Monday, March 31, 2008

Tuesday, April 1 (2:32PM)

When it rains in Cambodia the Internet stops working. Something I was not aware of until I arrived here.

Yesterday we left Ho Chi Minh, but not before both Mum and I graduated from the Vietnam Cookery Center. We spent the morning before out flight at the center learning about Vietnamese cuisine and also practicing a few dishes. It was nice to be in a kitchen again, I finally felt like I was mildly in my element for the first time since we arrived in Asia.



Meal. (Caramelized sea bass and sour fish soup.)

Our flight into Cambodia was forced to circle the runway due to rain, the same rain the killed my Internet access for the last 24 hours. Once we landed we were picked up by our hotel (Hotel de la Paix), which is a very swanky place by the way, and taken to our room. We then went to the Hotel restaurant for a seven course meal. The meal was different. The word I would use to describe Cambodian food is pungent, lots of fermented flavours and fish sauce. An experience worth having though, especially for 28$, plus a wine pairing for 17$. Things are very inexpensive in Cambodia.

This morning we went to Angkor Wat, we were up at 4:30AM and arrived at the temple at 5AM. The sunrise over the temple was a tad underwhelming because of clouds but the temple itself is pretty unbelievable.

Angkor Wat before dawn.

Saying Hello to my Favorite restaurant in Boston, owned by a Cambodian family.

Inside Angkor Wat, a view across one of the pools in the temple.

The other temples near Angkor Wat were equally if not more exciting. Mum missed out on those due to stomach issues, which she blames on the Cooking School. Miraculously, I was fine.

Giant tree growing out of Temple.

Buddha face on gate to Buddha Temple.

Some of the 400 Buddha faces carved into Temple.

Cambodia is a very interesting place, there are still live land mines scattered around the country and yet in Siem Reap there are literally dozens of expensive hotels either already operating or being built. Last year there were 2 million tourists that visited, this year they are expecting 5 million. These are just a couple of things that makes Cambodia a place unlike I have ever been before. It's hard to describe.

Tomorrow we leave for Laos.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday, March 30 (4:34PM)

Spent the last 8 hours walking around Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. I think I've had a very complete experience for one day. I saw an old temple, spent lots of time at the huge central market and got ripped off by the local transport. I've enjoyed myself a lot today.

Our hotel is beautiful, and very old world, classic. Everything is wood. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, fresh fruit and a wonderful bowl of noodle soup. I have always thought that soup was the best possible breakfast, and I think that the very little time I have spent in Vietnam has proved my theory beyond a doubt. We then walked to the Ben Thanh Market, which is huge and has everything. Shoes, bananas, birds, coffee of all descriptions, all different types of meat, dried everything, oreos. I managed to buy three pairs of prescription glass and two prescription sunglasses. The lovely lady who owned the stall took my prescription off the glasses I was wearing.

Ben Thanh Market stall.

Flowers at Ben Thanh.

Meat at Ben Thanh.

Oreo's at Ben Thanh.

Pigs ears at Ben Thanh.

After that we went to another market, in one of those bike carts. The men who took us were very charming but managed to WAY overcharge us in the end. But the temple they took us too was beautiful. And in reality the extra twenty bucks probably makes more of a difference in their lives than it does in ours. All part of the experience.

The temple itself was beautiful. Very old, very Buddhist. The decorations were worth the trip there, and probably the extra cash spent on the sketchy drivers. I can see why people find Buddhism so alluring, it was very beautiful, and even though I have never been a religious person there was something very mystical about this place.

Me outside the temple.

Inside the temple.

Alter in the Temple.

Amazing giant incense cones hanging from ceiling in the temple.

Lunch was delicious. Shrimp paste on sugar cane, rolled rice flour rolls with crab, beef and pork pho and grilled meat vermicelli. The freshness of the flavours in the food here is eye opening. Even with the meats that were served in the pho, which had been cooked for hours there was something very fresh and clean tasting. I've also tried two of the beers here, Tiger and 333. I like both, their light and crisp like the food here. They are also very helpful in taking the edge off the oppressive heat.

Partially through lunch (I forgot about the camera.)



We are leaving tomorrow afternoon for Cambodia. Definitely not enough time for this city, but it is worth a trip back here at some point.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sunday, March 30 (7:07AM)

We arrived late in Ho Chi Minh City last night. There's a whole process of getting a VISA that I have never gone through before, involving giving the Vietnamese Government two copies of my passport photo.

I haven't gone out yet, but here's some photo's I took of the balcony of the hotel room.



