Travel

JAPAN + SRIRACHA SENBEI, Japanese gluten-free rice crackers

I’m stalling on this post, about our trip to Japan, or more accurately, Osaka, Kyoto and Kurokawa.  This happens sometimes, either when the trip itself was too brief, or in this case, even with a sufficient duration to ponder, I find the place… difficult to compute.  Truth is, I’ve always had mixed feelings about Japan.  Mixed, but not foreign.  After all, I’m from Taiwan, hardly a stranger.  Since awareness I guess, Japan has been a place with unescapable elements everywhere deep inside its social fabrics that, to me, are both deeply seductive and also repulsive.  It’s a festival of confusions, to say the least, the reason why Lost in Translation was transcribed here, and perhaps the reason why I hesitated to come for years.  I didn’t know if I was more afraid to love it, or hate it, and either way, why did that matter?  I wasn’t sure of the answer either.  It’s a country where people pay for their dinner through vending machines, but spend hours drinking a cup of tea.  The country runs on the most highly efficient and developed system of high-speed rail that few others can compete, but the information kiosk of which, in the Osaka station, is still being organized in old-school filers.  It’s a country that is famed for its obsession in cleanliness and manners, but one of the few still left in the developed world where I have to endure second-hand smokes in restaurants.  A culture that is widely associated with its quiet, distilled form of beauty, that wabi-sabi life, and yet, the major cities within which are wild labyrinths of neon lights and carnivals of giant moving octopuses.

Slow, fast.  Quiet, loud.  Polite, yet perversive.  Allures, and frustrations.  Which one is true?  Or perhaps all is.

A country that thrives in contradictions.

I didn’t know what to make of it.  I still don’t.

I wanted to, like everyone else, just focus on its beauties, which are nothing but pure pleasures.  The yakitori (skewered/grilled chicken) in Wabiya Korekido in Kyoto comes close to an art form.  The beef heart sashimi from Maru in Osaka could not have been the revelation that it is anywhere else.  The amount of philosophy that goes into making a bowl of ramen cries for admiration.  A dip into the tinglingly warm hot spring, the liquid silk that percolates from deep within earth in the stillness that is Kurokawa, it is hard, real hard, not to fall for it all.

But with every enjoyments, comes with a blinding contradiction that seemed to overturn the previous experience.  Was my experience authentic rituals, or rehearsed theatrics.  Was this a sanctuary, or a theme park?  What the world is infatuated about Japanese’s deeply philosophical way of life, was that even a real part of their lives, or just advertisements?  Or maybe they are two of the same thing, a double-sided mirror.

I’m sure most of you don’t know what I’m talking about, a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.  I have failed to explain it, and for that I’m going to stop.

Maybe Japan was never something to be understood, but to be pondered upon.  Was never a maze, but growth-rings on a black pine trunk.

To get it, I gotta eat more ramen.

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France Part II, and chicken w/ morels and rice pilaf

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ONE OF THE BEST DISHES I COOKED.

I AGREE.

Lourmarin is what it promises, a picturesque village in the Luberon region in Provence, and more.

No matter what kind of cynicism you bring along, or distaste for anything that seems to fit too squarely into Martha Stewart magazines, you come here, you see it, and it’s hard not to surrender, even just for a moment, under Lourmarin’s somewhat curated but irresistible, undeniable charm.  We arrived at 7 o’clock in a summer evening when this village draped with honeysuckle vines and buzzing bumble bees were casted under a slanted, pale blue light.  With just one deep breath of its brisk, floral and light beige linen atmosphere, everything felt just right.  May I even remind you that this was after 9 hours of driving from Lyon cutting through the gruesome, annual European migration to the south in the middle of August?  If it weren’t for the highlight of us stopping midway at an orchard, and me may-or-may-not having stolen a bright red apple and ran, the day would’ve all seem to be in ruin.

That ain’t pretty.  But Lourmarin made it worthwhile.

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(may or may not have stolen an apple from here…)

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FRANCE PART I, and Lyonnaise sausage w/ warm beans and sage butter

All the best things in life are clichés.

Paris, is a cliché.

I’ve fought consciously throughout my adult life not to fall for it, or at the very least, say it out loud, fearing I’ll sound like a girl wanting to model or a guy in a sports car.  It oozes unoriginality.  But in the end, excuse mine if you will, as we sat predictably at an open cafe at 6:30 am, watching this city in beige and pastel grey slowly waking up in a wash of golden summer lights, acutely aware of its both corny and extraordinary allure.  Paris, I succumbed, is Paris for a reason.

But I knew that four years ago, when I visited Paris for the time time.  This time, I wanted more.

