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Zia

I met Zia at one of the outdoor film screenings in London in the summer. She has a very cute face with well-sized brown eyes. Sometimes she wears glasses, which complement her general demeanor, which I would describe as sexy-anime style geek. I first thought she might have been from the Philippines but she is actually from China. The best thing about her are her large, double D breasts, which she likes to show off in a range of low-cut dresses and tops. I went on a couple of dates before taking her home with me.

I got her to sit facing me, and I pulled her closer to me. As we kissed, I felt her soft tongue on mine. I caressed her upper body and she began to moan loudly. I thought she was going to lose her balance so I led her to the bed.

All night I had been staring at her breasts, which seemed to be barely covered by her play-suit. I pulled it down from the back to reveal her pink two-tone bra. I caressed her breasts for a while over the material and enjoyed the sensation. Eventually I had to see them properly/. they really were some of the best breasts I have seen – soft, well-proportioned and with areolae that are good sized. When you get an Asian girl with large breasts you need to pay them a lot of attention and this was how it was on this occasion. I rubbed them with both hands and kissed them all over. I took Zia and positioned her on top so that I could get a good view of them, and let them brush up against me.

Zia carried on moaning and I could tell that she enjoyed the attention she was getting. I had already taken off my clothes. It was time for fucking. Zia took hold off my cock and stroked it for a while until it was hard. I pulled down her underwear and could see that she had a lot of pubic hair. I’ve been with several Chinese girls – enough to know that this is normal – but you might need to adjust your expectations.

By now I was very hard and I couldn’t wait to get my cock inside her. Zia was tight but I was able to get inside her nearly all the way, she started to moan that it was really hard. Zia started to grind herself against me, and then she was asking if I liked her. I enjoyed having Zia’s breasts banging against me so much that I forgot to change things up. Luckily I managed to take her from the side for several strokes, getting a decent grasp of her glorious breasts as I did so. I was feeling really horny – the combination of Zia’s lovely breasts and skin was knocking me out. I pulled out and moved zIA on her back. I use missionary when I am nearly ready to come. I like to be able to look at the girl and hold her hands whilst kissing her at the same time. Soon, I was coming. I let Zia carry on thrusting against me for a while afterwards as I filled the condom.

Verdict: satisfying sexual encounter. I loved Zia’s body – some Chinese girls are very small but Zia’s body had a slight layer of fat that made her very soft and her breasts were superb. If you get a girl with big tits and a smallish figure you are just golden. I would have liked it if she could have been a little more dominant, but all in all it was a great night with her.

New experiences in Japan

I stayed in large countryside home with traditional shoji paper screens. For contrast, I also slept in a one-room studio apartment in a suburb of Tokyo. Somehow I managed my 20-kilo bag inside Ryo’s place, using his bed whilst he slept on the floor. All this is to say that while it might not be common to be invited to people’s houses as a tourist, if you make the effort, it will happen.

It was when I was on the local train for Imabari that I met an orange farmer who wanted me to visit her farm. At first I was doubtful, but decided it was worth making a small diversion. In fact, it was one of the best experiences of my journey. The house was traditional country style with the sliding doors I had seen in films such as the iconic ‘Love Letter’ and Unimachi Diary. There were so many interesting things about the house. For a start, the rooms were filled with furniture and captivating objects.

There were things everywhere, in a comfortable rather than cluttered way that reflected the eclectic taste of the owner, a slightly eccentric woman who has lived in the house since childhood. It was so spacious and comfortable that I didn’t want to leave. And the oranges which grew on the farm were some of the best that I tasted. It didn’t hurt that the owner had a fridge full of delicacies that she was happy to share.

The interior of a countryside home in Japan. The sliding doors are a lovely feature.

The hotel industry offers a wide choice. At the bottom are guesthouses, or hostels. Sometimes they were quite adequate, with reasonable facilities such as a wide TV in the living area and decent cooking equipment. On the other hand, some were so dingy, dirty and crowded, I wished I had slept outside. There are simply too many visitors in Japan, many on such a low budget, and the basic hostels aren’t able to cater for them properly. The problem is the differing needs of backpackers who use these places to meet their friends, and businessmen who stay at them when they are on the road. If you’re Japanese tourist, you probably won’t really mix with the other guests for fear of making them feel obligated to you. In fact, that was the most notable difference between Japanese, and travellers from other countries, whether they would mix or not with strangers. It was most pronounced in the communal areas, where Japanese students would bury themselves in their phones, whilst others would be eagerly mixing, sharing food and other things, as well as comparing their experiences.

