Monday, August 6, 2012

Congratulations to Lee Wai Sze!

Hong Kong cyclist, Lee Wai Sze, won a bronze medal in London Olympic 2012! 恭喜李慧詩! She did a very great job in Women's Keirin on August 3. This is the 3rd Olympic medal for Hong Kong in history. Coincidently, she studied at Bishop Paschang Memorial School 柏德學校 in Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate 牛頭角下邨, the same elementary school as me J

Monday, July 30, 2012

Trip to Japan (Part 7) - Tokugawa Garden and Sakae

Next morning, we visited Tokugawa Garden where we didn’t have time to go on the other day, and Sakae District where my friend often said it’s comparable to Downtown Robson in Vancouver. But first my friend took me to Komeda’s coffee since I wanted to try Japanese style breakfast in a coffee shop. It was just few blocks from my hotel in Marunouchi 丸の内.

Based on my web research, the Nagoya-based coffee shop Komeda コメダ珈琲店 is one of the largest coffee house chains in Central and Western Japan. Komeda was established in 1968 and to be different from other modern coffee chains such as Starbucks, Komeda's coffee shops feature old-fashioned atmosphere with wooden walls and furniture, magazine rack and an old style menu. Staffs would take customers’ orders at their tables. Same as some Japanese restaurants, customers are allowed to smoke in the coffee shop.

The menu was very colourful! It offered hotdogs, sandwiches, salads, snacks, pastries, hot lemon tea, hot and ice coffee, etc. Let’s try its feature breakfast combo: purchase of a drink with complimentary set of a boiled egg and buttered toast (好低呀! 買飲品送隻蛋同多士!). I also tried its famous Shirono-whirl which was a Danish pastry topped with soft ice cream plus a cherry.

After the nice simple breakfast, we took subway transit to Ozone Station 大曽根 and then walked for 15 minutes to the Japanese garden: Tokugawaen 徳川園.

Tokugawaen or Tokugawa Garden  徳川園 is a nice example of chisenkaiyu style garden in Edo period (江戶時代的池泉回遊式庭園) where a path is surrounding a pond. It was like a stroll garden with view and perspective changing as we wandered along the path. Admission fee was only ¥ 300, less than 4 bucks in CAD!

The garden was built in 1695 as a retirement villa for Tokugawa Mitsutomo 徳川光友, the second lord of Owari (today’s western part of Aichi Prefecture) 尾張藩第二代藩主. Tokugawa Mitsutomo’s father Tokugawa Yoshinao 徳川義直 (the first lord of Owari) was the 9th son of Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康, the significant Japanese warrior who founded the Tokugawa dynasty of shoguns 德川時代 (or called Edo period 江戸時代) in Japan. Tokugawaen was destroyed in World War II and reopened as a Japanese garden in 2004.

I could see the rocks, plants and bridges were arranged elegantly to reflect the beauty of Japanese nature. Let’s name some of the photos above from left to right:

1st photo - Tiger's Tail River (虎の尾/ TORA NO O)

2nd photo – Ozone Waterfall (大曽根の瀧/ OZONE NO TAKI) where a three-tiered waterfall of 6m can be found at the upstream of Tiger’s Tail River. The mountain behind the waterfall is the highest mountain in Tokugawaen.

4th photo – Sei Lake Bund (西湖堤/ SEIKOTEI) is a miniature of the levee parting the lake surface of West Lake in Hangzhou, China. I think it is the imitated Su Causeway (仿蘇堤) since the Japanese brochure mentioned the name 蘇東坡. I’ve been to Hangzhou West Lake but it was in a rush that I couldn’t pay detailed attention to all the scenic spots so I’m really not too sure which causeway is imitated here.

Anyways there are similarities and differences between Chinese and Japanese gardens. Early Japanese gardens were modeled upon Chinese gardens, gradually Japanese gardens had their own distinct appearance.

5th photo – Koi pond (錦鯉/ Nishikigoi in pond). They were all swimming toward me for food. .. sorry I got nothing to feed them.

Photo on top of “Trip to Japan (Part 7)”– me by the Dragon’s Gate Waterfall (龍門の瀧/ RYUMON NO TAKI), the name is derived from a legend of fish transforming into dragon after swimming up to the top of the waterfall.

As a typical Japanese garden, there is a central pond called Ryusen Lake (龍仙湖) surrounded by waterfalls, trees, rocks, bridges and a tea house.

I saw a wedding couple in traditional costume 和服 in Tokugawaen! It reminded me that I’ve encountered a few women wearing Japanese costumes known as kimono around Nagoya station and in Takayama. My friend told me that the young generations don’t know how to wear Japanese costumes since they have no idea how to tie the obi 腰帶 with a knot at the back. Obi is a belt that ties kimono.

