A Travellerspoint blog

3 Very Different Days in Tokyo (Part 1)

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First, I'll start off by saying that I enjoyed my trip to Japan very much. While a lot of history is shared between Japan and China (some not so pleasant), the countries have two very different Asian cultures. While China is loud, (a little) dirty, (somewhat) unorganized and cheap, Japan is quiet, clean, super organized and polite and expensive.

Now to my actual trip...

I flew from Beijing to Shanghai, spent a day in Shanghai (MY city if there ever was one) and then flew from Shanghai to Not-Quite-Tokyo. I flew into the Ibaraki Airport which is a very small airport about two hour drive from Tokyo. My friend made me a reservation for the cheap shuttle bus from the airport to Tokyo's center but she accidentally made the reservation for the next day. I waited in line for the 1 o'clock bus for about an hour and was only one of three people that didn't make it onto the bus. Since the next bus was at 5 o'clock I had to scrounge up all of my Chinese currency (and I didn't have a lot!) and got just enough Yen to take a much more expensive bus to a train station and then a train to Tokyo Station. Being used to the mindless train system in China, I accidentally got on board the Express train to Tokyo Station and got held up at the Station unable to pay the difference in ticket prices (I had used all of my cash already).

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Once I got that all sorted I made my way to my hostel and, as luck would have it, I made the reservation for a dorm bed for the NEXT DAY. I had to cough up about 3 times the money to book the only room they had available - a private room with the a double bed. I checked into my room and walked around Asakusa in the dark, visiting a very large shrine. It was like the temples in China but on steroids. I walked around and then retuend to the hostel to get rest for the next day. As it turned out, getting a private room was lucky because I was sick all night.

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I crawled out of bed just before 10 am - the checkout time - and forced myself around Tokyo. Being so tired and so sick, the first full day in Tokyo was a bit cloudy, as I bathroom-hopped around the city. I would only get so far before I had to take a rest.

Being sick I traveled to Shinjuku first and walked around. I felt to sick to make it up the Municipal Government Building to look at the view - which I regret because it was a clear enough day to potentially see Mount Fuji. From there, I walked to Harajuku to see the Harajuku culture and the Harajuku girls - Japanese teens who are dressed in crazy fashion. I walked Takeshita Street (get ahold of that name) and Harajuku Street which would both very colorful and flamboyant - very Candyland like.

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I felt very sick after doing this and couldn't think about anything other than laying down and taking a nap. I heard some people sleep in the parks so I made my way to the park near Harajuku and walked through it looking for a bench, There were no benches. Having a one-track mind, I was so desperate to lay down that I walked into a wooded area in the park and laid down in the weeds, under the trees. I slept for three hours and when I woke up, I felt much much better.

I made my way from Harajuku to Shibuya to see one of the busiest crosswalks in the world. That part of the city was very bright, very Time Square-like. It was bright, flashy and full of advertisements and vendors. I visited the Tower Records store - a no brainer for me - and then continued to walk around Shibuya.

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From Shibuya I took the metro to Roppongi, where there is a large expat population. The original plan - the plan I made prior to coming to Japan - was to stop and have a drink in Roppongi but, being sick, I just walked through this part (it wasn't that exciting, to be honest) and walked to the Tokyo Tower. Not having done anything all day, I decided I'd pay to go up the Tokyo Tower. It was a little pricey but definitely worth is since I got to look down at Tokyo at night. The lights from the city were beautiful and it really gave me an idea about how big Tokyo is.

From Roppongyi I took one of the last trains to the Fish Market so that I could find a place to sleep near the area. It took me a little bit to find a Magna/Internet Cafe to sleep in near the Fish Market (thank you, Starbucks, for not turning off your WiFi despite the store being closed). It was cheap to buy a little cubicle in the Magna Cafe to sleep in for the night. There wasn't much space, I was sleeping in a leather desk chair and it was a bit too bright but it was a fun experience. I probably needed some legit sleep for my body to recover but I couldn't pass up the experience. I slept a good 4 hours here.

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Posted by pschief1 21:42 Comments (0)

Datong's Hanging Monastery

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After an overnight train ride with bloody Chinese boxers and 35 RMB bread, I arrived in Datong, China in the beginning of March with six Americans (most of whom I just met). We made a brief stop at our hostel to drop off our bags then continued our travel to the Hanging Monastery. We spent an additional hour and a half in a private van to get there.

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The temperature felt much colder here than in Beijing and everything seemed to be frozen over. While the Hanging Monastery isn't on many top sites to see in China, it was still a very cool site to see and to visit. The monastery is propped up on the side of a cliff by wooden stilts. We wound our way through the monastery, walking along the narrow walkways and through the tiny rooms. The railings went up to my ankles but I tried not to think too much about it.