It was at the breakfast area that things became most awkward. With up to thirty people wanting to eat at roughly the same time, it was everything it took everything in their power to feed everyone. With only two toasters with slots to cook 2 slices at a time, it became rather a long wait for a piece of toast. Here the conundrum is do you cook 2 slices at once, thereby hogging the toaster to yourself depriving others of the right to use it, or simply toast two slices and offer one of them to someone else, then going back when you have finished it for another slice, because you can’t keep toast hot very long anyway. I never found a good enough solution. The fairest way would be to have a toast monitor, someone continually refilling the toaster so that the toast was always on hand? But then, I observed that some people would adjust the toaster so that it cooked their bread for longer or shorter, and in my case, I often got tired of standing in front of the toaster (I don’t know why I felt I had to do this) so that I sometimes pulled it out early before the toast was ready. Others just waited, up to two minutes, with their plate in hand. They wasted a lot of time like that, but seemed to enjoy it. If someone else’s toast popped up, they left it sticking out of the toaster. That was annoying too, but perhaps they didn’t want to handle it too much.

Another thing was the choice of jam was limited to blueberry, strawberry and marmalade. I didn’t want to leave any out so I had to put a teaspoonful of each jam on my plate. I hardly used much, and I was surprised the amount others used. It was the cheap bulk jam. The best bread and jam I had was at the Maharashi temple in Onnomichi. It was there, on arrival, that I discovered I had lost my passport.  Onnomichi is a small city along the coast not far from Matsuyama. I didn’t do much there. I had been recommended to visit the Kendama rock café, despite what it said online; it was stubbornly closed on both Saturdays I attempted to visit. 

Still, the kitchen offered free tea and coffee. It was powdered coffee, but I did drink it anyway. The problem this time was waiting for the water to boil. Kettles in hotels are usually so old that can take nearly 5 minutes to boil. When they are full the problem is far worse, and meant that there was always a line.

I think there have been too many jokes about kettles with short flexes. Anyway, it’s probably a safety measure anyway. I’m more disappointed by the lack of bathroom shower gel miniatures. When you are travelling across the country, these are highly useful. Yet many of the hotels I stayed in offered some facial cleansers and toners. What I wanted was shampoo, but this was in the bathroom in large dispensers fixed to the wall. I suppose they are saving costs. I didn’t take any thing from the fridge; there was nothing there anyway. Sometimes they gave me an actual key. This was the case of the International in Nagoya. It was mildly inconvenient. On the other hand, it was nice to be reminded of the past, when people carried keys to open doors. It made a nice weight in my pocket too. That hotel had gleaming gold buttons in the lift, more retro touches. There were newspapers in the lobby for sale and cabinets of ceramics. Perhaps because I booked late I was on the eighth floor. I wonder if there can be any choice in floor level when booking?

The hotels offered a level of courtesy that was often superfluous to the hotel’s price. Bowing was common and many times I was given polite assistance to my enquiries. I tried not to be a pest but sometimes I enjoyed walking through the hotel lobby late at night. I wanted to see who was around. Sometimes prostitutes hang around outside hotels, but I couldn’t see any. It was only in the convenience in Nagoya that I met a lady I who I’m sure was a hostess. Just from the way she was dressed and her manner. But you can never guarantee these things. 

Not only is the marriage rate among young people falling, the divorce rate is rising. To make things more complicated, the cases of remarriage is on the increase, with people going into second or third marriages, having children again and living with second or third partners, or having children extra-maritally.

What other social trends are on the rise? I saw a greater amount of tattoos on young people this time. And some anti-social behaviour, such as bad language and spitting that was somewhat disappointing to see. Smoking is still accepted in most places, but is carefully controlled in specially designated smoking areas. On the Shinkansen, there are standing capsules with a sliding door to access them.  Only in the very expensive green cars is it possible to smoke in your seat. The trains are fast and clean and they connect all the big cities but the luxury might not be as much as you would expect. Most of the tables are no bigger than the trays you have on airline and there is not much room for big cases. Tellingly, the JR pass that allows foreigners the option to use the trains for 7, 14, or 21 days, does not give access to the faster services, conveniently reserving these services for the Japanese almost 100%. When I took the faster service from Osaka to Tokyo, I was clearly the only foreigner on board, while on the far slower stopping service, I had to jostle through backpackers and families with crying babies. The food cart cheerfully pushed through the carriages (I didn’t buy anything – too expensive), whilst most platforms dished out bento boxes. People queued up at the stations to reserve seats, while in the unreserved cars it was often standing room only.

