Rants & Raves

more on Japan

Q: Why did we go to Tokyo, Japan for the Spring Festival?
A: Forest had a business trip there since Japan doesn’t celebrate the lunar new year. Tina and the boys needed some adventure so we turned it into a big vacation.
Q: Did Forest work the whole time?
A: No, Forest goofed off with us for the first 4 days and then worked his butt off doing a deal for the rest of the week.
Q: How did the boys like the food?
A: LOVED it. Great Sushi, Shabu Shabu (Cook your thin slice beef in a big pot of liquid), Katsu (fried pork cutlets with yummy sauce), Ramen noodles, Dumplings, Italian Food, El Torito. Mmmm, El Torito.
Q: What did you do with the boys in Tokyo?
A: Went to amazing toy stores, played with the crazy Japanese toys in the hotel, played hide and seek in Yogogi park, visited the Ghibli Museum (home of Totoro) went to Disneyland and Disney Sea, kept our shoes away from people and seats in the subways.
Q: How was Disneyland?
A: See our previous post
Q: What is Disney Sea?
A: It is the OTHER Disney Park with an aquatic theme that was awesome, beautiful, and fun. The rides were for bigger kids mostly, so we were denied entry onto the Raiders fo the Lost Ark ride and Journey to the Center of the Earth, but we loved 20 leagues under the Sea (Caetano calls it 19 steps into the Sea), Tower of Terror, climbing around a pirate ship and not waiting in long lines for anything.
Q: What did you do without the boys?
A: Spent a lot of money and time at the famous Harajuku crazy trendoid shopping area, went to see a Beatles tribute band at a club called the Cavern, where we freaked out on the Young John Lennon look alike and sound alike and laughed when the band stopped playing to tell jokes and stories in Japanese. Oh yes, we saw THE POLICE!!!! A truly lucky circumstance and really fun time. The band looked and sounded great (except for a few songs which they changed around and messed with too much). The crowd was the Japanese version of what would turn out to see the Police in the States. Old fogeys that either showed up in their work clothes or came in their tastefully non-conformist attire, drank beer, went wild reliving their youth. No drunken Karaoke, but we did have a drink at the bar from Lost In Translation where ScarJo’s character meets Bill Murray. That’s the hotel where we stayed, and it was swanky. Free gourmet chocolate every few days. Views of Mt. Fuji. Tokyo rocks.
Q: Were you glad to come back to Beijing?
A: Yeah. China is so different then Japan. So relaxed and free-wheeling. So dirty. But the food portions are big. It’s so much easier to communicate. Milk doesn’t cost $12 a glass anywhere. China has it’s faults, but for now it is home. But I do wish we had a toilet with heat, sprinklers, dryers and music. I do miss that.

Rants & Raves

Spring Festival

The Spring Festival has finally drawn to a close. Traditionally the celebration lasts 4 weeks. Chinese school kids get all month off and go to school the rest of the year. In the professional world, people take at least a week off. In the States I have enjoyed many a New Year’s Parade, but had no idea how much this holiday means to Chinese. Think of it as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year all rolled into one. It is a family holiday, and there are many migrant workers that see their families at only this time all year. People travel far and wide to reunite with parents (or in-laws if you are a woman). The traditions involve eating lots of dumplings, visiting fairs at temples, and lighting lots of firecrackers. Lots and lots of fireworks and firecrackers. Kids receive money in red envelopes and on the official new year day, they are not allowed to cry! Chinese people have lots of superstitions, and what happens on new year day sets the tone for the whole year. So you can’t let kids cry, you can’t fight with anyone, everything has to be just so.

Leading up to the holiday, people scurry about, getting ready for trips or celebrations. Lots of businesses close, including banks, and everything shuts down for awhile. In the States, you can rely on finding a Chinese restaurant open on holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, and on the Chinese NY in Beijing, you get your fast food fix from the European restaurants!

