Stateside

I made it back to the states on Thursday. Vacation was great — far too short though. It was great to see a bunch of the old Shanghai friends, hang out with my SF peeps in Tokyo and Shanghai, and get up to all the same mischief that I used to. Having just 3.5 days out of the office wasn’t enough. I can’t wait until my next vacations: Burning Man and India. Here’s to a four day week!

Back in Shanghai

However brief, I’m back in Shanghi. Landed here Monday night and ate at Vedas (delicious), then on Tuesday went around to the old office and dropped in on folks and had lunch, then Pablo and Maya arrived from Japan. Drinks at People’s 7, then dinner at South Beauty, then went to this new place called Richy’s (an offshot of Babyface it seems), then had some food at City Diner. Always a good place to end the night.

Today, we woke up late, had lunch at Din Tai Fung, cruised around Xintiandi and I also went to Shirtflag and bought two shirts that are pretty awesome. Then it’s off to dinner at M then probably a bar or something like that. I fly out tomorrow morning at 11am, so it’s a quick saunter through Shanghai but I’ve had a chance to see who I wanted to see and do what I wanted to do, so success overall.

Last day in Toyko and in to Shanghai

Our last day in Tokyo, we made our way to the Tjisuki fish market to go browse a ton (or really, many tons) of fish. Given the time of the day, we met the crush of the run hour crowd. It wasn’t terribly bad via Ginza line, but everywhere the line intersected the JR Yamanote line, the mass of people moved in and our of the train. The worst it got was at Uneo, where people just pushed themselves on the the train.

I took a bunch of pictures, and there were really expensive fish – the most impressive were the tuna. These things were huge, something like 6 or 7 feet long, and the care in which they were cut and packaged was something else. It was fascinating seeing all the trucks and lorries transporting the styrofoam-ed boxes of fish for delivery all over the world. We also saw a box of fish that must have been an inbound delivery from Norway of some other fish. Lots of fish everywhere.

With the spare time we had before our flight, we dropped in on Ginza and strolled the streets there, then headed back to the ryokan to get our bags and check out. We caught the 12 noon Skyliner from Ueno to Narita. Given our slightly off timing, we made it to the airport with only an hour to spare for the flight. I was a little concerned, but the speed and efficiency that we made it through that airport to our gate was shocking: 23 minutes from train arrival to at the gate, including outbound passport control.

So it’s off to Shanghai on another JAL flight, from which I’m writing this blog post. On the agenda for tonight is good food and good fun.

Sensoi Temple, Imperial Gardens, Harejuku, and more

Sunday was a whirlwind day around Tokyo. We started the day right outside the ryokan at the Senso-ji Temple and went from there to the Imperial Gardens. Thankfully it was Sunday and the crowds across the subway were not terrible. The gardens were nice and quaint, but the problem struck as around 9am the rain started and did not let up the rest of the day, going anywhere from a drizzle to full pouring rain.

After the gardens, we walked over to the Yasukuni Shrine, the source of much controversy whenever a Japanese Prime Minister visits. We strolled around the shrine, but the weather was so inclement that we made our way quickly through it. I would have liked to have spent some more time there, but I think some of the most controversial elements are hidden away (such as the revisionist history view of World War II.

We ate at a little restaurant in the area, then kept trying to wait out weather in a coffee stop. With that nowhere near successful, we continued on to Harejuku and Omote-sando. Given the poor weather, the amount of folk in cosplay seemed to be tempered but we went through the side streets and ended up at some very boutiquie stores off of Omote-sando. We stopped in the Bapexclusive store (home of the Bathing Ape line of clothes), where I was keen on buying a hoodie but the $200+ price tag on each item put me off. The store was awesome, check out the pictures.

Akihibara was next in the day, which was total chaos (in a good way). We strolled around in the mega electronics store, in Akihibara Electric City and in to some manga stores. I bought some music (which sadly I forgot in the ryokan later) in a crazy chaotic store. By this point, our feet and shoes were fully soaked so we made our way back to Asakusa.

For dinner we ended up at a grill-your-own (forget the term) place, had a couple of drinks and called it a night.

Getting to Japan and Shinjuku

After 10 hours of flying, I’m back in Japan for the first time since 2005. I’m traveling here with Ben on a long layover to meet Pablo and his sister in Shanghai.