A cheap bento box, bought at Osaka station. I thought the Shinkansen would be out of this world, but it was sadly very ordinary.

Wherever I went, people seemed to be on the move somewhere, even before the big cherry blossom season. Restaurants were full and the only time I didn’t have to wait was in the fast food burger places and cafes. There are now foreign workers from Vietnam and Nepal in many restaurants. The government is currently making plans for 40,000 temporary foreign workers, never mind what it will do to Japanese society. Even though it wasn’t what I wanted, I underwent the charade of speaking Japanese with them. At the best restaurants, the staff were always 100% Japanese – these were far the best. Not only was the service better, the experience seemed to be that much better for being in Japanese. It’s convenient to be a solo diner as most restaurants offer counter service.

Women go to work dressed in high heels and dresses far more demure than anywhere else I have seen, making the Tokyo metro a perfumed paradise for the voyeur. There are hostess bars in all the big cities, offering services by the hour. There are plenty of opportunities for dating; you just have to look around. In fact, there seemed to be women everywhere just waiting to be approached, ready to be swept away by anyone who dared to try. At night-time things became more sexual, with dozens of girls bars and women standing outside soliciting passers by inside.  There is some controversy as to what these venues provide. With prices as high as 5,000 yen, it’s hard to imagine they are just for talking. It may be that the charge covers the cost of drinks, but not sure. On numerous occasions softly spoken elder women who were trying to offer me various services, which I reluctantly declined, however much I wanted to partake, approached me.

The cost of living in Japan is high for Asia, but not exorbitant, you can get around easily for 50 dollars if you eat simply. It was travel and accommodation that put the biggest hole in my budget, and with just a few hundred extra pounds I could have done even better.

Some of the things I did seemed to be overpriced, such as paying to enter castles and gardens (where they would be free in London). It was something I did grudgingly; whilst it was great to be able to access free toilets everywhere. Hotels were reasonable considering the services provided. I made a point of accessing the free breakfast at the Nest Hotel in Matsuyama and it was excellent, but I could only eat half of it. Sometimes the beds in these place were uncomfortably hard, in others they were more luxurious. Probably the most disappointing hotel I stayed in was a branch of Toyoko Inn around Nagoya station. For some reason the hotel chain has become one of the biggest in Japan (there are some in Korea too) for providing reasonable rates and a free breakfast. Unfortunately, almost everything about the hotel was second rate. I found out there were limits of tolerance to my bad habits. I was told that I wasn’t able to have breakfast in my dressing room, despite being the only guest at the time.

I enjoyed Mystays Premier Hotel, a new range of business hotels. The hotel near Narita was extremely comfortable, with a pool and spa. It even had a 24-hour convenience store on the first floor. My budget forced me to stay in several hostels. They were like echo chambers for germs, with nasty coughing and sneezing preventing anyone from ever sleeping properly.

Sadly, many hostels are simply dingy, crowded and full of anti-social people uninterested in each other.

My most Japanese experience was at the site of First Airlines in Ikebukuro. Everything I had heard about the world’s first virtual airline made me convinced that I would love it and it proved to be so. From the entrance where they used ambient airport sounds and used monitors to show where the plane was heading, it was an immersive piece of conceptual theater up there with Punchdrunk. I ‘flew’ to Paris, having been unable to secure some of the other options Helsinki and New York.

The check-in desk at First Airlines.

Every new place I went had different candy that I saw in the food halls of the department stores. I lost track of most of it. Many were a kind of sweet bean filled bun known as mango that was pressed into a particular shape. In the Island of Miyajima they were maple leaf shaped. Sweets from Hokkaido were made using butter. Nagano offered highly unusual apple rice crackers – the first time I had seen anything like that.

Japan has the most impressive range of snacks of any country I have visited.