I wanted more not from Paris, but from the country that it has instilled great bewilderment for inside my mind.  If that was Paris, then what is France?  An embarrassingly stupid question no doubt, for a pre-middle age woman to ask but frankly, I’m too old to pretend that I’m better.  If I were destined with death-by-sugar then fuck it, bring out the ice cream-truck, and I want her every single available flavors including the weird ones against my best judgement.  Not just to see her polished beauty but – almost out of both cynicism and total respect – I wanted to slowly cruise through her central veins, starting from Paris, then Burgundy, Lyon, Luberon, Marseille, then along her riviera that ends in Nice.  What would I find on a road trip in France?  Perhaps a side of her that looks no different than places just off of the New Jersey turnpike (and yes there are).  Or perhaps more beautiful cliches?  Those perfectly imperfect ancient villages and chateaus freckling along her cheeks.  Would I be able to have one?  To find it unmistakably amidst all, to go back to it again and again?  My favorite freckle of hers?

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MADRID, plus how to throw a tapas party

In the past few years, for more times than I’d like to admit, I have allowed myself to dance dangerously around a question that is as simple as it is complicated, as imaginable as it is hopeless, a secret irritation that haunts us all who have ever fell in love with a corner of this beautiful land they call Europe, but had to depart soon after.  You know you ask yourself this, we all do.

Why.  Why can’t I live here?

EVERY SIMPLE DELIGHTS FROM EVERY ASPECTS OF LIVING, RESTRAINED IN SMALL SERVINGS, BUT CONSTANT, AND IT DOESN’T STOP COMING

It’s a cliche, of course, for someone who doesn’t know or has travelled to Europe that much.  But is that what romance requires, muchness?  From the first time I landed a foot in Paris back in spring 2012, around the time when I just started this blog up till now, I have only been to a handful of European cities and each affair lasted no more than a week.  And yet, the immense imagery of lost stories behind every architectures and cobble streets, the courage I seek to enjoy life with ease that they breath daily as a birthright, the endless sceneries roaming from hill to hills, the effortlessness, irritating almost, the fact that they can take their dogs everywhere (!!!)…  All of it, everything, had left me in a stench of discontent at the boarding gates, the sense that I was going back to a place that was very much less so.

But having said that, it was a general infatuation for a region as a whole.  Specifically, if you asked me, I could never quite pinpoint a city, or a country even, where I could actually see myself living in.  As indisputably beautiful as Paris was and always will be, living there felt like being in a relationship with someone who would never love me more than I loved him.  As authentically ancient and charming as Rome, the even more hard-wired slowness stirred a sense of restlessness in someone who wasn’t embracing retirement just yet.  As much as the melancholic pessimism of Lisbon was alluring, it would probably deem unhealthy for me who’s equally negative, to marinate in large dosages.  As for London, which I haven’t mentioned, the idea of moving from under one sky blanketed in smog, to another blanketed in overcast, was… just depressing to say the least.  Then there was Nice, and Monaco… but who am I kidding?

That was, until Madrid.

I wanted to live here.  But more importantly, I felt I could actually live here.

Even with the inevitable unfamiliarity with its pace of life and various language barriers here and there, everything felt natural, easy.  It felt right.  Madrid, I hope we could all agree, wasn’t the most beautiful European city, or the most prosperous.  It wasn’t even the most convenient, given that few Asian airlines offered direct flights (but that’s gonna change this summer for Hong Kong).  But there was something about it, the perfect mixture of ease and vibrancy, like it ran in its bloodstreams of knowing when to slow down and when to party, and it carried us, without even thinking, into the same infectious rhythm.  An energetic morning, a late but overbearingly sumptuous lunch, a slow afternoon easing into the night, then a bubbling and munchy social scene to end it all perfectly.

Every simple delights from every aspects of life, restrained in small servings, but constant, and it doesn’t stop coming.  That was what it felt like, as least for me, Madrid’s promises.

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SEOUL, AND CHICKEN GALBI RAMEN

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THANK YOU, SEOUL, FOR CARRYING THIS LIMP SPIRIT THROUGH ITS STREETS, FEEDING HER WITH NOURISHMENT, GIVING HER SUNLIGHTS.

So, 7 days went fast.  And we’re back.

This past week, instead of a “vacation”, was really closer to being on a emotional exile.  After two years of relentless, losing battles against too much realities, I just wanted, no, needed to be casted away, to somewhere unfamiliar, string-less… without memories, where I don’t have to… function.  Where I could just drift.  If only for a little bit.  So in a sense, it isn’t really fair, to the city that happened to be used as my emotional rebound.  Seoul.

