Saturday, September 11, 2010

Singapore. Delicious, delicious Singapore.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Wendy and my culinary adventures in Singapore started before we even entered the country, thanks to the gourmet stylings of Thai Airways. Our first meal (I had lemon chicken, Wendy had Japanese-style salmon) was delicious. Our second meals were no less so. Wendy went with salmon again, this time a salmon curry:

and I had a lamb steak.



You heard me right. Lamb. Steak. And not just some weaselly little portion, or cafeteria-grade chunks of gristle in sauce. We're talking at least six ounces of nice-cut tender meat. Look at the cross-section!


Seriously, the food was so good that if Thai Airways were a restaurant, Wendy and I would have gone back. I am just praying the return meal lives up to it.

And then it was off to the conference for our first day (more on the conference later. Maybe. I have my priorities, and they are food.) until we were liberated for an evening seeing the sights and tasting the tastes of Little India.


My feet, God bless them, magically led me right back to the amazing dessert bakery Justin and I visited on our previous trip. We waited inside for a while and then confessed to the man behind the counter that we had no idea what anything was, whereupon he broke off and gave us tasters of something like eight different foods. It was amazing.

Here is Wendy, smiling the chagrined but unrepentant smile of the just-ate-too-many-Indian-desserts:

On to another restaurant. Here, I demonstrate the influence that Scotland had on me: I love a lassi!Thank you. I'll be here for the next two years.

I had poori with a chana masala and some sort of potato thing, which I didn't much care for, but just as well, because otherwise I would have eaten myself sick. As it was, I just got a bit full for comfort.


Our stomachs thought they were safe when we got back to Orchard Road, the stop nearest our hotel. Poor, naive stomachs. This is Singapore! There is no such things as "safe from food.". We got lost, because Orchard Road doesn't have surface pedestrian crossings, and in going underground trying to find an underpass, we stumbled upon Mooncake Madness:

The Chinese mid-autumn festival is going on now, and it is traditional to give moon cakes (little sweet doughy balls with various fillings) to friends and relatives to celebrate the story of the moon goddess. At least that's what the salesguy told me. And all the booths had samples set out! What was a girl to do, but get eatin'?

Cranberry:


Delicious. Sweet, smooth, and creamy. Maybe a bit like a light strawberry mousse flavor. My favorite.

White Lotus:




Traditional. Somewhat milder. Tasted oddly like banana.

Durian:

Durian, my old foe. You may recall our encounter with durian the last time we came here, when we drank the durian smoothie that reminded us rather of the aftertaste of vomit. But I shall not let durian defeat me! It is there to try, and you were all counting on me to try it! (You didn't know it, maybe, but you were. I could hear you. Maybe I should get that checked.) See me saddle up and take my durian like a man!

Victory! It tasted basically like the dough in chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream. Nothing to be afraid of. The score is now durian 1, me 1. In the words of Earthworm Jim, cartoon character of my childhood: "You are a worthy foe indeed. We'll call it a draw."

Morning Beach Ride (Photo Post)

Had a delightfully cool, clear morning today. (Well, cool for this town, at least.) So I took a long bike ride along the river near our house, and along the two nearby beaches. Here are a few photos from the ride.

View from the small beach just east of Momochi, looking west towards Fukuoka Tower.

("Our" beach, Momochi Beach, is right in front of the tower.)

From the jetty at Meinohama (the next beach to the west), looking towards Momochi.
There were a ton of people out fishing this morning. Our landlord says Hakata Bay is famous for sea bass, but I only saw people reeling in these dinky little things, which you could see swimming by in big schools.

Here are some more folks fishing, with the outlet malls in the background.

That big ferris wheel doesn't run anymore, but the small one behind it does.

In the shot below you can see the wedding chapel near the outlet mall.

These wedding chapels are big business in Japan, and you can find them almost anywhere with a nice view.

Here's one more look back towards Momochi. We get some great clouds rolling down off the mountains, especially in the afternoon right before it rains.

Finally, what seems to be some kind of octopus warning on the jetty at Meinohama.
Don't know if these little guys are supposed to be endangered or poisonous. I'm betting endangered--if they were poisonous, it'd make a lot more sense to warn the swimmers!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thai-riffic!



