Feb 25, 2005

Day 7: Across town and back

Today our hectic schedule finally caught up with us.

Last night's rooster is no longer alone. A whole brood of the creatures have been serenading the neighborhood since about 5am. Rie's feeling worse than last night, so we decide to take advantage of the no-cash medical portion of our trip insurance. She calls one of the participant hospitals while we're waiting for breakfast to show up and gets directions to Praram 9 Hospital, where at least one doctor on duty speaks Japanese. After we finish our yogurt, the friendly morning front attendant at our guest house translates the directions into Thai. This is for the benefit of our taxi driver, as addresses in Thailand are apparently no more intuitive than addresses in Japan.

We leave the guesthouse at 9:30, and the taxi heads east-northeast for about an hour before arriving at the hospital. This is where we will spend the next three and a half hours. According to Rie the hospital smells like ramen, but she prefers this to the usual sterile mediciney smell. Her doctor is Thai and his Japanese is fluent. The nurses, who speak a smidgen of English, are amiable, and the small male nurse with the large body language is our favorite. They check Rie's vitals and draw some blood to test. Her temp is just over 37C (98.6F), and the nurse announces, "No fever!" Japanese, however, apparently run an average temp of 36C (97F). So the armchair physician overrules the decision and declares an unoffical fever. The blood test is what keeps us waiting, and eventually a "nothing out of the ordinary" result comes back.

The official diagnosis: common cold (altho the chart read such-and-such bronchitis)

After picking up the myriad medicines prescribed at the hospital pharmacy, Rie's feeling a little better and we're off to Wat Pho, home of the shiniest reclining Buddha. This is the one Buddha statue Rie definitely wanted to see before we leave, and it's our only sightseeing stop before the evening dance performance at the national theatre. We take Bangkok Metro's one and only (for now) line south, transfer to the BTS SkyTrain's Silom line, which delivers us to the river. From there we hop on a River Express north to the Wat. (I'm really enjoying the variety of public transportation options, if you couldn't tell!)

Anyway, we're getting a little temple-weary by this point. Aside from admiring - really admiring - the hugantic reclining Buddha and his mother-of-pearl-encrusted feet (pics one and two below), we don't really spend too long there. Just a quick walk around the premises (see prang pic number three below) and we leave with just enough time to walk to the theatre.

The dance performance was, in a word, long. Worth the price of admission in the end, but long. Probably would have helped if we understood some Thai. The types of costume we came to see (pic four above) didn't come until the second half, only after a drawn-out first act that involved very little movement at all. Very precise, elegant movement... but not exciting enough to keep us weary travelers from nodding off once or twice.

To keep things simple and facilitate an early bedtime, we had dinner tonight at the guesthouse. What a mistake. Pasta half an hour past aldente for Rie, and a thin green curry with skanky freshwater fish for Eric. The fries and beer were the best part. Bitch, bitch, bitch. At least only one rooster tries to keep us awake at night.

Feb 24, 2005

Day 6: Ayutthaya/Bangkok

My trip notes end here for some reason, so accounts of the next few days might get a bit sketchy.

Our plan for this morning was to get up at a reasonable time, polish off a load of laundry, and see a few more temple sites before catching an early afternoon train back to Bangkok, where we'll spend our last few nights in Thailand. Laundry, however, took until 10:30 to dry. In the meantime, Rie read up on malaria and began to grow concerned that her continuing headache and general feeling of ill health might be due to a mosquito bite. February is supposedly not the season for malaria, and we haven't been to any regions where it's endemic. But the headache persists and she says she feels feverish.

We finally depart Tony's Place at around 11am, and bike straight for Phra Mongkonbophit (first two pics below), one of Thailand's largest Buddha statues coated in gold leaf, and the Wat that houses it. Right next door is Wat Phra Si Sanphet (third pic below, pics and background), site of the royal palace through the reigns of the first several Ayutthaya kings, and the largest wat in town back in the day. Phra Si Sanphet is best known for its three classical Ayutthaya-style chedis which survived the 1767 Burmese sacking of Ayutthaya (unlike the 16-meter-high gold-covered Buddha statue formerly on the compound).

