Monday, 24 January 2011


The Emperor's back yard

Like most of us, I presume, one tends to have some idea of what Tokyo is like before one arrives. Whether these notions are true or not really depends on the amount of research one has done beforehand or whether one is basing one's ideas entirely on hearsay, on people they met at school when they were 13, Manga movies about football on Spanish TV and rumors about vending machines with dirty underwear in them. I fall into the last category.

I spent years with Japanese schoolmates who had CD players before we had Walkmen (remember the Walkman?), who ate seaweed while we were eating pretzels and who beat everyone at maths with their brains shut. Needless to say, I arrived in Tokyo with bated breath.

Yet, rather than arriving into "back the future", I felt like I was arriving home. The cobbled streets, the clear blue skies and the tiny little hole-in-the-wall restaurants and shops all felt distinctly European, and rather un-Asian.

Somewhere in Tokyo with large screens and a square. Rabbit-head is yours truly.

The modern architecture interspersed with old fashioned buildings were, well, a little Catalan?

Street in Ginza next to Joel Rubichon, where one can eat the most expensive savory crepe on earth ever.

That said, there is a whole other side of Tokyo which is the farthest thing from Europe that you could ever imagine. Blonde wigs, fake eyelashes, the shortest skirts on earth, love hotels (yes, by the hour, yes in the busiest of high streets), S&M outfits and glam boy bands that would make Jem wince.

Oh.. sorry.

Of course, the food was to die for, and I almost skidded off the treadill today trying to work off the 6 meals a day I enjoyed there.

But, why would you have waiters take your orders when you can use a slot machine?

Santa's workshop disguised as a French bakery

We will be back! And the warm toilet seats will not be forgotten.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Japan in the snow

Karuizawa with a spattering of snow. Experts say the hills aren't steep enough. Seemed steep enough to me!

If we weren't somewhat settled in Hong Kong, we would be packing our bags and moving to Tokyo yesterday. We loved it.

The trip started on the slopes of Karuizawa, where T vowed to make me a snowboard two days. Now, you know I'm not the sportiest of types, and you also know how I feel about climbing mountains. Well all of the above applies to snowboarding.

Anyway, we were with Babes too, who kindly arranged for her and I to have the only-native-english-speaking-instructor on the resort.

Two hours of terrible english later, an enlightening conversation on the ski lift which went something along the lines of;

G: "So, you must snowboard very well."
Instructor: "Ahh no." Grin.
G: "Do you snowboard every weekend in the winter?"
Instructor: "Ahhh no, first time." Scissorhand gesture, " Cut hair.... and make-up." Enthusiastic nod.

And after much time spent learning how to hold the board while walking ... we agreed T was actually quite splendidly suited to be an instructor.

Needless to say, my bum hurt like there was no tomorrow at the end of each day. But, relief was found at the hotel's hot springs (think sitting-alone-in-hot-water-with-snow-falling-and-the-silence-of-the-forest-around-you). After that, a large bowl of ramen, japanese bbq or an endless feast of sushi also all helped me feel slightly less sorry for myself. Not to mention the magic slow release muscle pain relieving patches!

Our cottage. Probably one of the sweetest (and warmest) little homes ever.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

New year's resolutions

The Financial Times had an article today on "Why can't I stick to my resolutions?" Their "sage" and "shrink" both suggest that often it's because the resolutions aren't important enough to you, and therefore, you don't stick to them. The article helpfully quotes Plato, as if to add weight to their argument: no one who was actually convinced that a course of action was right would ever choose to do anything else.

I completely disagree with all of the above, as the only resolutions I've ever stuck to were those that were utterly vacuous, whereas the important ones were always tossed aside:

Success: Wear matching underwear everyday
Failure: Stop smoking

Success: Get out of the office earlier
Failure: Exercise regularly

Here goes 2011:
Get French up to scratch - this will be achieved with a weekly French movie night organized by the resident Frenchman. So far, we've seen La Coeur en Hiver, and started Le Gouts de Autres but the latter was deemed too subtle for me at this early stage of my linguistic and intellectual development

Read more - I read some good books before 2011 hit, but now it's too cold for me to keep my arms out from under the duvet.. some sort of book suspension mechanism is in order I think

Lose 3kg - 1 kg already lost through cutting out Special K (which-we-all-know-makes-you-fatty-bombas) and limiting Michelin star restaurant meals to once a week

Wish me bonne chance!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Bali in pictures

T and I spent a delightful Christmas and New Year in Bali. Here's a recap of the holiday in piccies, with the exception of Ubud, where all our pics were taken with T's Blackberry, which got swiped by someone not very Christmasy.

Sanur and Tulamben where we became certified PADI Open Water Divers. Took 15 years for me to get round to this.

After Sanur, we were supposed to climb Rinjani mountain, but I stubbed my toe and-was-sure-it-was-broken (still is), so we went to Gili Islands instead. Tough change in plan. To keep up the "activity" component of the holiday, we became "Advanced" PADI divers. Saw a shark, and became attached to squids. I am now a squidatarian.

Christmas day was spent on Gili Air, recovering...

...and making friends with fish.

Next stop, Ubud. PIC STOLEN BY UNCHRISTMASY PERSON. The pic that would have gone here would have showed the rice fields, temples, trendy bars, getting massages, riding around on a Vespa and the Maya Ubud hotel.

Puri Jimbaran. Days spent swimming, bodyboarding and drinking mango mojitos.

Uluwatu. Where real surfers go, and wannabes watch.

Travel tips for anyone who might want a second opinion after TripAdvisor.
Sanur: Stay at Hyatt Bali which has pretty standard rooms but delicious brekkie. Learn to dive at Crystal Divers.
Gili Tranwangan Island: Dream Village is the place. Run by an eccentric Italian with a pet monkey. Learn to dive at Trawangan Dive.
Ubud: Stay at Maya Ubud, which is cheaper than the Four Seasons but with the same comfort and joy. Eat at Ibu Oka for the best suckling pig on earth ever.
Jimbaran: Splash out at Puri Jimbaran. It's not cheap, but it has deals on its website. Drink their mojitos and chomp up their pain au chocolate in the morning. Dine off the fresh lobster and snapper at any of the Warung on the beach.