We spent two days in Seoul following Hong Kong (which was more like a business trip for Jason).  It was, without saying, not nearly enough time to properly court a great city so rich and immersed in its cultures and cuisines, let alone in a state of mind that was… exhausted at best.  Normally, I attack my travels with mannerless enthusiasm, seeking if not prying for all it has to give whether or not it’s being offered.  But this time, I wasn’t really thinking about that, about work, the duty of a blogger, about the game.  I was wondering without thoughts.  If I saw something, I ate.  If I felt something, I took a photo.  At best, the memory was documented in loose fragments, then slowly pieced back together as I uploaded my mindlessness into digital form, computed at last .  So I’m not even going to pretend that I was capable of any profound insights, opinions, or even recommendations for Seoul.  I would not insult it like that.  Instead, this is a mirage of its potentials, not fully explored, but it lays the promise of future reunion.

But above all else, I should probably say thank you, to Seoul.  For carrying this limp spirit through its streets, even if only for a couple days, feeding her with nourishment, giving her sunlights, though at times, she stared blankly into space.  For that, I will always be grateful.

Oh and by the way, this chicken galbi thing it’s got?  Basically boneless thighs marinated in gushing garlicky red, then caramelised inside a hot skillet then tossed with carbs and hot cheese.  Sick.  Just sick.  Just something, I guess, to miss Seoul by.

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POST-HAWAII BLUE & COFFEE CRUSTED NUTS

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The danger is real.  There’s a paradise out there.

You can’t move two steps without hearing old-time tales of unsuspecting wanderers who passed by and never left, got sucked in by that boundless flickering of Pacific blues so wicked that they dared plunging into the terrifying anxiety of a slowed down life.  Made home, even a family, grew roots.  Their next generation, born-and-raised, has fascinating stories to tell about their unwavering connections to being the children of these captivating islands, seeding ideas inside visitors with a less affirmative mind such as myself who all, at one point or another, fondled the unthinkable… could I live here?  Oh you’ll see.  Just a split second of carelessness and you too would find yourself romancing the same idea.

Hawaii is that kind of hazard and I barely made it out in one piece.

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izu 伊豆

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I am chasing a mountain.  A legend.  A symbol…  The Fuji hovers like a myth behind a veil of mist and cloud.  Alive while dormant, assertive and yet faint, revealing itself then dissipating into the background as the sun runs its course.    Never have I seen a landscape as transformative as this, and never has a landscape so closely mirror the culture that inhabits it.  If you were never here, it does look like this, feel like this and taste like this.  A black pine.  A bowl.  A state of mind.  Everything.  Unmistakably Japan.  But this isn’t Tokyo. Only two hours away and arguably more, this is the Izu Peninsula.

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The Way Rome Intended…

EVERYTHING… IMPECCABLY CRAFTED.  NOTHING REFINED.

I opened my eyes and stared into a rustic, antique wooden-ceiling.  It’s an unusually early hour for me to wake up to but both the street-washing vehicle just outside the window and my jetlag demanded it.  This was a morning as routine as any.  We woke up, cleaned ourselves and got dressed.  But instead of a solitary morning of me courting my coffee machine, we walked down one flight of antique stone-steps into another world and strolled to the piazza-next-door for a cup of cappuccino with anticipations of company.  People were there as promised, gathering in front of the cafe bar chatting.  We funneled through the cappuccino crowd as you would in a big family getting through the morning in an orderly chaos.  Two cappuccinos, one cornetto.  As usual.

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Malaysia Feeding Frenzy

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I’m not gonna bullshit.

This ISN’T about the beaches.  This ISN’T about the rain forests or the baby orangutans they wouldn’t let me hold.  This ISN’T about those corn-looking twin towers either, or getting up from the bottom and looking down from the top – big whoops.  Let’s also spare the traveler’s enlightenment crap cuz there ain’t any, and cut straight to the point.  We came here to land our asses from one plastic chair to another and feed ourselves to a mindless pulp.  We came here to experience binge-fatigue and then push through it.  We came here to stuff these mortal human-casings of ours to maximum capacity until we were absolutely sure that they were going to burst and THEN SOME.  This is a senseless, stone-cold-killer guide to how to heartburn through KL and Penang without shame or remorse in super hawker style.  Here ain’t about looking-good’n-feeling-chic.  Just strap on that bottle of pepto and put on that stretchy pants.  Now please follow our trail of gluttony.  Let’s divide.  And conquer.

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Paris, Where Have You Been All My Life?

Just the fact that they didn’t compromise the integrity of the city for real estate, makes me kind of believe in (sorry…) socialism.  Apparently all buildings except for one (ewww… Trump, is that you?) in central Paris cannot exceed 6 stories tall.  So what?  It unveils the vastest, most beautiful sky I have ever seen in an urban setting.  New York, I love you, but you ain’t got a ceiling this nice.  My pitiful collection of vocabularies fails miserably.  Just look at it!  Carefree clouds floating in a mesmerizing, SOUL-SUCKING blue.  Tell me that doesn’t look like a Pixar’s movie!, in which I’d be the ghost of an old lady happily traveling in a balloon-lifted house…

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