From there we biked westward to Wat Lokayasutharam to see the reclining Buddha in pics four and five below. The Wat itself is largely rubble, and the main attraction seemed to be applying postage stamp-sized pieces of gold leaf to the statue's right arm or feet. The Buddha is resting his head on lotus flowers.

Since it was already after 2 in the afternoon and we were running behind schedule, our Ayutthaya sightseeing stopped there. We returned our bikes, ferried back across the river, and caught another 3rd class train to Bangkok. This time we passed on the taxi offers and instead found a bus (non-A/C) that would run through the Banglamphu area, where we would find a guesthouse to spend next two nights. The 53 bus ended up taking a circuitous path from the train station, winding around and zigzagging through Chinatown's flower market (sixth pic above of lotus vendors) and Indian clothier district before finally following the river north to Banglamphu.

Just a five minute walk from the bus stop was a neighborhood densely packed with guesthouses and other farang-oriented facilities. We found a basic room with fan - basic meaning a bed, four walls, and a ceiling - and then roamed back down along the river looking for a bite to eat. On the way we spotted a park teeming with some sort of group activity. Public aerobidance or jazzercise or what have you. Literally hundreds of people dancercising just off the river promenade, and the observers probably outnumbered the participants. What a great idea! Exercise as an organized, public, and social activity. Since there was no practical way they could charge the participants, I'm guessing this is provided as a service to promote good public health.

After a decent but kinda overpriced dinner we explored the neighborhood's shops for a bit before heading back to our room. Rie's still not feeling well, and the defective rooster crowing us to sleep from the rooftop across the street is no help.

Feb 23, 2005

Day 5: Ayutthaya

Up at 8 today, a quick yogurt breakfast, then checkout. The woman we pay for the room gives our $20 bills a thorough inspection, holding them up to the light, rubbing them on the guestbook, flipping them over and back over again. Must have trouble with counterfeit dollars in this area.

We catch our first and only tuk-tuk (kind of) for a ride to the airport. The guesthouse told us it should cost $3, but this guy wants $4 because of the toll for entering airport property. Halfway out of town, his cell phone rings and he decelerates just a bit for the call. Shortly he stops before another tuk-tuk - apparently the caller - and we're told the other guy will take us to the airport. The vehicle switch takes place without any cash changing hands, and the second guy tuk-tuks us to the airport door for $3. Alls well that ends well.

Returning to Thailand feels like a homecoming. There is a distinct lack of... desperation... in the Thai people that we only notice after experiencing Cambodia.

Rather than heading back to Bangkok, as was our original plan, we instead proceed straight to Ayutthaya, the capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767. Fifty minutes in a 3rd class rapid train, one ferry ride across the Pa Sak river, and we're competing with other hot-footin' backpack-toters for what rooms remain before the guesthouses fill up. We found a decent spot called "Tony's Place" that boasted just two vacant rooms, and a quick look at the crowd approaching from behind convinced us to snatch one up.

Our timing was lucky. As we crossed the street to rent bicycles and see a few temples before sundown, we overheard a couple of latecomers being turned away.

First stop, Wat Ratchaburana (site with some background and images). Second pic below is a view from the west of the main prang (Khmer-style tower), and the third pic is one of the two chedis taken from the prang. The first pic is a truck that miraculously made its way past Wat Ratchaburana. (Why does this, too, remind me of Mexico?)

Next, with just a bit of golden daylight remaining, we moved on to Wat Mahathat (site again, and fourth and last pics above), home of Ayutthaya's most-photographed scene - a tree root-encased disembodied Buddha head. In contrast to the stone temples of Angkor and the more modern and lavish temple architecture in Bangkok, Ayutthaya's Wats were largely brick coated with white plaster. The vending outside the temples is also much thinner and less aggressive than at Angkor.