Some of the best food I had was in unlikely places. The cookies from the Aunt Stella shops were superb: buttery and crispy and with some creative flavours, I found branches outside Nagano and Matsuyama stations, the latter is most charming, with waitresses wearing headbands and blue aprons. Really what you find is that every place has a speciality, one thing that they are good at if a shop sells cookies, they aren’t going to be messing around making brownies as well. You can find English bars, or very good attempts at trying to imitate them as much as possible. The idea of being able to drink freely without partaking of food is so radical that many go there just for the novelty of it. There are bars where you only have room to stand. Then there are those bars targeting an exclusive male audience – known as ‘Girls Bar’, they charge a cover fee, and are staffed by attractive young women wearing various stimulating outfits. The one I visited was open early, and I was fortunate to be the only customer there. You pay per half hour, and they give you an electric timer showing how much time you have left.  It’s not really sexy; it’s more about some female attention. Of course, you could go to any normal bar and try to get female attention, but there’s a possibility you would be bothering someone. Paying for this service seems to be part of the appeal, but the idea of forking up money for nothing but chat put me off going for a repeat visit. 

The famous Aunt Stella’s outside Matsuyam JR station.

Numerous people have thought that Japan’s sexualisation of young women is a sign of something wrong with Japanese society. But on the other hand, it’s a way for these young women to make some decent money while they are studying. And what the hell is wrong with that? Many men would do the same if only they had the chance.

The more time I spent in Japan, the more I felt that it was like a perfect society where everyone has their role and knew how to perform it expertly. People often like to point out that Japan is a land of contrasts – young and old, ancient and modern. But then, when you go there, these things are not so much contrasts as part of one big palette.

Jangyu Cafe Street, Gimhae

Finding the perfect coffee in Jangyu Cafe Street

Besides being home to Busan’s International airport , Gimhae has many other things to recommend it as a place to visit. There is the excellent Gaya museum and the tomb of King Suro. For shoppers, there is a large Shinsegae department store and next to the Lotte Water Park there is a massive outlet store.

Last week I visited Jangyu Caffe Street. Busan has its own well known café street in the Jeonpo area of Soemyeon, but I was interested in somewhere off the beaten track. After a stuffy bus ride through the countryside, I was sure I was heading in the wrong direction, but eventually I saw the twisting tubes of the water park and realized I wasn’t far from my destination.

The area is known alternatively as Jangyu Café Street on Instagram hashtags. Most of the cafes were located in a street by Yulha canal in a long stretch of shops. I counted more than 15 cafés, which were impressive looking and the street is free (mostly) of the identical franchises such as Caffe Bene and Tom N Toms. There were so many that I wanted to try but I chose Labelles Heidi because it seemed to have the nicest atmosphere of all the places I passed.

Inside, the design was modern and light. There was a decent selection of cakes and yoghurt. But it was coffee I was there for. They offer a selection of roasts with guidance on the roasting, blend and flavour profile. Bitter, tart, sour, earthy are some of the words used to describe coffee. I could tell it was a great cup with out knowing too much about which coffee they used. It was spacious enough to find plenty of free seats, and much quieter than the more hectic cafes in Jeonpo. There were several ladies yakking away in the comfortable chairs downstairs whilst on the mezzanine the ever present young Korean girls were furiously tapping away on their phones.

A few doors down is Café Stein. I went there to try some very good Gelato, and chilled out for a while reading the Korean books on the shelves. Finally I tried one more coffee in Café 1001. The mood was a little cold so I ordered my coffee to go. But with so many high quality places I am sure to be going back soon.

Sexless Korea

Is it possible that I got it wrong about Korea? Specifically, that it’s really easy to get with women if you’re white?

Whilst there are those who would say otherwise, here are a few reasons why it’s actually hard, really hard, to get even a date here as a foreign male.

  1. The culture is totally different. Yes, it’s obvious, but any of the rules in other countries don’t apply here. The hook-up culture is not the same. For example, Tinder is used as much to make friends as it is for actual dating (or so I’m told).

Some Korean women won’t date foreigners. You could have excellent Korean, be successful and good-looking, but some Korean women won’t date you because you’re not Korean. Although you will see WMAF couples, you won’t see many really top-level Korean women going out with anyone not Korean. As much as I hate it, it’s just a fact of life here.

The clubs are as much for dancing as they are for meeting people. On the two occasions I have been to clubs, I saw that most people were staying in gender-segregated groups. Men were definitely not approaching woman to dance. It would be completely different back home. It’s even harder to approach people in bars, because people sit on separate tables and don’t even place their orders at the bar. Although there is less opportunity to take a girl home here (most people still live at home) Koreans use the same phrase for one night stand, showing that they are at least aware of the concept.