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We spent a good hour in the small monastery, pausing for pictures, admiring the artwork and simply enjoying being at the site. The view from the monastery was beautiful (just a lake and some mountains... but after Beijing it was refreshing).

Posted by pschief1 03:43 Comments (0)

Super Bowl Monday

...in Beijing.

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So as a cliched American I decided that I couldn't miss an opportunity to watch the Super Bowl here in Beijing. So, I got up to my alarm at 6 in the morning, got ready for the day and hopped on my bicycle. I rode about 30 minutes in the dark, scarf wrapped rightly around my neck, through an empty city (for once). I was a bit too punctual to the bar - actually it was a micro-brewery called Great Leap Brewery - as I was the second person to arrive (positive: I got my pick of tables... meaning I got one with a nice view of the TV). My friends eventually showed up as did many other people... people began having trouble finding a place to sit.

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The deal was buy one get one "breakfast beers" and buy one get one chicken wings baskets so we started off our morning right with a glass of beer and chicken wings as the game began. We sat in the bar, watching the game and drinking beer after beer (there were four of us... perfect number for BOGO!) . After the beers and a disappointing and boring football game we wandered outside around noon to play some street football. I was pretty cold (and a little intoxicated) so after some (very drunk) guy shouldered me in the nose (for a second I was worried he broke it... false alarm!) I took myself of the game and returned home.

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I took a three hour nap and when I woke up at 4 I was already hungover. I spent the rest of the day at a coffee shop writing and using their super fast internet.

Posted by pschief1 10:05 Comments (0)

Welcoming the Year of the Horse

With fireworks and fireworks and more fireworks.

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This is certainly something to blog home about...

Last night I was curled up on my sofa watching a movie, almost content with the idea of staying in the for the Chinese New Year. My movie was occasionally interrupted by fireworks outside of my building (which made me think of how brilliant it was to shoot off recreational explosives among high rises), In a lazy attempt to make plans, I WeChatted my Iranian friend, asking her what she was up to. She offered to meet me at a bar in Sanlitun (a bar street area in Beijing) so I forced myself up and road my bike through the city, underneath the fireworks. While there was not as many cars on the road as usual, I had to still had to be super-aware while riding, lest I ride into a firework display set up along the side of the word. It was a little frightening but mostly exhilarating as fireworks were exploding overhead as I was riding.

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I met my friend at one of the only bars open, had two beers and then we met a group of friends nearby. We accompanied them as they bought what can only be described as a shit-ton of fireworks (along with a bottle of whiskey - again: brilliant idea) at a hastily set up firework stand (or, more accurately, a hastily set up firework expo). We walked to an (mostly) cleared out spot on the sidewalk and had our own mini firework display. Some of the thrill came from having fireworks exploding so close and most of the thrill came from doing something that I'd surely get arrested for in the United States (side note: the Beijing cops were nearby - supervising? ...probably not). We blew our load and, as it was getting close to midnight, we went in search for a legit(ish) firework display.

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We walked the city complaining about our frozen extremities - my toes were practically frozen. We ran into another group of friends and together we walked to where the fireworks were amazing the previous year (pays to have friends in-the-know). At the intersection a group of middle aged men were standing around, guarding a massive supply of fireworks. This was definitely going to be the worst of the best ideas. We hung around the intersection, talking and setting off our what turned out to be wimpy fireworks. Then, around 11:45 pm, it was go time.

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As if they had an organized plan, the middle aged Chinese men ran out into the street unrolling lines and lines of firecrackers - the entire street was literally filled with these firecrackers. Then, simultaneously, they were all lit. I felt like I was in a war zone with all the popping and cracking and smoke. Soon after, they lit the big ones off. The smoke was burning my eyes, the debris was falling into my hair - I was having a blast watching these men play with the fireworks in the middle of the street in Beijing. I forgot how cold I was and lost myself in the moment. My friends and I were running around, adrenaline and pure happiness running through our veins with fireworks exploding over our heads.

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Once over (at around 12:30 am), all that was left was a road covered in paper and other debris and a mound of empty firework boxes on the side of the street. The men had all but disappeared as we walked to a bar to defrost. Then, I said my goodbyes and rode my bike home. Fireworks went off all night, occasionally waking me up, and still, at 12:00 pm the next day, I can hear fireworks being set off.

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For me, life is all about the experience. Since I've come to Beijing good experiences have been more frequent for me. I am happy that I FINALLY got to witness the Chinese New Year in China. China sure knows how to celebrate a holiday!