Dinner tonight consisted of green curry, skewered meats, and an unidentified but spicydelicious dish at a popular open-air market in a Thai part of town. Fresh fruit and juices round off the meal before we bike back to Tony's Place. Rie's still not feeling well, so she heads to bed early while I finish my beer on the patio. At both ends of each patio table is a mosquito coil balanced on an empty beer bottle. Any season is mosquito season.

Feb 22, 2005

Day 4: Angkor Thom, some outer temples, down time

Today was another early day. Hoping to view Angkor Wat backlit by a stunning sunrise, we had arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 5:00 at our guesthouse. Sure enough, same driver as from the airport. On the way out to the temples we review with him our intended schedule. Since we wore ourselves out yesterday, a half-day of sightseeing will suffice for today. We'll be done by 10, which gives us the afternoon to rest and him the chance to pick up another possible "full-day" fare. (In hindsight, the Angkor temples deserve much more than a day and a half. If I ever return, I'd want to spend at least three days exploring the area leisurely. But we've been moving non-stop and waking up early for several days running now...)

So first the Angkor Wat sunrise. Our driver drops us off in the pitchblack out front of the main approach on the west and indicates where to meet him once the sun is out. Stupid us, we've forgotten a flashlight. Luckily an Aussie couple and their guide arrived just before us, so we follow them through the gates. It's about 5:30 now, and the ambient light allows us to pick our way across the lawn to the recommended "sunrise spot" just northwest of a reflection pool. A gaggle of Angkor-watchers is already there - half of them a Japanese tour group. Long story short: clouds to the east obscured the sun, and the reflection pool, probably much more reflective during the rainy season, was covered in pond scum. Glad we saw the morning Wat, but the sunrise was short of awe-inspiring. Rie heard a Japanese man somewhere behind us saying, "Today's is no good, either." This was his third morning in a row, apparently, and third crummy sunrise. Guess they can't all be picture perfect.

We locate our driver in the now dense throng of cars outside, and head into Angkor Thom for a morning view of the Terrace of the Elephants (first pic below), which was largely in shadows yesterday afternoon. Then out the Victory Gate, just to the north of the East Gate, and toward Ta Prohm. (Here's a map of the Angkor temples if you're interested.) Ta Prohm (second pic below) is one of the more junglified temples, and has been left more or less in that condition. It's also, I believe, where much of the Tomb Raider outdoor footage in Angkor was shot. Ta Prohm is another spot I would have liked to spend more time just soaking up the atmosphere. But we're tired by this point and no longer enjoying the sights as much as we should. And taking much fewer photos, as the lonely two below suggest. We rush off to one last stop, the older temple-mountain of Pre Rup, and return to our guesthouse just before 10am.

Rie by this time is beginning to feel physically ill on top of the emotional stress of dealing with hawkers outside the temples. And it's beginning to grow hot outside anyway, so we agree to spend the next several hours catching up on sleep and just lazing about the guesthouse.

Later in the afternoon we're feeling much refreshed and find ourselves reflecting on the joys and responsibilities of travelling in less-industrialized countries. There's talk of landmines and NGOs and what small and economically low-impact items could be handed out to the children who crowd around anyone who smells foreign. This last discussion is replicated in at least one travel discussion forum I've looked at since our return. The consensus there was pencils, pens, and the like.

Around 3 or 4 we head downtown to the Old Market area, and we wander around there for an hour or so, marvelling at the exotic fruits and such, until we settle down at the Red Piano for our first tourist-oriented meal of the trip. Actually, we stopped initially just for a drink, but the balcony atmosphere was pleasant and we were tired of moving, so drinks became snack became dinner. We stuck to the Thai and Khmer portions of the menu, and the food was not bad. As a bonus, Tiger draughts were something like a dollar until 7pm.

During the walk back to our guesthouse, we observed that security guards are ubiquitous around the bar and guesthouse districts. Comforting.