Reporting in from the airport in Bangkok, Thailand, which I am now adding to my list of countries where I've never been out of the airport (other lucky winners are Belgium, the Netherlands, and France). And I have to say - if you ever have the chance to fly Thai Airways, do! The in-flight meal was restaurant quality lemon chicken with fried rice. When the steward went by with a tray of drinks, I asked if it was juice, and he said it was tea. I said oh, okay. And then he came back five minutes later with juice, just for me! And what did the give us when we got off the plane?

That's right. ORCHID CORSAGES. How fabulous am I?

Taking off for Singapore shortly... but I kind of want to stay here!

Half off to Singapore

I'm going to Singapore in about four hours for an IB training conference. Justin has to stay here, which sucks not just because of how much I will miss him, but also because how much he will miss Singapore! I mean, do you remember how strongly we feel about Singapore?

So it's me and the science teacher Wendy (of the Nate and Nedy blog linked to on the sidebar), and we'll be back Monday morning via redeye. Wish me safe travels and lots of good training! Send Justin nice emails while I'm gone!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Maladjusted Malou

Tropical Storm Malou passed by Fukuoka yesterday. Our school took its cue from the Japanese schools in the area, which closed early, which led to our having a free afternoon of what turned out to be some of the nicest weather since we got here. By evening some rain fell, and I assume that out at sea the waves got a bit dicey, so maybe it wasn't a total overreaction (we do have students commuting to and from school on the ferry). Mostly, though, it was an unexpected afternoon off.

Malou's still hanging over us today, though. The air is cool but so damp it feels like you've stuck your whole body in a humidifier. Basically, it's like living in a cloud. I worry about my electronics!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blinded by the Light at Dazaifu

My apologies for the overexposed images here. The sun at Dazaifu was so bright that Justin actually had to use a post-production filter to turn down the color of the sidewalk. Madness!

A group of us teachers schlepped out to the town and temple complex of Dazaifu via subway, train, and subway again, a not-at-all arduous journey that took less time than just getting downtown from our home in Seoul. (The reversible seats were pretty cool, too).

Waiting for fearless leader Maureen to tell us what to do for train tickets:

Local train:
Upon arrival in Dazaifu, Justin and fellow teacher Robert have a photo duel:
A local Dazaifu food specialty is Umegae-mochi (mochi is the Japanese for rice cake, which we knew as "tteok" in Korea). This is a little rice flour bun filled with a hot, sweet red bean paste cooked on these little griddle pans:

We got a bag for the teachers and passed it around. Each bun came individually saran-wrapped, which felt a bit excessive but upon reflection is probably necessary to keep them from melding with each other and forming one giant Umegae-mochi to rule them all. You can't be too careful.

Verdict: too hot to eat, but delicious once cooled.

We walked up the hill to the large Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine complex. It has an attractive facade:
and a lovely Monet's Garden footbridge:



There was, as you can see, shade around this area, so we spent a lot of time there. It was absolutely roasting hot - one of those days where your body is sweating on absolutely ever skin surface, including places you could swear didn't have sweat glands. Honestly, I think my fingernails were sweating.

The entire point of going to Japanese temples appears to be to buy things and then tie them to things. In the past you saw me tie up my depressing fortune. Here people seem to tie gourds. Why not? You gotta tie something.





But we were really there for the flea market. There are stalls spread out through the temple grounds - certainly more than fifty. They're known as a good place to buy old kimono. (Kimonos? I'm pretty sure kimono is its own plural, but I could be wrong).


Justin found a Christmas present for his mom (no, I'm not going to tell you what it is!). I waffled over buying a piece of fabric that I found with a Japanese World War II propaganda print. The price wasn't terribly high, about $20 USD, but the fabric has some holes in it because of the age. On the other hand, ever since I got a book called "Wearing Propaganda" out of the library at Edinburgh, it was the thing I promised myself I'd try to find here - for classroom use as well as for personal interest. Finally, Justin persuaded me to just buy it (we've spent $20 on stupider things). So here is my flea market propaganda textile:

Edited to add: This print appears very similar to the one in the kimono shown on this blog post, both having the blue-and-cream squares with images of planes and horsemen. According to the post, this sort of print was normally used for boys' clothing, and occupation forces ordered that surviving garments be destroyed after the war. Which answers two of my primary questions: 1) is the fabric real (I suspected yes because there's not a hot market for forgery) and 2) am I likely to find other examples (maybe not). Just as glad I bought this one then!