Walking back to Ozone Station, I saw a restaurant with an outdoor menu so I took a photo for reference of authentic Japanese food J

Next we visited Oasis 21 which was just right by Sakae Station 榮. Oasis 21 is one of Nagoya's most innovative complexes in downtown Sakae since its opening in 2002. It contains restaurants, shops, tourist information centre and bus terminal below the ground. Above the ground I could see its oval-shaped glassy roof filled with water called “Water Spaceship”.

According to web, there are several benefits of the Water Spaceship. It is filled with water to create an interesting visual effect and to cool down the temperature of the shopping area below in the summer. Visitors can enjoy the view of Sakae district while walking on the roof.

On the Water Spaceship, I could see ferris wheel and Nagoya TV tower. After a while we walked down to buy fries at MacDonalds in Oasis 21. Since it was a family day (no school and work in Golden Week), there were lots of kids and lots of activities going on.

My friend suggested to try the giant ferris wheel 摩天輪 at Sunshine Sakae building. Let’s go …

During the 15 minute ride, I could see the whole downtown Sakae clearly from the top. I saw a few international brands such as Brother, Citibank, Coach and Louis Vuitton. It’s a very organized modern city!

After the ride, we walked along the street to Matsuzakaya department store 松坂屋. It was the only time I felt myself in the real modern Japan … a youth band playing in park, huge outdoor screen and the listen of pop Japanese songs on street. Even though the city was very clean, unpleasant smell was suddenly around.

Many souvenir shops in Matsuzakaya were selling rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves 柏餅 or mom gifts as Boy’s Day and Mother’s Day were approaching at that time. In Japan, samples were labelled as 見本. I think in Chinese society, we label the samples as 樣本. Just one word difference.

Time for my last supper in Japan 最後的晚餐, we both voted for buffet in 草楽 on the 9th floor of Matsuzakaya! ¥ 2480 each = CAD 31.00 (not cheap hey but I don’t think it’s too expensive compared to University Golf Club in Vancouver. With about the same price, 草楽 had more dishes).

The restaurant claimed that they use seasonal ingredients without any additives to meet the health and natural concept. Sounds Good!

Now I don’t quite remember what they provided … I only recall roasted beef, nigiri sushi, some local vegetables, carrot, potato, noodles, tempura, hot soup, cakes and desserts, tea, juice and red wine …

We stayed there from 5:30 pm till almost 7:30 pm and the restaurant was only 40% occupied, less customers than I expected. Still I enjoyed the buffet in this quiet and relaxing environment … no need to fight for food … hehe!

Time flew by too fast, next day was already May 5 … my departure day  L

I wore another jacket for the colder weather in Vancouver. While I went to the washroom in Chubu Centrair International Airport, I found a bag of 八仙果 in the pocket of my jacket. 八仙果 is like a licorice menthol of eight fruit and herbal ingredients for the purpose of comforting sore throat. Oh yeah … my mom gave it to me for my travel. This was the famous 李錦利八仙果 from Taiwan made of grapefruit, kumquat, Chinese date, orange peel, licorice, Buddha’s hand citron, peppermint, maltose (葡萄柚、金桔、金棗、陳皮、甘草、佛手果、薄荷、麥芽).

To express gratitude to my friend, I decided to give him the bag of 八仙果. His first response was “poopoo from the washroom?” (一舊舊屎???) Oh No … I was just coming out from washroom and the pieces of 八仙果 were in dark brown colour, no wonder my friend thought of feces.

Overall, this short vacation to Japan was quite fun with the travel from tourist attractions to local neighbourhood, from the ocean to the mountains, from the city to the countryside and from the historical district to the modern place. It was like travel from 21st century back to the Edo period and then return to the present time again!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Trip to Japan (Part 6) – Little Takayama: Hida Furukawa

Hida Furukawa 飛驒古川 is a small town located north of Takayama with the Miyakawa River running through it. This nicely preserved old town is like a mini-version of Takayama to me (that’s why I personally named it “Little Takayama” 小高山J).

Similar to its neighbour city, Furukawa is surrounded by mountains in Hida Region of Gifu Prefecture. It is also characterized by the small canals flowing through the streets, old white-walled storehouses and the traditional wooden buildings with high level craftsmanship skills of the local carpenters. Since Furukawa is smaller and calmer than Takayama, I felt like walking in a charming town with peaceful landscapes and the appearance of Edo period elegance.

I really enjoyed the scenic beauty on the way from Takayama to Hida Furukawa.

Finally arrived at Hida Furukawa Station 飛驒古川駅 after 15 minutes train ride! This mini station had everything tourists need: ticket centre, tiny food and beverage store, cigarette vending machine, a few benches and most importantly the coin lockers. Since we were carrying backpack, bags of souvenirs and two umbrellas, we decided to rent a locker for ¥ 400 (CAD 5.00).