Koreans have a rigid dating culture, and to approach someone randomly on the street, or in a cafe, isn’t really done. Although I have tried it several times, in most cases I could feel that the women didn’t really want to have a conversation with me and made a point of moving on as soon as possible.

The sheer amount of foreign students and English teachers has made foreigners less of a novelty. In fact, I feel largely ignored here, and somewhat invisible, to the point where I can be in a room of Koreans and nobody will acknowledge me.

The possibility that women will feel judged if they go out with foreign men possibly puts them off approaching them in the first place.

Lastly, the fact is that there are some sickos out there who will date a korean woman and flood sites with articles like ‘Korean women are easy’. This sort of thing does nobody any favours. Whilst you must always take something like that with massive grain of salt, whether it’s even true – and ask yourself whether someone who was actually sleeping with a lot of women would want to tell others about it online – it’s going to only make it harder for everyone.

One thing I am seeing is that there are much more Korean men with western women. I guess its because men are much more comfortable dating out of their culture than women here.

Meanwhile any men moving to South Korea in search of easy sex should do an instant reality check.

Making waves in Matsuyama

My most recent trip to Japan to Japan took me to some new and interesting places.

There was the small city of Matusyama. It’s actually the largest city of Ehime prefecture. As well as having Japan’s oldest onsen (bath house), it’s famous for a beautiful white castle high on the hill.

I arrived in Matsuyama just after dark, as the residents (and a few tourists) were getting ready for their evening bath. The view of the Onsen is very impressive, lit up by lanterns and street 20180421_170807.jpglamps. To add to this peaceful mood, you will see many visitors walking to the spring wearing brightly-coloured yukatas (a lightweight version of a kimono). Just outside the Dogo station is an old electric train and there is a robot clock that comes to life every hour.

The tram running from the main JR station connects the city’s main areas of interest. Taking line 5 allows you to pass the city’s main shopping area. Right outside Matsuyama City station is the Takeshimaya Shopping centre. The roof is home to a 50 metre illuminated ferris wheel (moved a few year’s ago from Hiroshima). In a lovely gesture of good will, the city allows foreign passport holders the opportunity to ride it for free (normal price is 700 yen). It’s 15 minutes for it to make one turn, and the views are as impressive as the structure of the wheel itself.

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The city is famous for udon noodles, slightly chewy and very thick soup noodles made from wheat flour. At about 400 yen for a medium bowl of ‘dons in a light seafood broth, they were some of the best value food I had here.

If you want something more fancy, the Michelin guide has for the first time published it’s ratings for the city. It covers most of the city’s expensive restaurant, but a few cheaper options are recommended. With everything from ramen places (Shiosoba Maeda) to very expensive Kaiseki restaurants, it admittedly favours places at the latter end of the price scale. But reading the guide does at least give a good indication of the range of food available.

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Although famous, due its age, and also its connection with the Studio Ghibli film Sprited Away, the Dogo Onsen is actually has very little options for bathing, with only one bath. There’s a much more impressive onsen near the JR station (Hibiski). There are several different waters including foaming baths. Walk around naked, but put your pants on if you’re getting a massage.

If it sounds like Matsuyama is a bit of a sleepy place (bathhouses, trams and castles) there’s a large red light area in Okkaido where you can go if you’re feeling sexy. And with some of the best looking women in the whole of Japan , this might be the number one reason to come here.

Getting there 

I flew with Jetstar, a budget airline from Narita airport.

There are many alternative ways to get here; for example by bus, train, or across the cycleway from Hiroshima.

지금 만나러 갑니다 (Be With You)

This film is a misguided attempt to make a what if? romance. Starting from the fact that the two main leads are too young and good looking to be believable as the parents of a ten year old boy, the film is poorly directed by a director who wastes no opportunity to drown his cliched visuals in a lachrymose score.

The countryside setting is helpful in grounding the couple’s relationship in a beautiful setting but the actual romance is barely felt as the director cannot convey any sense of the couple’s attraction for each other. The film is also lacking any sexual attraction. Which is strange when you consider the man hasn’t seen his wife in years.

Be_With_You_(2018_film)

Soo-ah (Son Yejin) makes a promise that she will return to her husband one rainy day. One year after her death she magically reappears during monsoon season. But she has no memories of their life together and has to remember how they got together.

Although a film with Son Yejin cannot be considered boring, the film’s lackluster content is a real drag. There’s barely any humour aside from the baker who wears a penguin suit in an attempt to cheer the son up following the loss of his mother.