Next time: the Kyushu National Museum (link goes to PDF), where we hid out for the afternoon to dodge the sun.

EdBurgher Repost: Some Move-In Thoughts

Over the next few weeks, we're going to be re-posting a few Japan-related items from our old blog, The Educated Burgher. For those of you who have seen them already: feel free to ignore them. For those of you who haven't: gape in awe or something.)

Moving in has gone beyond smoothly here. The school has put us and the other new teachers up at a hotel (the Hotel Twins Momochi) while we move in, and the room is tiny (typical for Japan) but very clean and, most importantly, with excellent air conditioning. For your own reference, the yellow P1, P2, P3, and P4 buttons on the hotel television remote (the most prominent buttons) do NOT take you to presets, but rather, to dirty movies. I am seriously hoping those two seconds don't show up on the school's bill for the room.

Our new apartment is small, but we're pretty much used to that, and the more we sit in it, the better it feels. The small size is encouraging us to think critically about how much junk we really need, and about organizing and storing it in the most efficient and aesthetic way. We started inventorying the stuff left by the last teacher (and the teacher before her, I think, from the Canadian currency) on Tuesday and choosing what to keep and what to give away to other teachers. To our utter amazement, our shipment showed up today. All but one of our twelve boxes is now unpacked in the new apartment, and I'm boggled by how much clothing I own even after getting rid of three bags to charity shops in Edinburgh.

We have had... let's see, maybe eight meals now? And really, no complaints! I am not completely clear on dates after Monday, when we had cold buckwheat noodles, which we used to have in Korea as well, and tasted great on a hot day. Monday's dinner was ramen (salty soy for me, spicy for Justin). We've had sushi at a great little neighborhood place, owned by an awesome older couple who felt it their duty to teach us sushi vocabulary by pointing at things and enunciating them - at the soy sauce, MU-RA-SA-KI; for picked ginger, GA-RI (see, I was paying attention!). There are two different fast-food burger joints nearby, the most important distinction being that Lotteria's fries taste just like McDonald's', and Mos Burger's fries are like Wendy's'. Today we had "sumo soup," which does not contain actual sumo but rather is, in larger portions, the preferred food of sumo for weight gain. I had this soup when I went to Tokyo with the APIS (Korean school) 8th grade, and loved it, and Justin feels the same way, but we figure we'd better restrain ourselves lest we inadvertently end up fit for nothing but sumo.

Which shouldn't be a problem with all the BIKING we've been doing! I haven't been on a bike since I lived in New Haven five years ago and, although my legs aren't thrilled with the change, I'm really enjoying it. On a bike, our apartment is less than five minutes from the school, with a lovely ride over the river footbridge (pictured in the previous post). We have seen multiple cranes on the river (birds, not construction equipment), old dudes fishing, and tonight, a marvelous sunset. We haven't gotten to the beach yet but it's next on our list. Not twenty minutes by bicycle! Good thing I bought a suit before we left the UK!

In other words, Justin and I are just delighted with everything so far. We have traveled enough to know that we're in the honeymoon phase of culture shock (the others, if you're interested, are rejection, regression, acceptance, and the ever-amusing reverse culture shock), but we are optimistic that Fukuoka is going to be a great place to live.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reversible Seats on the Commuter Train

Last Saturday, Nana and I took a day trip to Dazaifu to check out a big monthly flea market and to visit the National Museum of Kyushu. (Post coming soon.)

On the local commuter train, we spotted a nifty little piece of Japanese engineering: seats that switch directions, so that passengers can choose whether to face forward or backwards, or to make little four-person bunches.

Nana demonstrates in this video:

video
Neat, huh?