I just ate a piece of mango, it was awesome. I also just woke up, so I've really got nothing much to say, still getting used to mornings here. I'll post again later today, hopefully with a better impression of Saigon.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Saturday, March 29 (12:16PM)

I've fully recovered from my bleeding heart yesterday. Back at the market this morning. Fresh fish really is one of the great foods out there. And I now understand why people love sea urchin, the uni they have here is creamy and subtle and not at all bitter like the stuff at home.

Japan was great. I'll let you know how I do in Ho Chi Minh City.

Leaving Tokyo today. Going to Vietnam.

Cherry Blossoms.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Friday, March 28 ( 2:36PM)

I saw someone kill a turtle this morning. At Tsukiji Market, for breakfast again. This market is of the least romantic places I've ever seen. It's amazing to see and an experience that is hard to forget but it is not at all a nice or comfortable place. Which to me has been a good reminder of exactly what the price of my food is. There is an amazing amount of garbage and waste, and the amount of fish and shellfish there on a daily basis just reinforces the fact that sustainable food and agriculture really need to have a more prevalent place in the global market place.

Bulldozing the styrofoam packaging outside the Tsukiji Market.

And yet I can't stay away. The amazing breakfast I ate this morning was a direct result of all the garbage, and waste of the market. I may be having a crisis of self. My meal was a bowl of rice topped with a selection of different fish and shell fish and served with pickled vegetables, miso soup and fresh grated wasabi root. Once I started picking at the different fish pulling back the layers to expose the white rice all the flavours of ingredients like uni (sea urchin) and ikura (fish roe) began to mix with the rice and once I was down to the last few bites it was a decadent mix of flavours and textures that was delicious and rewarding. It was amazing. If ever in the Tsukiji Market, it's in building 8, and there was a line up when we got there at 6am.

This is the menu for my favorite breakfast spot in Tokyo thus far. It's big board outside the restaurant and you have to order before you actually go inside and sit down. This is how they manage to keep the massive line that formed outside the restaurant moving.

I digress. The crisis that came out of my fish market experience can be seen very clearly when you juxtapose these two following images.



It is the transformation of an ingredient like tuna, that to me is so startling, really highlights my own hypocrisy. Other than admit that hypocrisy I'm not sure what else I am going to do with it. There is no vegetarianism in my future, although I did have an amazing Buddhist lunch that really opened my eyes to the potential of the soy bean.

Or could my recent predicament have stemmed out of my childhood pets? I kept tortoises as a child, and could the sight of this turtle (that I saw die this morning) have brought back memories of those childhood pets. Maybe I am experiencing a blurring of the line between animal and pet, and cherished childhood playmate and dinner.

Either scenario really shows the complicated relationships that people can have with their food. Or at least shows the complicated relationship I have with my food. Maybe I should have gone to Pastry School.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Thursday, March 27 (8:33AM)

Sadly, I was not able to get into the Red Sox game in the Tokyo Dome. But I did get to see some of the game on the jumbotron. Here's a home run.

This morning I awoke afer a very refreshing 7 hours sleep and finally went to the Tsukiji Fish Market. It was everything I had heard it would be, huge, loud, bustling, more than a little intimidating. A great experience.

I also managed to get a glimpse at the Tuna Auctions, which I thought were closed to the public, but seemed pretty open this morning.

This is an auction about to begin.

Just after I shot that video, my camera died. But here are some images I managed to get before that.

The market.

Scallops, not cleaned. These reminded me of how scallops are served in Peru, with their bright orange liver still attached.

Tuna, from what I could tell at the very hurried pace they were being driven past me.

I also want to show you an image of the beef that I've seen here. I ate some of it last night for dinner and was blown away by how tender it was when it was well done. Marbeled does not even begin to describe it.

The food here is different. I'm sure I'm not totally processing the impact this trip is making on how I will perceive food in the future.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wednesday, March 26 (3:38PM)

Waking up at 3 this morning is beginning to get to me. Other than being exhausted things are good.

Went to the Meiji Shinto Temple today, which was very cool. The grounds were beautiful, and the buildings themselves were stoic, the temple had to be rebuilt after the Second World War, but these are apparently exact replicas. The tour guide also said that many people in Japan follow both Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto speaks to the living whereas Buddhism deals more with the after life. When babies are born they are brought to the Shinto Temples, but all funerals are done in a Buddhist style. Seems pretty well balanced to me.

This is the gate to the Meiji Shinto Temple.

This is the actual Temple.

