Saturday, November 28, 2015

An Ode to the Town of Hoi An

This is an ode to the town where the orchids grow on vines and hang down like lanterns.
To the town where taxi drivers park on gravely patches alongside the road, stick incense into their license plates, and slowly watch it burn.
To the town whose perfume is made from that potion of orchids and incense, whose melody is made from the creaking of bicycle wheels and the trumpeting of horns.

Now we are in this quant city whose beauty borders on boastful. In the afternoons there are so few cars that I can briefly lower my alertness when crossing the streets. It is wonderful to be able to day dream on the streets again. I welcome the walkability of this city. It is also a visual feast in its existence. Offering plenty even to the casual stroller. I like that about a place. I don’t want to wait in line a pay to see it’s main attractions. The city itself should be an attraction.

On the train we followed tracks that hugged the coastline’s waters and danced around the mountain’s peaks. It was the brightest day we had seen in Vietnam and the slick palm trees shimmered like glass in a leafy green forest. Strangely, he clouds didn’t retreat with the sun, they grasped the tops of the mountains until their peak were beyond visibility. It wasn’t a tight grip, something gentle, even kind. I saw these views facing backwards on the train. I hate looking backwards but I had no choice. The seats in the train car were oddly arranged so that half faced forward and half faced backward, with passengers facing each other in the middle. The views in the distance were slow moving, but close I felt the images were being  pulled from me at a tremendous force. Faster than a curtain disappears to the sides of a stage. We passed a small town where the backs of homes faced the train tracks, and one clotheslined yard ripped  past the other. If I could have seen them coming I would have known. But they snuck up behind me and vanished into the edge of the window frame before I knew what I was looking at. One clothesline after the other.

- Sunday , Jan. 4, 2015,  Nam Cafe, Hoi An, 7:12 pm

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Lighthouses of Maine

My plan: Portland to Bar Harbor and nine lighthouses in three days. Somehow I thought I could just drive up highway 1, and they would all be alongside the road. Ha. The point of a lighthouse is that it's located on the coast, and Maine's coast is no straight line. Most of these were a 30-40 minute one-way detour off the main highway. Thus, I ended up driving about three hours per day just to see them all. I spent at least a half-hour to an hour exploring each one. Lighthouses have been my Maine dream for years, so I am happy I got to see so many. 

Bug Light, Portland, ME

Spring Point Lighthouse, Portland, ME

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME

Cape Elizabeth Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, Bristol, ME

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Owl's Head, ME

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Port Clyde, ME

Rockland Harbor Lights, Rockland, ME 

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Tremont, ME

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shimane Guide: Hamada Edition

For a real local Shimane experience, head to the city of Hamada, just 30 minutes by car from Oda or Ohana. Again, Hamada can be reached by the San-In line, but the train is slow, infrequent, and can’t be trusted. If you do manage to get there by train, there is plenty to do within walking distance, but most won’t impress those already familiar with residential Japanese life.

For a little taste of something different, I recommend the cultural experience of TRIAL.
TRIAL is a budget grocery store for low-income families. Much like Walmart in the U.S. Or rather, a Walmart in the rural U.S. in the 1990s. TRIAL is the kind of place you go to see people in adult onesies. The kind of place where people forget to wear pants. The kind of place where people may be smoking while in line at the register, or gambling at the attached pachinko parlor.
Seeing is believing. TRIAL.

For a more elegant experience, try Café Michele just down the road form TRIAL. This café is run by a Japanese woman who used to live in France, and it offers the best Japanese-esque French cuisine in town. The lovely ambiance of the café is also perfect for a date. Just sayin.

Latte art at Café Michele

Croque Monsieur at Café Michele

Amazing Parfait at Cafe Michele

If you really want to be impressed with local food, head over to Suminoya 炭乃家 a yakiniku restaurant. Grill some of the finest Shimane beef atop a charcoal pit, for the most savory and delicious experience in the prefecture. I’ve taken many savvy Japanese friends from Tokyo to this restaurant, and they were all impressed.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Train from Hue to Da Nang

The ride form Hue to Da Nang only takes four hours and costs less than $5. This is the recommend  method for going between the two cities, due to the convenience and fair pricing of a train, as the spectacular view along the coastline. Unfortunately this was the worst of four train rides we had in Vietnam.

We booked AC soft seats for the ride, which ended up facing backwards. I hate sitting backwards, but had no choice. Awkwardly, not all the seats in the car faced the same direction. Half faced backwards, and half faced forwards, which means that you are staring at the person in front of you for four hours. Also, the Vietnamese have a different, albeit smaller, sense of personal space than the Americans…or the Japanese…or anyone I have met from any country anywhere. This means that them and their shit are all up in you and your shit. It drove me nuts. People were splayed out sleeping in the aisles, the girl in front of me draped all she bags and clothes over my seat into my area.
Although I had a window seat, I was on the wrong side of the train, not on the side of the coast. So while the people beside me enjoyed beautiful views of the sae shore, I was staring at grass and garbage. 
Train fail. 

Platform at Hue Station

The awkward seating

I was pretty excited when this large tomb came into view

Scenery on my side (the opposite side had better views

Disembarking in Da Nang

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Vietnamese Grocery Odyssey

Sometimes the best tourists attractions are the ones you would least expect. 
Sure, you can learn a lot about Vietnam by visiting Hue’s Imperial Citadel. 
You can also learn a lot about Vietnam by visiting the grocery store outside the Citadel. 

There you will find entire aisles devoted to chili sauce, Oreos sold with spoon taped to them, glasses and plates that come with the purchase of a ketchup bottles and so much more! 
I also discovered that I love all Vietnamese snacks. Cookies, cakes, chips, drinks. 
Everyone of them delicious.

Aisles of hot sauce

Purchase of Oreos come with the gift of a spoon

Purchase this ice tea to get a free glass cup

This mayonnaise will reward you with a spoon

But this mayonnaise will reward you with a glass bowl

Jelly candies by the kilo

New coat and red socks

 First time wearing this new Muji coat that I altered. Very excited I got to get in on the red sock trend before it disappears.  Coat: Muji ...