We missed out on some of the fun, since we went to Japan. But I was amused to see Chinese families in Tokyo on holidays as well. I took the boys to Disney Sea, and we ended up by happenstance eating at the Chinese restaurant. That’s where I ran into other “Zhonguoren” taking a break from the weird Japanese food offerings with familiar items like spicy tofu, dim sum and fried chicken with sweet sauce.

Celebrating the mid-seasons this way is very interesting. I think it makes more sense to view the winter and summer solstices not as the beginning of the season but the middle of the season and the mid seasons as the beginning. The darkest day of the year certainly never feels like the “beginning” of winter. And now that it is mid February, doesn’t it feel a bit like Spring’s around the bend? Well, it does here. The weather is warmer and our cats seemed like they wanted to mate, so we got the boy (Marbles) fixed. Over the course of the Spring festival he went from being a shy, skittish little thing to a big, sleek, panther-like predator. Maybe it was all the dumplings he ate….

Rants & Raves

Disneyland, Japan Style

The boyos had no expectations about Disneyland.  The 6 kiddie rides at the Seattle Center = ultimate fun destination for Caetano, and at LegoLand last year Carlos had a meltdown (albeit he was jonesing to go home and work on his fresh Lego purchase). Forest and I grew up making regular pilgrimages to the Magic Kingdom; we wanted the boys’ first time to be great.

Disney Tokyo turned out to be an interesting choice rather than the California or Hong Kong venues.  Interesting because Tokyo itself is one big Toontown.  The crowd, all Japanese, 80% single young adults, 20% families (making the ratio of adults to children 95:5) came to Disneyland dressed in full amusement park regalia.  This means black patent leather spike heel boots and gold sequined mouse ears; school uniform jackets and baggy pants pulled down to there and Jack Sparrow mouse ears; short shorts with suede fur lined boots and a Stitch costume hood; Minnie Mouse ears and matching cape (on a 20-something guy).  Who needs Disney characters running around when you’ve got this on display?

I felt a little resentment at this crowd when they lined up for rides like the kiddie roller coaster and Pooh’s Honey Pot Hunt because the lines were 40-60 minutes minimum.  When I was a teenager, I would not deign to line up for Peter Pan or Pinnochio rides. But this crowd thought it was all cool. And I hear they come again and again.  It’s a place to hang out.

It was pretty great.  Caetano kept saying “I love this place.” Classics like It’s a Small World and Pirates are fresher then ever, especially seeing them through our kiddies eyes. Rides that are new to us (who haven’t been to Disney in over 10 years) like Buzz Lightyear and Winnie the Pooh were awesome.  Forest kept marveling at the technology of the 100-Acre Wood, which had cars that moved without rails, and maneuvered in complex patterns throughout a very interactive and “21st century” exhibit.

Can’t wait to go again.



Rants & Raves

Cold but dry – Chinese New Year looms

There have been some atrocious storms in the middle of the country, but here in Beijing we are dry and comfy, if not freezing when we go outside to walk the kids to school just 10 minutes.  The air temperature hovers around -5 most days, colder being about -10 (all temperatures quoted in Celcius, of course). 

Tomorrow we are traveling to Tokyo Japan for a 10 day visit, we’ll get to experience the craziness of the airport on the even of Chinese New Year.  Turns out that more than 100m folks travel by train, bus, air in the week of Chinese NY, when everyone is under traditional obligation to travel “home” to visit parents.  Since many city dwellers are transplants, lots of folks attempt to get home.  Our Ayi (maid) and laoshi (chinese teacher) have both gotten on trains already, and a coworker just im’d me to tell me he had arrived home after a 36 hour train ride–standing, since there were not seats to buy.  The congestion in the public transport must be insane, with that many folks travelling–and the massive storms in central China have made things worse given that train tracks are clogged with several feet of snow, and electricity is out in many places.

More from Tokyo in a few days, where we will have un-fettered access to the blog (which is blocked in China by the Chinese Firewall on the internet, making it harder to post entries).