Feb 21, 2005

Day 3: Holiday in Cambodia

4 am wakeup, 5 am shuttle to the airport, 7:20 flight on a Bangkok Air ATR72 propellor plane to Siem Reap, Cambodia - the "gateway" to the Angkor temples. BA bills itself as Asia's "boutique airline" and the service, for a one-hour flight, was excellent and boutiquey indeed.

Most visitors to Cambodia (including us) need a 1-month visa, which can be purchased on arrival for $20. After having our mugs webcammed and our passports visa-ed, we were met outside by a friendly taxi driver sent by the guesthouse where we had reserved the next two nights. He was talkative and helpful all the way to the guesthouse, offering us advice on the best time of day to view various temples... but there were also hints that he was interested in a full-day fare. We had already made up our minds to borrow bicycles the first day and pedal the 6km from town to Angkor Wat, then rent a taxi for the second day. We told him as much, and he advised us to make arrangements with the guesthouse management.

Checking in to the guesthouse, we got a softer version of the same sales spiel. The young attendant feebly tried to convince us it was too far to bike, even though half a dozen rentals were lined up behind us. We assured him that our legs worked just fine, and that we'll take a taxi tomorrow, thank you.

(Now seems as good a time as any to explain that the relationships between guesthouse, taxi driver, merchants at the temples - anybody in Siem Reap, really - are probably much stronger and complicated than we innocently suspected on arrival. While our cab from the airport was not property of the guesthouse, our ride into town was "free," apparently contingent on first dibs at giving us a full-day tour around the temples. When the same driver took us to the farther temples on the second day, he suggested we eat breakfast at a certain temple-side shop. We declined - our bellies were full - and his attitude took a quick turn to the chilly.)

Anyway, our room was much nicer than I had expected. High ceiling with fan, toilet and hot shower, mini-fridge with the complimentary bottled water, and even TV and A/C. And little lizards all over the exterior.

Having explored our room, we hopped on the rental bikes and headed north to Angkor. The taxi sales pitch was nothing compared to what we encountered around Angkor Wat, and later Angkor Thom. First, someone was trying to collect 500 Riel (sure, a pittance at about 12 cents) for bicycle parking, even though plenty of free space was available just ahead. And the kids hawking local crafty crap... I'll get back to them in a bit.

Angkor Wat, the first three pics below, speaks for itself. The haze (taxis and motorbikes hauling tourists?) made it impossible to get a clear panoramic shot, but I'm sure it's gorgeous after a good rain. Ongoing restoration also means sections of scaffolding to work around here and there. The detail alone in the various carvings - and that they've largely survived some 800 or 900 years - is amazing. But even more impressive to me is the fact that nearly every inch of interior wallspace in this immense complex is adorned with such craftsmanship.

Before moving on to the larger walled city of Angkor Thom, we pause for some refreshment. The instant we step back out into the heat, a horde of Cambodian children assaulted us with souvenir postcards/textiles/woven goods for sale. I've had experience refusing cute little hard-selling urchins in Mexico, so I just shrug them off. But this is Rie's first such trial, and the kids - their seeming poverty, their fluent English and passable Japanese, and their "don't take no for an answer" approach - get under her skin. In this sense, visiting Cambodia, or at least this corner of the country, can be emotionally/spiritually trying.

We manage to free ourselves from the throng of kids with just what we needed - two hats to keep the sun out of our eyes and off our necks. Back on our bikes to ride another 2km or so to Angkor Thom.

We enter through the South Gate (4th pic above) - one of five gates to the city - and head first to the Bayon (pics 5 and 6), which gives its name to the style of architecture in which the "Khmer smile" is replicated on four sides of a tower. The young monk apprentices in the last pic, incidentally, were bumming smokes off a tourist. About five minutes after I snapped this, they cornered us elsewhere on the Bayon. They seemed to want something from us, but didn't (or couldn't) explain what. So our encounter basically ended like that.