The boy is cute but the shots of him playing at school, reading from a book and watching his father cook eggs become annoyingly repetitive.

In a nutshell: potentially promising romantic fantasy let down by poor direction and miscast actors.

My trip to Fukuoka

I took a short trip to Fukuoka just the other day to see my girlfriend for Christmas. I got there on Christmas Eve Eve. We stayed in Nishi ward the first night.  I wasn’t impressed with our Airbnb stay at all. Firstly, our host kept us waiting for twenty minutes in the cold. Then we found that there was not any food for us or any place to cook.

The next day was better. We went back to Hakata which has several big department stores. I find the service in these shops to be first rate and you can eat dozens of free samples if you are so inclined. We went to a doughnut shop I had read about online called Canezee’s. It was nothing like Krispy Kreme at all and the doughnuts tasted natural and fresh, as healthy as it is possible to get.

There was a Christmas market opposite Tenjin station with traditional stalls and a J-pop band performing. It was pretty funny to watch as the fans were made up of 40 year old men copying their dance moves and singing along.

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We took the bus from Hakata to Tokurikikodanmae, a district of Kitakyushu. When we got there it was raining but our lovely Japanese host was there to pick us up. She drove us to her house where we were staying for the night.

It was an incredible experience which exceeded my expectations. We stayed in a large bedroom with a balcony overlooking the misty mountains.  Then a couple of hours later we sat down to eat a delicious Christmas dinner that Kimi and her mother had prepared for us.

First we had a kind of chicken pie with puff pastry topping. Then they bought out roast chicken with several plates of vegetables. I was getting full but we had tomato pasta (the first time I have eaten pasta since leaving UK three months ago). There was bread to follow which the guests really enjoyed dipping into olive oil.

 

Throughout the meal I drank sake which I had purchased that morning near the Dazaifu shrine. The other guests were not drinking much but they drank plenty of non-alcoholic beers and sweet plum cocktails.

I was especially excited to try the Christmas Cake. Unlike the traditional English rich fruit cake served at Christmas, which has marzipan and sugar frosting, it’s traditional to eat a cream roll cake with strawberries. It wasn’t very sweet but it was wonderfully light after the rich food we had just eaten.

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I took a bath with my my girlfriend and then we slept on wooden beds with thick futons. The next morning our hosts gave us breakfast of toast and black tea before driving us all the way to Kokura station.

We walked around the castle and then spent time in the museum looking at costumes and swords from the Edo period. It was more fun than I expected and we spent a long time there.

Kokura
A nice souvenir from Kokura castle

The museum has the largest diorama in Japan – a recreation of Kokura town with 5,000 dolls and to scale buildings. A funny experience was the theater, where they had a robotic doll who came on the stage and narrated a video presentation about the Gion festival.

Kukora Castle

We stopped off in a branch of Coco Curry, ordering a scrambled egg with curry sauce. I’m always impressed by the Japanese way of ordering lunch alone. It’s totally different from the Korean style of sitting on a table in a large group. We had to leave soon after to get the bus back to Tenjinm.

I nearly missed my flight because the bus was delayed in traffic. Thanks to the kind actions of an Asiana worker, I was rushed through security and I made it to the departure gate minutes before boarding the plane.

I can’t say anything bad about Fukuoka. In fact I enjoyed everything we did here. Just doing simple things like going to a 7 eleven, which is their convenience store, is better than anywhere else.  You feel comfortable taking the subway trains because the seats are made of soft upholstery, similar to the old-style London tube trains.

I will try not to use Airbnb on my next trip. I don’t like the extra charges they add (for 1 more guest, cleaning charges, cancellation). Couch-surfing is often better because you can have a deeper interaction with your host and really learn about them. And isn’t that what travelling is for?

Do You Hear What I Hear? Fresh Off The Boat Episode 10 Season 4

Episode rating: ***

Fresh off the Boat has always been ‘freshest’ when it covers the holidays, whether looking at how the Huangs tried to celebrate Chinese New Year in Florida, or whenever Louis tries to impress his sons with his hilarious outfits on Halloween.

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Although this episode doesn’t go for the same meta-references as the Christmas Carol/Home Alone pastiche of last year’s Christmas special, there‘s enough here to melt the heart of even the coldest Scrooge.