The flight was largely uneventful, although there was a fair bit of turbulence. I don’t recall this from before, but there was a fingerprint scanner at the immigration desk, along with a photo. Welcome to the new world order.

Getting from the airport to our ryokan in Asakusa took basically forever. We took the Kensi Skyliner train, an hour trip, from Narita over to Ueno station, and then transferred to the Ginza line to Askusa. From there it was a quick 10 minute walk over to the ryokan.

This is the first time I’ve stayed in a ryokan and we opted for a Japanese style room, which is basically a few futons laid out on top of tatami mats. The room is pretty tiny, about 8 tatami mats, but has its own bathroom, which is pretty cool.

After getting a few showers in, we went across the street to a place that served these pizza/pancake style meals. On each table was a skillet, and you ordered the components of your entre and they came out in a bowl. Most people in the restaurant (i.e. Japanese folks) mixed and mashed up the bowl and poured it on the skillet to make these pancake/pizza concoctions. Obviously not skilled in this, our waitress sensed our distress and make the delicious item. Topped with katsu sauce, it was delicious.

Once dinner was finished, we made our way via the Metro over to Shinjuku. Shinjuku is insane. Chaotic and full of people, the sea of humanity at 11pm (or any time for that matter) is stunning. We walked the streets for a while until we decided (more like I forced) to go to the Park Hyatt and have a drink at the New York Bar. A 1300 yen cab ride later, we pulled up in to what I still think is probably the most awesome hotel in the world.

Ben and I hung out sipping our 1900 yen Espresso Martinis (which, by the way, are as tasty as I remember them being three years ago), listening to jazz band on the 54th floor. Not a bad way to end the first night in Tokyo. We made our way back on the JR Yamanote line, but by the time we made our connection the Metro was closed, and we had yet another expensive cab ride.

I love this city. Today is the only full day we have here, so it’ll probably be hitting up the big sights and trying to stay dry (it’s been rainy).

Bike Messengers in San Francisco

For the first time today, I used a messenger service in San Francisco. And let me tell you, best idea ever. I’d used them in Shanghai before, but never in SF. I needed to get a package from my office in SOMA to a place in downtown, so I called up Godspeed Couriers. They came to my office within 30 minutes, picked up the envelope with the documents and said they’d have it delivered within two hours for $8. Way better than FedEx and a ton more convenient than driving to downtown, trying to find parking and carrying the package myself. Love it.

My Shanghai Top 5

I’m heading to Shanghai and Tokyo for a week of vacation in June, to meet up with friends and travel with others. I love Shanghai and to share, here are my top 5 things to do while in 上海, kind of my “36 Hours”:

  1. Y+ Yoga on Fuxing Xi Lu. I have yet to find a better yoga studio, with teachers as good and a small class environment. Not only that, but the facilities themselves are phenomenal in a beautiful old French building on a tree lined street, fresh fruit, water, and juice served after classes. Good luck finding that in the states.
  2. Lunch time mega malls. Take your pick, Grand Gateway, Metro, anywhere in Xujiahui, or in Luwan or wherever. My favorites tended by be in Grand Gateway, but that’s just where I spent a ton of time. All varieties of food (both Chinese and otherwise) during lunchtime, ridiculously cheap and so easily accessible.
  3. Old Town near Yuyuan. I could spent hours strolling through the streets here. Walking around, seeing the older side of Shanghai, without the 40+ story skyscrapers, people living real lives. Snacking on street food, watching the hustle and bustle, it’s something else. A close second on this would be walking along Fuxing Xu Lu until it runs in to Hengshan Lu. Leafy streets and plenty of little cafes to drop in to.
  4. Dinner at M on the Bund. I don’t care what people say, this is my favorite restaurant in Shanghai. Sitting right at 5 on Bund, the views across the Huang Pu to Pudong are incredible, the patio outside if amazing, the service is great and the food is delicious. Every time I’m in Shanghai and whenever I had guests, we’d made it out here. Glamour Bar downstairs is also great.
  5. Drinks at People’s Seven. Best. Bar. Ever. Hands down. Nothing I’ve seen after this place compares. A close second would be have a drink at the Grand Hyatt at Cloud 9 or Fuxing Gongyuan / Park 97 / Cashbox. The latter always comes in to play if you want to end the night singing until 5am.

I love Shanghai, and there a ton of other places and things that would be worth mentioning. In a city that moves that fast, it’s likely the places listed above don’t exist any more or have changed, but I love them all.