It's clear that many Cambodians are addicted to tourist dollars for their livelihood, but there's a schizophrenia about the relationship to tourism. I felt just as strongly that most of the locals, rightfully, would rather not have us traipsing all over their land. Our afternoon is a repetition of the cycle: look at monument, deal with peddlers, look at monument, deal with...

Next to the Terrace of the Elephants, atop which we're greeted by a young man who very kindly explains some history and esoteria behind the place. Then, predictably, he asks for money. We simply thank him and try to remove ourselves, and he shifts gears to "guilt trip." Unless we give him some money he can't afford to go to school and...
This is starting to wear on even my nerves now.

It's been a long day and we're beginning to tire, so we head back with just one last stop in mind - the mount of Phnom Bakheng and it's popular sunset view of Angkor Wat.

Yes, the view from the top was nice. But the climb up is where we first encounter the people in real need of assistance. Children and elderly alike are begging along the rocky incline, all with one thing in common - stumps where arms or legs should be. A good guess would be they're victims of landmines or UXO (unexploded ordinance), still a widespread threat in Cambodia. If your country is not a signatory to the Ottawa Convention to ban landmines (I'm looking at you, U.S.), or even if it is, stop by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre to learn more about their plight.

And that basically wraps up our action-packed first day in Cambodia, aside from the savoury Khmer dinner at the non-touristy patio restaurant just a minute's walk from the guesthouse.

Feb 20, 2005

Day 2: Second first impressions of Thailand, Bangkok

Our experience of Bangkok last night was limited to the airport, our hotel, and the kilometer or so of hot, exhaust-rich air between. The smells and relatively lax approach to cleanliness and other cosmetic details in buildings reminded me of experiences in Mexico. Daylight and more interaction with the Thai people further the comparison in my mind. The place is just waaaay more laid back than Japan or the U.S.

Our hotel's hourly airport shuttle proves to be a reliable and quite handy form of transportation, as the train station for our ride into town is right across from Terminal 1. We plunk down 10 Baht (about 25 cents) for two tickets to Bangkok, then, with half an hour til our train arrives, we satisfy our grumbling tummies with a delicious spicy noodle soup at the station's open-air cafeteria. Condiments on the table include dry crushed chillies, chillies in something like vinegar, nampla (fish sauce), and sugar - season to taste. 75 Baht ($2) for the two of us, bottled water included. When will I cease to be amazed by the prices?

The regular train takes about an hour from Don Muang station to the Hualamphong terminal in Bangkok, passing a near-continuous stream of corrugated steel shanty towns and stray dogs along the way.

By the time we reach Hualamphong it's about 11 am, and I'm anxious to get some sightseeing done. We've got another early day tomorrow, after all. In my hurry to reach the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), I make the first of two mistakes on this trip: I fail to bargain for a taxi rate. Sure, many taxis in Bangkok now have working meters, but my brain empties itself of this fact the instant a sly tout approaches. He offers to drive us for 200 Baht, but Rie's meanwhile begun talking to a tuk-tuk driver, who's also mentioned a figure around 200. To keep things simple and quick, I say we just go with the first guy. Rie's not happy, but she goes along.

As soon as we get in the taxi, the driver does what all the guidebooks warn of: he tries to convince us that we really want to go shopping for a new suit of clothes instead. I'm now painfully aware of my error, and later learn that the ride should have cost us no more than 50 Baht. Live and learn.

The Grand Palace complex, which includes Wat Phra Kaew, stands in stark contrast to the Thailand we've seen so far. Absolutely stunning in detail and shine. Most surfaces, including the stone walkways, were clean enough you could just about eat off of them. And densely packed with structures and statues (see the first photo below). The density made it hard to get good photos of anything large, so below are mostly details. Guardian deities, a lotus that caught Rie's eye, a many-headed snake, and the ever-present glitter and gold. Click for expanded views.

After spending a few hours walking around the temple and palace grounds, we headed north to the national theatre to buy tickets for Friday's khon dance drama performance. Then we strolled back along the Chao Phraya river to the nearest dock, caught the river express to the aromatic Chinatown quarter, and grabbed some skewered snacks on our way back to Hualamphong station.