Posted by pschief1 21:35 Archived in China Tagged beijing fireworks chinese_new_year spring_festival Comments (0)

The Great Wall

Jinshanling Edition

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My friend, Claire, accompanied me on my second(!) trip to The Great Wall. Not being the National Holiday week, this trip was so much better than last time. The weather (and air quality) was great and there wasn't too many people on the wall.

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While I went to Mutianyu two years ago, I went to Jinshanling (which is a bit further from Beijing and more difficult to get to) this time and it was well worth the extra hassle. The wall itself was beautiful and the scenic views were incredible. Claire and I spent roughly 3 hours hiking the wall and I felt embarrassingly out of shape (there were so many steps to climb!).

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I remember thinking "I can't believe I'm at the Great Wall" the first time I visited it so visiting it a second time made me feel incredibly lucky and blessed.

Posted by pschief1 05:37 Comments (0)

Harry Potter in Beijing!

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Posted by pschief1 08:37 Comments (0)

Halloween Party!

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Sorry for not blogging in a while but in honor of Halloween...

A few days ago my center threw a Halloween for the children. While they all were dressed very similarly they were still adorable. I had the task of face painting (even though I signed up for the scavenger hunt... damn art skills) and it was a hard task! I was told to only spend a few seconds on each kid so I didn't give the children a choice... the girls either got stars, flowers or butterflies and the boys got fangs, jack-o-lanterns or spiders. It was an assembly line.

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While the Chinese staff kind of dressed up - a lot of witches and unidentifiable costumes - and the other local teachers opted for more traditional costumes... I was a geek (...cheap!). The kids didn't really get it but the adults did.

Bonus pic:
PUMPKINS!
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Posted by pschief1 08:21 Comments (0)

My Friend and I

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Posted by pschief1 20:20 Comments (0)

Me & My Bicycle

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So my friend, Claire, took me around Beijing last week to help me buy a bike and a lock. Now I can ride to and from work, the grocery store and wherever else I want to go!

I already had a minor problem... the pedal falling off in the middle of a traffic circle but I wasn't hurt and, luckily, it literally happened in front of a bike repair guy. I only wanted him to hammer on the pedal but he worked on the whole bike... and charged me for it! Other than that incident, it has been great having a bike.

Posted by pschief1 20:16 Comments (0)

The Keymaker

It didn't take long,,, and it's not surprising if you know me... but when I returned from a long night of dancing (seriously... we may have been drinking but the main point of the night was to let loose on the dance floor) I realized, at my apartment door, that I had lost my key. It was 4am and I was without a key. I've done this enough in the U.S. to talk myself out of being mad at myself and my flatmate did let me into the apartment (yeah, I woke him up at 4am when he had to work the next morning... Bad Flatmate Award 2013) but I was thinking of how I'd be able to obtain a copy of my key. I was even more nervous that I wouldn't be find anyone to do it the day before the National Holiday.

So a little drunk I e-mailed my company's accommodations department at 4 in the morning and went to bed. I forced myself up at 10am and read accomdations reply: Get a copy of your flatmate's key, you can find someone on the streets or you can ask your neighbors for places to go. They gave me the Chinese characters to ask if I could my key copied... So, again, I woke my flatmate up (I definitely deserve the award) and asked if I could borrow his key. He was a little hesitant to give it to me (Hell, I'd be hesitant to give it to me) and I got ready to go out into the big, bad Beijing and hunt down someone to copy the key. After a little research I was ready to pay 100-200 yuan for a key.

Luckily, my agent called me and arranged me to meet up with someone outside of my company's headquarters and she'd take me to get a copy of my key. So I met Tammy (she's a legend among my on boarding group... she's great) and we walked around the city looking for a key master. As I predicted, the key maker she knew of wasn't there for the day so a random guy gave her directions to another key maker... If my life was a television series, this would have been a standalone episode, going from place to place to hunt down a key maker.

Finally, we found one... he was literally set up on the sidewalk surrounded by a few hundred keys strung along on a wire. He was in plain daylight but I think I wouldn't have ever noticed him... as if he would only appear to me if I knew he was there. He joked around with me... in Chinese (very funny... I don't know enough Chinese to not take every word literally)... made a copy of my roommates key for 10 yuan (thanks Tammy! You're bargaining skills were much appreciated).

Tammy took me to the bank to charge my electricity, water and gas cards... though my roommate and I are surprisingly very energy efficient. Then she walked to me to the metro and I went to meet my British friend at the bookstore/cafe... So much for sleeping in until 1 and being hungover all day.

Posted by pschief1 20:33 Comments (0)

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