweet, moist cornbread. And the hotdog, which they make, along with the batter, in-house, was not so bad itself.

I actually had a long conversation about making sausages with Josh and Paul. Josh, with an exhaustive sausage making book in hand at the bar, now works for a specialty sausage store in Pike Place Market. And Paul, an interesting and worldly Brit who also maintains a day job, says that this place is more like a hobby for him.

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We share a fondness for occasional indulgence and excess when it comes to food, and apparently decor as well, we spoke about that and of travel in different countries of the world. He said he stops by the place typically every afternoon, but leaves when the bands start -something I came to later understand, as this evening the band on roster was a death metal group. As the noise level increased to a roar, and many goth, grunge, and hipsters filed in, I, feeling to old to be hip, decided to go home and get some rest.

Passing this interesting painting on my long walk home, I was left only to ponder how things kindred to my own heart seem to find me, or either I simply seek them out, things I would not otherwise encounter if not for my wandering.

Tom Odell @ The Crocodile Seattle

The Crocodile is a cool little venue in the Belltown area of Seattle, an area with a slight yuppie vibe and much less bums than the rest of the city. The venue was a nice alternative environment, with a good mix of people. You’d see older preppy looking folks, hipsters, and younger looking kids just there for the show. I entered behind an interesting group of young people from some city I’d never heard of in Russia. The vibe was not pretentious as it so often is in trendy or hipster joints, making one feel that if you’re not 22 or on the cutting edge of the hipster scene, replete with biting, sardonic condescension that you have no business being there. No, this place is not one of those places and so it is alright in my book. However, as it nears the concert time, more young folks and staunch hipsters flooded in, encroaching on what was a chill, varied bar scene.

On an eventful note, I had brief encounters with Tom Odell’s drummer, Matt, and then later with their manager, Stuart. Matt, a proper punk British fellow, was quite nice. Tall and lanky, with aquiline nose and eyes slightly squinted, he was unique looking. For me, he did not scream Brit, but was something like Jack White, clothed in a typical throw-back look of punk rock 90s. Like me, dressed in all black, he wore a cool black leather jacket, an overcompensation that I’m not sure made him look older or younger. With ear length curly brown hair, he was a bit older than 22 year old Tom. Yet had one of those faces that I immediately like, and a nervous demeanor that was both honest and revealing of from where he comes. He was not a insensitive musician with overblown ego because of tasting fame. Both he and Stuart seemed surprisingly genuine. We talked mostly about travel and acquiring a global perspective about life. They’d just circumnavigated on tour from Europe to Asia to here. They’ll continue abroad in Australia next year.

Like the music itself, the whole band seemed rather honest and perhaps sensitive, like young people grasping at poetry and art, yet wanting to have fun and see the world while doing so. Tom’s lyrics and compositions lend an emotional indie vibe, while maintaining touches of upbeat pop in the melodies. It was all-in-all a solid show. They looked as if they were truly having fun, which I do not often see of musicians in concert while touring. Despite that they just arrived from Portland and were leaving directly after the show to drive to San Francisco, they did not appear lackluster, world-weary, or burnt out -except perhaps Stuart, who seemed a bit tired of the road, though, after-all, he is the one doing the running of the business.

“Another Love,” their most popular track, was a good live showing. The piano on stage shook as Tom got into the music, stood up at points, and bleated into the microphone as his shaggy blonde hair shrugged forward over his face. His lithe body gesticulated through his faded maroon plaid shirt, of a thin fabric that stuck to his body as the set progressed and the room heated. Online someone likened his stage presence to David Bowie. Now I’ve never seen David Bowie live, but I don’t think I’d make that reference. Maintaining the Britishness of his voice amidst interesting high, flat tones, he really sings as if he were laying out his self to the the listener and merely hoping we’d care, though it’s all really performed for himself. What I think is most appealing about both Tom and his music, is it’s simple honesty – of look, lyric, and sound. It seems to flow effortlessly and is what I think resonates with people.

I’m not exactly sure into what the band, and Tom Odell individually, will evolve with added fame. He/they could become many different things -think David Gray, Coldplay, or Nirvana, perhaps even Arcade Fire. I think they’re at the cusp of being truly big in the industry. It seems like they already have a devoted following and some critical praise. I was even chastised jokingly by some girls at the bar for explaining his music as indie pop, rather than singer-songwriter!  I’m redeemed, though, because wikipedia lists their genre as indie pop! So I was spot on.

As Matt left to take his to-go vegetarian pizza back to the tour bus, he said “it was a pleasure to meet you, Gina, I’ll see you later, perhaps.”  And perhaps I will. Stuart did put me on the guest list for their Los Angeles show on Wednesday at the El Rey Theatre. And since a friend I’d not seen in years was talking to me the whole show, I might like to see them with more attention. But even if I don’t see them there, it was interesting to have met Matt and Stuart, and I enjoyed the show.

Tom Odell and band will be on Jay Leno and Perez Hilton this week, if anyone wants to check them out.

Tom Odell – Another Love – Video