Saturday, November 20, 2010

All that glitters isn't gold, it's Ginza

Tiffany is located here and so is Gucci, Pucci, and Burberry but the star attraction is not a designer name from Paris or Milan but a light bulb manufacturer from Japan. The bright sparkling lights of the Ginza district in Tokyo amaze locals and tourists alike. If we are drawn into the shops and department stores then the marketing that is Ginza has worked its charm.

Due to the massive crowds drawn to the Ginza on weekends, Tokyo authorities have pedestrianized the city streets surrounding the main drag. Sunset approaches, the sun is ready for another timezone and the power plants feeding Tokyo are just awakening to raise the curtain on another show in the Ginza; a fantastic show of lights beckoning consumers of all walks of life.

The Aztecs had their gold and the Spanish journeyed far to discover it. The Ginza entices all with the power of its lights. Welcome to the glitter that is Ginza!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tired but in Tokyo

As our red eye flight from Singapore touched down at Tokyo's Narita airport I could tell why the term "red eye" identified all moonlight flights: my eyes were bloodshot and tired. Our second wind kicked in just when we needed it most as the trek from the gate to the immigration control and customs area was long-- maybe it just felt long because we were so groggy.

A well oiled machine of sterile efficiency is how I would describe my first impression of Tokyo. The train from the airport to the Shinjuku section of Tokyo took over an hour as Narita airport is situated quite far from Tokyo proper.

A long walk from the Shinjuku station to our hotel greeted us. It was needed though since it helped wake us up! We became enveloped in the regular hustle and bustle of Tokyo on a Friday morning. Our fellow commuters looked as if they had earned the weekend that was almost upon them; we just needed our hotel bed!

Hello and TGIF Tokyo!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Singapore's humid greeting

We arrived into Singapore during a tropical downpour. Rain washed streets all the way to our hotel. A tropical setting surrounded by shopping malls; something for every taste and budget.

The humidity is even more intense this morning than in Viet Nam so we decided to take refuge in the myriad malls up and down Orchard Road. As long as the credit cards stay in our wallets, we'll survive.

Off to Tokyo tomorrow night!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

100 years of happiness: A Vietnamese wedding celebration

A curtain of humidity and heat greeted me in Saigon when I finally exited the airport.  We were off through the streets of Saigon. My estimates were spot on, many more cars were on the roads. Saigon is indeed more developed than four years ago.  The most obvious testament, crafted of gleaming glass and steel, is Saigon's brand new skyscraper. Lit up at night it is a spectacular sight-- helicopter pad and all (photo in my Flickr photostream link to the right). 

Thursday nite was dinner with the nieces and nephews in Saigon.  It was great to catch up with the vibrant youth of Vietnam. All doing well.

Friday we were off, via bumpy taxi ride, to Ba Ria (coastal town east of Saigon) where Si's sister lives.  Her son Duy's wedding preparations were in full swing when we arrived. Flowers everywhere! Hair and makeup too! Today was the first ceremony at the local Catholic church.  The wedding mass was beautiful.

Following the mass we all returned to the house where a great dinner was served. The arrival of the bride's family  signaled the start of the feast. Laughter, spring rolls, and beer (can after can) cemented the family bonding.  The formal wedding events were done. 

Saturday was reserved for the festivities. In the morning both families joined together to pay homage to The Groom's ancestors. This formal ceremony involved the Bride and Groom, both dressed in traditional garb,  facing the shrine of the ancestors and lighting incense. Requests are made to the departed for their blessings on the marriage. Flame turns to smoke and it is time for drinking and celebrations.

The afternoon reception, at a local banquet hall, was beautifully executed, with beer, scotch, and vodka  flowing. The seven courses of food was delicious.  "Xo!" ("bottoms up") was the cheers heard for the remains of the day; the hangovers were for another day.

Duy and Uyen, "Tram Nam Hanh Phuc" ("100 Years of Happiness for you both!")

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pedals to Porsches: Saigon's transformation

Last time I was in Saigon it was four times more developed than the trip before. That was almost four years ago, so I'm curious how much more steeped in capitalism it is now. I heard it's brimming with millionaires who stick out like sore thumbs in their Porsches and Bentleys, weaving through the throngs of mopeds. Less than 20 years ago bicycles ruled Saigon's streets. Perhaps some of today's well-to-do were yesterday's pedal-powered commuters.

An obvious measure of Saigon's change is the car to moped ratio on the city streets. I'm not talking about the luxury editions from Japan and Europe, just regular automobiles. More and more Saigonese can afford them but the city streets cannot; most were never built to accommodate the volume of traffic they get today.

I can't wait to see how the city has changed since 2006. Will I be devoured by mopeds as always, or will my taxi from the airport have to yield to Maseratis, Mercedes, and Rolls Royces? Can't wait to see.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Coffee and jet fuel

I was contemplating posting a photo of the bagel display at the airport Starbucks but I went with the traditional shot of the airplane on the tarmac.  Sometimes it seems there are more Starbucks than airplanes!  

Well, I'm starting my journey to Viet Nam quite early.  First it's Phoenix to LAX, then to Singapore via Tokyo and then I'll groggily board my final plane to Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon).  I leave on a Tuesday morning and arrive into Saigon on Thursday at lunchtime. At that point I'll gladly trade in coffee and jet fuel for a big steaming bowl of Pho. 

We are attending our nephew's wedding over the weekend.  It'll be nice to see friends and family.  We then pack up and head on to Japan via Singapore. We've always wanted to visit Japan.  The bright lights of Tokyo and cool, cultural Kyoto await.  

Hope you can all come along...Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

World Trade Center progress

Having been in Manhattan recently I thought I'd report on the progress of the World Trade Center site redevelopment. The two massive squares you see, which look like they would be the foundations for two new towers, will actually become two memorial pools (described below).

Reflecting Absence, the design of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, was created by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, and selected from a design competition which included more than 5,200 entrants from 63 nations.

The Memorial will consist of two massive pools with waterfalls cascading down their sides, to serve as a powerful reminder of the Twin Towers and of the unprecedented loss of life from an attack on our soil. The names of the 2,980 who were killed in the September 11th attacks in New York City, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, and the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, will be inscribed around the edge of the Memorial pools. 

The WTC redevelopment plan includes:
  • Five new skyscrapers (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 WTC) 
  • National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center 
  • World Trade Center Transportation Hub 
  • Retail Complex 
  • Performing Arts Center

Friday, November 5, 2010

Soup dumplings

Soup dumplings, originally uploaded by travelingfish.
Wow, my first soup dumpling in China Town in NYC! You've gotta try 'em. They're different but, most of all, delicious!