I thought the best part was on the walk up the the Temple you come across two giant walls, one is sake and the other is wine. The sake is used as a gift to people who make big donations to the temple from the monks. The wine is from Burgundy and is sent there by winemaker's to try and gain good luck with their crops.



I have also been able to have a few meals since I got here. The first was last night, and was sushi at the hotel sushi bar. The difference in the fish really is amazing. None of the fish tasted, for lack of a better word, fishy. It was all rich, or sublte, or sweet. But never really fishy. Every piece I had was delicious, with one exception. Abalone. It had really no taste, nothing objectionable for sure, but the texture was like nothing I have ever had before. When I first put it in my mouth if felt like a thickish piece of rubber. Hard to chew. When I finally managed to bite through it it made a very disconcerting popping sensation. If anyone has ever had it and wishes to comment please enlighten me. I cannot for the life of me figure out what that is about.

There was also a small bowl of truly memorable soup. Actually it was not the soup itself but what was in the soup. The soup for all intensive purposes was a broth made from clam, the juices that are left after cooking clams. But in the soup were the smallest clams I have ever seen. It was amazing, I have never seen clams this small, much less tasted them. The broth itself seems to have taken on the essence of these tiny clams specifically, it was light and a tiny bit salty and tasted like the ocean in a way I have only experienced with certain oysters before.

I actually stole the leftover shells from the restaurant.

For the benefit of all, those are both an American and Canadian dime.

The two other meals I've had was breakfast today. Which was at the hotel buffet, after a failed attempt to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market. And lunch today, which was a very good bowl of udon soup. The noodles were very good. Slightly more tender then I've possibly had before but nothing like the impossibly small clam soup.

The rest of my day is going to be spent trying not to go to sleep and thinking about how I am going to get into the last Red Sox game in Tokyo.

It's sold out. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 26 (5:27AM)

We got to the Tsukiji fish market and it was closed. Second and fourth Wednesday of the month apparently.

That is a very closed market. On the bright side my team won.

The Japanese Times. That's a very comforting thing to see in a newspaper to me right now.

Wednesday, March 26 (3:54AM)

Jetlag is setting in. I was up at 3am Tokyo time, after about 5 hours of sleep. I don't think that's too bad. I've lived on less.

We're just about to leave for the Tsukiji fish market for a very early breakfast. It doesn't open until 5am though, so I"m killing some time. I thought I would post a picture of the buttons on the toilet, which controls all the different things it can do to your bottom.


Hello from Tokyo

I just arrived in Tokyo, it's very bright. Lots of big colourful neon signs. After some complications getting the internet setup I am finally here.

I'm hungry and tired and Mum and I are going to go get something to eat.

We managed to accidentally be in Tokyo during the Cherry Blossom blooming, which apparently only happens for a couple weeks a year. It looks pretty so far, but it's dark out so it's hard to tell.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Leaving for Tokyo Today

My flight is at 330 this afternoon. I woke up at 530 this morning, really anxious. I think that was probably the result of the hangover caused by Easter Brunch.

We'll be arriving in Tokyo at 330PM tomorrow Tokyo time. Which is 230AM Boston/Toronto time.

Right now I'm nervous about the flight. I hate flying. Wondering which pills to take on the airplane, and how many mini bottles of wine I should drink.

I hope there's no turbulence.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

My luggage

This is my luggage for the trip. I've either done an excellent job packing, or I've screwed myself.


Which was both a negative and positive. This cancellation does not interfere with my flight to Tokyo, just Easter parties in Toronto this weekend. I will be flying out of Boston tomorrow morning which still gives me enough time to spend Easter with my family. These situations, when life throws you an unexpected change of plans are some of the best parts of traveling, and I feel can be rewarding experiences themselves.

It's the little changes caused by these circumstances that can actually improve the quality of the entire experience. Instead of getting in late Friday and waking up Saturday with the inevitable hangover that always follows my initial arrival to Toronto, I get in Saturday morning and go straight to my Grandmothers to make strudel for Easter. After strudel I can go right into spending Saturday night with old friends. I'm sure my Grannie will be much happier getting me in a well rested fresh state, rather than the stinking mess she would get if I would have been in Toronto on Friday night.

It's a little bit of a bother to have to move the arrival celebrations from Friday to Saturday night, and I hope everyone can still make it, but it's much better to focus on the more positive aspects of the situation which really I have no control over.

One less hangover, and a better quality strudel for Easter Sunday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day Before Leaving Boston

Someone pointed out to me that my math is off, sorry about that. Numbers have never been my strong suit.

I'm leaving Boston tomorrow, I'll be in Toronto for the Easter weekend, flying to Tokyo on Monday.

