Sweden doesn’t have gløgg. They have glögg. Glögg is basically the same as gløgg, except that it’s glögg and not gløgg.
- Singapore is the most food-intensive place I have ever seen. More than San Francisco, more than Paris, more than Hong Kong, more than Fremont…more than just about anywhere. All cuisines and budgets seem to be represented. And there are a surprising number of tapas bars.
- It’s humid, but not as humid as I was expecting. It’s been mostly around 80%, which is not as bad as Ohio in August. Of course, the humidity goes up during thunderstorms.
- Most restrooms don’t have paper towels. What they usually have instead is a big roll of toilet paper near the sinks. Have you ever tried to dry your hands on toilet paper?
- Napkins are also nonexistent. Tissues are sometimes available to purchase. I mostly just used my pants.
- Cousin Mosquito is still around.
- There are four official languages — English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil — but English is officialer than the others. A lot of signs have multiple languages, but if a single language is used, it’s always English. Even in the multi-lingual sign below, the words “notice” and “SBS Transit” are only in English.
- Oh, yeah, man. Free Flow Kimchi is awesome. I saw them open for Toad the Wet Sprocket.
- Photos are available on Flickr.
Singapore’s version of the Champs-Élysées, Ginza, and Rodeo Drive is Orchard Road. On Monday, my first day here, I wandered down Orchard from the ION Orchard mall for quite a ways, wondering what was supposed to be so special about this street. It was nice enough, but there wasn’t much on it.
It was only today that I realized that I was on Orchard Boulevard, which runs roughly parallel to Orchard Road. Orchard Road itself is lined with flagship stores of top brands. A lot of this is wasted on me — until recently I thought that Ferragamo was a type of chili pepper — but I can enjoy looking at the ritziness of it all.
On the way back, I found a place that was the other end of the scale — a pscrillion little shops shoved into the area of one city block. I spent about an hour wandering through all the passageways. I ended up with a couple of t-shirts and a durian. This last is a spiky fruit that has a reputation for both a horrible smell and a delicious taste, but it doesn’t seem to have either. Neither the smell nor the taste were especially noteworthy.
For dinner I had some basil chicken and a coconut, then came straight back to the hotel room to update my several blog fans on the day’s activities.
I woke up at 4:00 this morning. There’s not a lot you can do at 4:00 AM except wander around, so I did that.
I needed to exchange some more money. Airport rates are never good, so I hadn’t exchanged very much, because I knew I could do better in town. I figured there would be small currency exchange places all over like there are in Hong Kong.
There are not. They have some, but it took me about an hour to find them. For my trouble, though, I got a rate of 1.346, rather than the 1.3275 that I got on the airport, for a savings of US$5.55. Sweet!
Now I’m eating satay and drinking Tiger at a cafe on the Singapore River. The service is lousy, but I don’t have to tip them, and they seem content to just let me sit there and write blog posts on my phone.
No one seemed to be looking, so I drank the remaining peanut sauce straight.
The eel at the little divey place in Akihabara is better than the regular eel in Kyoto, but not as special as the special eel. The quality conger, while indeed exhibiting some quality, was slightly less special still.
The cool, clear mountain air is more enjoyable when it’s not raining. I borrowed an umbrella and walked to Matsumoto Castle. While most of the samurai castles in Japan are reconstructions, Matsumoto is the original, built in 1593. It’s real, and it’s spectacular.
And it was just as crowded as Kumamoto was, despite the rain. Fortunately, I got there early enough that I didn’t have to wait to get in. But there were already a lot people inside.
You have to take off your shoes to enter the castle. They give you plastic bags for your shoes and for your umbrella. So people were carrying shoes, umbrellas, cameras, purses, small children, and whatever else while they filed through the six stories of the castles. The stairs throughout the castle are extremely steep, so people had to carry all their stuff up these steep stairs while other people were filing down the same set of stairs. On fairly slick wood. In their socks. There were some grips on the steps, but not much. At least we didn’t have to wear slippers.
I sort of attached myself to a group of four people who had an English-speaking guide. They didn’t seem to mind, and I don’t think the guide even noticed.
The line grew considerably while I was in there.
The castle also had an impressive gun collection. I had not realized that the samurai used guns, but they used matchlocks starting in the 16th century and were using rifles and revolvers by the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Of course, they disarmed everyone else.
When I left there was some kind of matchlock demonstration going on, but I never figured out exactly what they were doing.
Next to that was a drumming demonstration, which I could hear later on from my room.
I spent much of the rest of the afternoon wandering around Matsumoto in the rain looking for a samurai house that I never found. I figured I’d be okay if I could keep track of where the river was, but the river branches all over the place. Eventually I found my way back to the ryokan and dried off.
Now I’m having fish & chips at an Irish pub. And how does Japan do Irish pubs? Extremely well. The fish & chips is comparable to New Zealand’s, the service is excellent, and they’re playing the Pogues.
But now it’s time to go back and see if I can figure out a Japanese bath.
The surprise winner of the different types of sushi I tried in Kyoto was the special eel. There was no equivalent Japanese name given. I tried asking for unagi and got another type of eel that was decidedly less special. I don’t know what made the special eel special, but it was definitely a cut above other eels.
Other items of note: pounded bonito (I guess it wouldn’t come willingly), oral squid (which remained silent), tuna yukhoe (tuna and raw egg), octopus (rubbery), rapana venosa (rubbery), and shrimp tempura.
The worst was the horse’s mane, which was on the same plate as the regular horsemeat. It was so rubbery that I couldn’t chew it at all and had to swallow it whole. So I say to you: choose your horsemeat carefully.
I’m in Matsumoto now, staying at a ryokan and enjoying the cool, clear mountain air. Yesterday afternoon I checked in, had some tea and a little cake thing at one of those low tables in my room, and went out to dinner at a yakitori place (i.e., meat onna stick, but not at all Dibbler-like). I had an ukokkei rice bowl with local aizujidori chicken, chicken skewers with plum sauce, and shikoasa. There was also something in a small bowl that I couldn’t figure out. Mighta been tofu.
The ryokan is an 80-year-old, three-story house with creaky wooden floors and traditional guest rooms with futons and tatami mats. But it’s not too traditional, because the baths are private and you have your choice of Japanese or Western toilets.
The pillow is odd—it’s filled with rice husks—but not bad, and the futon is quite comfortable. The tatami mats have a nice feel when you walk on them barefoot. I had some trouble with the slippers because they were too big and kept falling off. After reading Dave Barry in Japan, I expected the opposite problem. Now I’ve learned to push my feet through far enough to grip the ends with my toes. American ingenuity!
Culinary note: Shikoasa is described as Okinawan citrus wine, but it tastes more like hard liquor. I had two of them, but still managed to find my way back to the ryokan.
After I checked in last night (Toyoko Inn in downtown Kyoto), I went out in the rain to look for food. I stopped in one of those sushi places where the food’s on a conveyer belt and you just grab what you want as it goes by. Sort of like a Japanese tapas bar. After eating nearly nothing all day, I had eleven plates of sushi, plus some ice cream and tea. Most notable: horsemeat. It wasn’t bad, but didn’t merit seconds. Also, California roll is still called California roll, even in Japan. They just write it in katakana.