The streets were nearly empty except a few cars passed by. 簡直是人烟稀少. For those who want to be away from busy and crowded cities but not ready to stay in remote forests, Furukawa would be a good option … with Japanese language as an asset.

Similar to Takayama, I saw traditional houses along the streets.

Setogawa 瀬戸川 is a canal with more than a thousand carps (鯉魚or koi) in various colours set against a background of a row of old white-walled earthen storehouses 白壁土蔵街 and stone temple walls. According to my research, this canal was constructed 400 years ago with the excess water from the moat of Masushima Castle. Setogawa provided drinking water and was used as fire protection but somehow it had been contaminated half a century ago during the high economic growth period. In 1968, local residents worked together to convert it back to clean water and release carps into the canal. Today Setagawa has become a famous tourist attraction in town J

Still some cherry blossoms found in Furukawa. Let’s take a photo by Setogawa!

This small town was very quiet, it was less visited by tourists compared to Shirakawa Village and Takayama City. An old woman saw us while she’s cleaning the street voluntarily near Setogawa and she was curious where I came from. She told us the weather was a bit cold, then after a while I saw her chatting with the neighbours. Maybe that’s the life of seniors in Furukawa …

I saw more carps than human there! The carps were super huge (about 50 cm – 60 cm long?) and all swimming slowly in one direction.

Too boring to just watch the carps swimming in Setogawa … let’s have some fun! OH! We found a house-shaped box offering carp food for ¥ 100.

Open the bag, throw a piece of bread into Setogawa …

Carps are approaching to the water surface

Now they are competing for the food …

Another house-shaped box found with organic produce for ¥ 100. Interesting!

We walked along Setogawa and entered into a gift shop. The shop was playing a nice song with familiar melody … we had this song in Cantonese version released in 1987 (梅艷芳 - 裝飾的眼淚). Even though the song playing was in Japanese, the same melody brought me back to the 80s since everything was old-fashioned in Furukawa. After return to Vancouver, I searched for the Japanese version and it was called 駅 sung by 竹内まりや.

There was a little dairy shop at the corner selling Hida dairy products 飛驒乳製品 such as Hida milk ice cream and Hida milk ice cream sandwiches (牧成舎 瀬戸川店 Cafe b: What a nice idea to spend the leisure afternoon with green tea ice cream sandwich! It tasted quite good … I wish I could try the black sesame flavour too!

Surprisingly we were the last customers since the dairy shop closed immediately after we left. It was only 4:45 pm!

Continuing the walk, we found Enko Temple 円光寺 by Setogawa. The main building of Enko temple was constructed in 1667 (the early Edo period). The temple gate was originally used as gate for Masushima Castle and it was moved to Enko temple when Masushima Castle was abandoned.

Walking back to the streets of traditional houses … any guesses about the use of Yakult box (益力多箱) and Hida milk box (飛驒牛乳箱) in the front doors?

Just like mailbox, Yakult drinks and Hida milk are delivered to the designated boxes for local residents.

I would love to take a photo of this tea shop with the vending machine and flower pots. Suddenly an old man came out from the shop and ran across the street toward me. He was saying something to me. Uh Oh! “Is it illegal to take the photo?” I asked my friend. I thought I may be in trouble (好驚呀!) Actually he was excited to see us and was very curious where I am from. My friend answered all his questions and then asked him where we could buy food for dinner. The old man asked us to wait and ran back to his shop. About 5 minutes later, he came out with a bag and grabbed two drinks from the vending machine. He ran across the street and gave us the bag containing two long buns and two bottles of Shirakawa tea (白川茶) for free!

Around 6:20 pm, we took the train back to Nagoya Station. There was a washroom on the train which I don’t recommend people to use unless necessary based on my own experience. I went to the washroom and it was very bumpy (非常CHOK!) … I felt like dancing from left to right and right to left in front of the toilet (在馬桶前Chok Chok Chok! Chok Chok Chok! 左Chok Chok! 右Chok Chok!) No wonder there were handles on both sides of the wall. I automatically pressed the left button since the flush button is always on the left. OH NO! It was a buzz (some kind of emergency button) … stop stop stop or else I didn’t know what to do when the crew came. Good it did stop after I pressed it again. Unusually, the flush button was on the right side.

We arrived Nagoya at 9:00 pm … back to the modern city with lots of people on the street. Originally I wanted to take a photo of the double-deck elevators 雙層升降機 in Midland Square in Nagoya but it was too dark at night. Double-deck elevator has two cars attached together which allows passengers on two consecutive floors to use the elevator simultaneously.

I was actually more amazed by the automatic escalators found in train stations in Nagoya and Chubu Centrair International Airport. To save energy, the escalator was motionless until someone approached it.