At this point I'm packed. Except for the trivial things, like this computer, and my books. I'm having some problems deciding which books to bring with me, I know I'm bringing the complete Short Stories by Evelyn Waugh. Other than that I'm at a loss, ideally I will pick a book up at the airport. A paperback that I can leave behind at a hotel somewhere along the way. I'm thinking I'd like to read a Graham Greene while I'm gone too. I just finished Our Man In Havana, and I'm thinking of bringing The Comedians.

I"m not nervous today, just excited. And I officially have a sore throat, which I'm assuming will only get worse with the festivities that I will be participating in this weekend. I've resigned myself to a scratchy throat and sore ears on the flight. Hopefully I can sleep through it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

One Day Before Leaving Boston

Today is about being nervous and excited. I'm nervous and excited about the same things, being somewhere different, being somewhere so far away from home, experiencing a totally different culture. I'm just nervous about the flight, I'm an edgy flyer.

I think it's good to be a little on edge, makes the whole experience just a little more interesting.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two Days Before Leaving Boston

I started packing today. One carry-on sized bag with wheels, and my back pack. The carry on bag is definitely full, and I still have two more items to fit in it. The issue I'm having is shoes, how many shoes, what kind of shoes. Shoes will be the thing that I wont find in Asia. Not that there aren't shoes in the countries I'm going to, but there is no way that I am just going to wander into a store in Hanoi, or Luang Prabang, that carries womens shoes in a size eleven. Quite frankly it's not that easy in Boston.

I am also thinking about getting a airplane power cord for my computer for the flight. I checked and the plane I'm flying on and it has power outlets in the seats, just wondering if it will be worth it. I'm guessing it probably will be, fourteen hours is a long flight.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Three Days Before Leaving Boston

I'm thinking about packing, and getting nervous about what I am going to do on a fourteen hour flight. I am also hoping that the flight isn't going to be full, but I'm sure it will be. Not very cost effective to fly a half full plane across the ocean.

Four weeks is starting to seem like a really long time. I'm excited though.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Four Days Before Leaving Boston

I didn't do anything with regards to my trip this weekend, nothing really to say.

St. Patrick's Day in Allston is a trip, green puke on the side walks this morning.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Six days before leaving Boston

I went and had a bowl of pho by myself this afternoon. I've been trying to avoid eating too much Asian food before I leave but I couldn't get it out of my head, and it was that or watch daytime TV. I'm excited to compare what I feel is excellent pho here in Boston, to pho in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. I realize it will be different but I'm wondering how different it can be. Broth, noodles, various meats, various accompaniments. The ingredients always vary between restaurants, but there is something comfortingly consistent about this dish. Sometimes nothing can soothe you like a big bowl of pho that you know you wont finish.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Seven days before leaving Boston

I got my last round of shots this morning, chicken pox. I have fainted while getting needles in the past. I once got a flu shot standing in my Doctors kitchen and woke up on the floor to the nurse (who is also the Doctors wife) telling me I would never be able to have children if I couldn't take the pain of a needle. She's a piece of work. But these nurses were lovely, I even got a sucker at the end.

Having just moved to Boston from Canada a year ago, I have been compiling a list of things that are just slightly different here then they are at home. Candy after needles goes on my list of reasons I like living in the US. The first was paper bags in the grocery stores (Canada is all plastic, with the exception of Whole Foods), the second is movies that come out on time (as advertised on the trailers, they generally come out a little later in Canada) and now the third is the doctors actually give you candy after a needle (which possibly happens in Canada, it has just never happened to me.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Eight days before leaving Boston

I think I may be getting sick, so I'm staying in bed today. I've decided to err on the side of hypochondria, rather then risk being sick on a 14 hour flight. It's a shitty day outside anyway.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nine Days before leaving Boston

I'm sorting out my life in Boston today. Dealing with university, trying to get an internship over the summer. I'm certain that all these things will be much harder from a different time zone. Actually a little scary if I think about it too much.

The time change is actually the one thing I'm concentrating on. Of all the little details this is the one I'm focusing on.

I'm beginning to think that I've started this blog too early...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ten days before leaving Boston.

At this stage I am thinking about packing and getting shots. I got my first round of shots a few weeks ago and I'm trying to go back to get the follow ups and another chicken pox shot.

I've gone out and bought a giant box of imodium.

I've also decided to go carry-on for the four weeks. Which is either a great idea, or a disaster. I figure I'm not above washing my underwear in the sink, and all the images of vibrant markets makes me think I'll need the extra room on the way home.

Damn luggage restrictions.