5:30 train back to the airport, shuttle to our hotel, and to bed in time to catch some z's before our 4 am wakeup.

Feb 19, 2005

Day 1: packing, flight, check-in

Today was the second-least-eventful day of our trip to Thailand and Cambodia.

We spent the early afternoon packing our backpacks, then settled in for the 2-1/2 hour train ride through a light snow to Narita. Because our flight was with an American airline (Northwest), our bags were given the thorough hand-inspection treatment even after running through xray.

We arrived on time in Bangkok International Airport, at around 11:50 pm. First step out of the plane told us we'd changed climates. Hot and sticky. Winter to summer in just seven air-hours.

Immigration was a breeze, and the friendly airport staff even opened up a few Thai-only lines to us fur'ners. "Many more lines over here... no problem!" Mai pen rai.

After baggage claim, we dazedly wandered to the "meeting point," where sharp-dressed hotel reps were waiting to shuttle reserved guests to rooms with bed and A/C. Our hotel, Comfort Suites, was cheap and - we soon realize - right under the major flightpaths. Check-in was conveniently bilingual, and our room was comfortable and quiet after we discovered the curtains were hiding a wide-open patio door. For our gastrointestinal security, the room came complete with two bottles of Singha drinking water. The first night, still being weenies about the whole tap water thing, we used this bottled water even to rinse our toothbrushes. Lights out at 2 am.

Feb 18, 2005

Expect no

dailysoy updates for the next week.

We're leaving the island tomorrow to visit some friendlies in Indochina, and we don't plan to be fiddling with computing machines in the meantime. After our return on the 27th, I may or may not post some backdated entries constituting a mini travelogue.

See ya then!

Kotowaza of the day: Travelling in pairs


Tabi wa michizure yo wa nasake

Meaning of Japanese:
In travelling a companion, and in life compassion

English equivalents:
An agreeable companion on the road is as good as a carriage
When shared, joy is doubled and sorrow halved
Good company makes the way seem short(er)

Feb 17, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: No one can talk to a horse of course


Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu

Meaning of Japanese:
Chanting Buddhist invocations into a horse's ear

English equivalents:
Like talking to a brick wall
Like preaching to a deaf ear

In one ear and out the other

This kotowaza is often lumped together with its cousin, Neko ni koban

Feb 16, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: They don't wash those, you know


Hito no fundoshi de sumo toru

Meaning of Japanese:
To sumo wrestle while wearing someone else's fundoshi (loincloth)

English equivalents:
Use someone as a cat's paw

To ride someone's coattails
To pull someone's chestnuts out of the fire
To rob Peter to pay Paul

The English equivalent and related expressions are the best I've found (or been given), but they don't come as close as I'd like to the sense of the original. Any other suggestions for sayings that involve taking advantage of another's position/possession to one's own benefit?

It's Kyoto time... do you know where your country is?

The Kyoto Protocol goes into effect today, 90 days after ratification by the Russian Federation.

photo from MDN

Ninety days was the magic waiting period after "not less than 55 Parties to the Convention, incorporating Annex I Parties which accounted in total for at least 55 % of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 from that group, have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession." Annex I countries include the US, Japan, Russia, Canada, and much of Europe.

Has your favorite Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to the Protocol? Check the list below to see!


141 out of 147... not bad.
Wanna know who the Party poopers are?


The Protocol is still the subject of some controversy, and there are those who even assert that it's a socialist plot to retard the world's leading economies. Economic reasons were among those cited by George Bush - President of the world's leading polluter nation - when he abandoned Kyoto soon after taking office in 2001.

To be fair, Japan looks like it will be struggling to meet its own goals under the agreement.