There’s a pre-credit sequence which zooms in on Jessica Town (the -scale model of a traditional Victorian Christmas town from the second season – Continuity!)) – and then we’re pulled right up to present day 1997, with the mention of Titanic.  Louis has always been a Leo fan “ever since Gilbert Grape” and he’s so excited about the upcoming release that he pens “Titanic” on the Town’s Playhouse building.

Jessica, who acts a little too perfectly in this episode, accuses someone of bringing store bought to a cookie sale and tries to impose her vocal training on the town’s out-of tune singers.

Assistance comes in the form of Deidre’s friend Holly (guest star Paula Abdul), who teaches performance and movement (“maybe she can make some figgy pudding out of some rotten fruit”).

There are more jokes about Titanic, especially when Emery tells Louis he is reading a book about the Titanic and he doesn’t want to spoil the ending.  But the episode wants to get on with the subplot, and particularly the story involving Nicole’s coming out from episode 4.

Now that we are on board with the sitcom’s first gay character, we get to see Nicole attempt to approach a girl she likes for the first time.  That links nicely with the nineties craze of coffee bars. Thanks to Friends and Frasier, they were everywhere in the nineties. Nicole’s love match is Jessie, (she doesn’t take any guff from machines) tough and feisty, just the kind of girl we can see Honey being attracted to. The only thing is, Honey is still not sure how to ask someone out. But as Jessie has started to write a smiley-face instead of the ‘O’ in Nicole, she is sure that she is interested. The idea of Eddie coaching Nicole in love is unlikely, but cute, and it shows how much he has matured.

Eddie is so excited about having coffee with Nicole that he blows Louis off – I’m thinking of having mine iced. I like the idea of having the show use a coffee shop for Nicole’s introduction to dating, even if the idea of youngsters meeting and drinking coffee seemed a little far-fetched.  But on the other hand, the episode got funnier the more coffee the kids drank. I didn’t think much of Hudson Yang at first but ever since season 3 he has really grown into the role, assuming a greater confidence, it’s less of a stretch to see him growing up to be the badass Eddie Huang, the show’s creator (although he has distanced himself from the show saying it has watered down his childhood).

They really go with the Titanic theme (it was the most anticipated film of the year and went on to be the biggest) – to miss it would be unthinkable as Louis puns. It’s surprising that no-one else in the family is excited about seeing it.

But just so that Louis does not have to watch the film alone, we get Honey, overly emotional next door neighbor and no stranger to vicarious tragedy (remember the Diana episode).  They visit the cinema together because Marvin can’t watch a ship go down in public) and he promises not to let him know they are seeing it.

The auditions start for the choir and it turns out that Evan can sing, no, he can really sing. Wow, the show never prepared us for this. Total Eclipse of the Heart is such a good song for him too. But when Jessica starts singing My Heart Will Go On, it’s completely wrong. Not only is it doubtful that she would have got to to learn this song so well with the movie being so new, it’s far too saccharine for Jessica to want to sing at all. SO why have they put this in here? It’s a shame, because there are other songs she could have sung much better. First bad mistake of the episode.

So its no surprise that Holly doesn’t choose her for the carol group, especially since it was Jessica who said that the human eye can only process six people on a doorstep.

Uh-oh, Marvin has found a ticket stub, and a pack of Goobers, and now he suspects something is going on. It’s time to go on a stakeout. He usually says some funny, politically incorrect things but not really this time. He’s in more of a serious mood. Yet Honey and Louis want to watch Titanic a second time, so they choose disguises and Jessica’s ridiculous Lao Ban Santa costume gets another outing.

There are more costumes for the Carolers, with Evan as a very cute David Copperfield (the set designer has a massive Dickens fetish) and the assorted choir wearing ribbons and bonnets.

Back to Greenie’s coffee house, and Eddie’s drank enough coffee to give Nicole the best pick-up line to write on her coffee cup. The guys are drinking disposable cups (even though they would probably have the original ceramic mugs, I’m letting this detail slide). ”Hi Girl, you gay. Do you like instruments? Holler at me.” So it’s not the most romantic. But as Emery points out, it’s a haiku. So when Nicole bottles it, and gives the server her coffee order instead of the cup with the message, she thinks she’s missed her chance. Then Allison points out something on the mug and it’s a phone number. Look out for this actress appearing in subsequent episodes from now on.