Feb 14, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Victor takes up the pen


Kateba kangun makereba zokugun

Meaning of Japanese:
The winning (successful) army is called the "government forces," and the losers the "rebel (opposition) forces"

English equivalents:
Might makes right
God is always on the side of the heaviest battalions
Losers are always in the wrong
History is written by the victors

Feb 13, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Clumsy yet determined


Nana korobi ya oki

Meaning of Japanese:
If you fall down seven times, get up eight times

English equivalents:
Life has its ups and downs
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again
He that falls today may rise tomorrow

Feb 12, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: One small step


Sen ri no michi mo ippo kara

Meaning of Japanese:
Even a journey of 1,000 ri (~4,000km) must begin with a single step
The longest journey starts with a single step

English equivalents:
He who would climb the ladder must begin at the bottom
Little by little one goes far
You have to start somewhere

Feb 11, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Dear hypochondriac,


Yamai wa ki kara

Meaning of Japanese:
Worry alone may induce disease
Illness starts in the mind

English equivalents:
Care killed the cat
Fancy may kill or cure

The mind rules the body

Feb 9, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Shots of catchup


Kaketsuke sanbai

Meaning of Japanese:
Three quick glasses (of wine, etc., as "punishment") for a latecomer to a banquet or drinking party

English equivalents:
Punctuality is the politeness of kings

Random pic #13: Past, present, future

I was wandering around Shinbashi one day, just a little to the southwest of the station, when I came across this charming vista. There were many like it in the area, but this was by far my favorite. First there's the stark contrast between the sparkly new Shiodome mega-development in the background and the aging vertically overextended shop-cum-residence in the fore. Then the fact that the surrounding buildings have all been razed, exposing unseemly mortar oozing from the brave survivor's bare cinderblock shell. Finally there are the futon hanging out to air, evidence of what life remains within.

As I said, there is a pattern of fenced-off vacant land in this corner of Shinbashi. Since it appears that small adjacent parcels had been cleared bit by bit, my first thought was Mori, who has plied this MO in large development projects like Roppongi Hills (the land for which was acquired piecemeal over a 20-year span). So I check the Mori Building webiste and, sure enough, it seems they're involved in a public-private "joint effort" with the Tokyo Metro Government to extend loop road no. 2 through this area (Shinbashi 4-chome), from Toranomon to the Waterfront.

For better or worse, Mori is leaving sizeable footprints all over Tokyo (and Shanghai as well).

Feb 8, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Get around to it


Omoitatta ga kichinichi

Meaning of Japanese:
The best day for action is the day of decision
Work on a project should begin the day it is conceived

English equivalents:
Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today
There is no better time than the present
Strike while the iron is hot

Feb 6, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Pre-history of the idiot box


Shibai wa muhitsu no hayagakumon

Meaning of Japanese:
The illiterate learn easiest by watching theatre (or TV, or movies, or...)

English equivalents:
Pictures are the books of the illiterate

Feb 4, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: To capitulate or not to capitulate...


Gomame no hagishiri

Meaning of Japanese:
Like small dried sardines grinding their teeth in anger

English equivalents:
Kicking against the pricks
You can't fight city hall
Like banging one's head against the wall

Feb 3, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Turf consciousness


Uchi benkei

Meaning of Japanese:
A Benkei* at home

English equivalents:
A cock is bold on his own dunghill
Every dog is a lion at home
A lion at home and a mouse abroad

*Musashibo Benkei was a legendary monk, warrior, and strong man immortalized through Japanese folklore and Kabuki. He has also lent his famous name to a part of the human body - 弁慶の泣き所 (Benkei-no nakidokoro), or "the place that (if hit) would make even Benkei cry." While this refers to the shin, it is often figuratively translated as "Achilles heel."

Random pic #12: Incensed goblin

Goblin supporting an incense urn outside the main doors of Nara's Todaiji, the largest wooden building in the world and home to the world's largest cast-bronze Buddha.

Feb 1, 2005

Kotowaza of the day: Curse of the college freshman


Chie ga kaette gai to naru

Meaning of Japanese:
Too little wisdom can lead to misfortune/disadvantage

English equivalents:
A little learning is a dangerous thing