What else happens? Marvin finds Honey and Louis at the cinema dressed in their disguises and decides it must be a great movie, and he agrees to see it with them. Jessica axes Holly, and then loses the rest of the choir, who feel that Jessica does not have enough Christmas spirit. The show has a good surprise in the form of Marvin’s Christmas present and a nice closing scene with a group carol in front of the lawn.

Not the strongest episode they have done, but enough to maintain interest, especially the kids in the coffee shop.

Nineties reference: apart from obvious Titanic mentions, there’s only Eddie’s reference to Friends “I feel like the show Friends makes more sense now.”

Chinese-ness: C-. The cast love Christmas like true Americans and don’t mention anything about their Chinese traditions.

Jessica’s meanness – A+. Firing Holly was petty and she’s not funny in this episode for it to be endearing.

 

The real Korea

I realised recently it was naive of me to think that I could go to Korea and make all my problems disappear. cause when you move to a new country, you replace your old problems with new ones.

When i was living in London, I though that everything about Korea was good but now I live here and can see it up close I am aware of all the problems. And, and I can see all the good things about London that Korea doesn’t have. Like basic human rights and customer service….. Or at least, the standard of human rights is lower here. visitkorea

It sounds harsh but Korea still feels like a very undeveloped country in many ways. The technological advances don’t change the fact that Korea is still a very backwards country in many ways. Luckily I’m not a woman but I still get some of the negatives living here. A case in point: I’m supposed to stand up if an elderly person needs my seat, even if I was on the train first, or I’m tired.

Or i should respect old people no matter what (why)? I guess people don’t usually want to mention how conservative Korea is (but they should!) because they are too busy mentioning the good things.

The train system is not the only bothersome thing (although I recommend taking the bus instead). Like why do I have to order an anju every time I want to go out for a drink? And even though I haven’t found any places that explicitly ban foreigners, there are many places that will do whatever they can to stop them coming in (which is bad, if not worse). Recently I went to a restaurant but they wouldn’t let me order anything because they said I was on my own. The next time i was with a group of Koreans so it was fine. The point is it shouldn’t have happened at all.

Koreans travelling outside their country would expect to treated fairly but it’s naive to think that foreigners will receive fair treatment at all times. I’m seeing a lot of campaigning for tourism in Korea but if the government wants more visitors they’re  going to have to do a hell of a lot more to get people to come here. Like improving service in shops and restaurants. And making sure that there are adequate signing in transport areas. Otherwise, people will go to Japan instead and who can blame them?

 

Tokyo Diary

A city I have always wanted to visit. A place about which so much is known but little is understood. Here is an account of how I spent my first days there and some of the things I got up to.

We got up early on Sunday to visit the Tsukuji fish market which is near the Ginza area. It’s the largest open fish market in the world and the amount of stalls is overwhelming. We probably should have chosen a different day to go because the crowds were out.

I tried the Oyaku Don (chicken and rice with scrambled eggs) and the combination was pleasing.

They also have some great ice-creams including flavours I haven’t seen anywhere else (sakura, white peach). The sushi was good but not outstanding for some reason (maybe I made some bad choices).

Back in central Tokyo, we visited the Shinjuku park. You have to pay to enter which was a good idea to keep it safe.

I wanted a cold drink and I’d heard about the melon flavoured drinks for sale here. Imagine a very sweet, slightly artificial tasting soda the colour of crème de menthe and topped with soft ice cream and that’s what it looks like.

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We met Miho’s friend near the busy Shibuya area. We had ramen (Chinese noodles in pork broth). You can specify the thickness, and the hardness of the noodles as well as how spicy you want the broth). By ordering at a vending machine, it takes less than 10 minutes for your food to arrive.

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It wasn’t really satisfying enough so we walked to another place. We went to an Izakaya restaurant. Sometimes they are translated as pubs but that seems to be doing them a disservice. The focus is very much on the food but the drinks are very good. I particularly like the range of sours (yuzu, pear, apricot).

It’s still legal to smoke in many indoor bars and restaurants but with good ventilation you don’t notice the smell of the smoke.

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Then we went to Starbucks which is popular here and offers some more interesting choices than are available anywhere else.

Another thing. You can still smoke in many restaurants, cafes, bars. This being Japan, its hard to notice any smell as the ventilation means the smoke is sucked up into the air. Then you should also bear in mind that life expectancy is the highest in the world and you have to wonder whether we haven’t been overly alarmist in having a total smoking ban.

The next day is Miho’s first day back at work, so I spend the day alone. I type up a story that’s been running through my mind recently. With so many people going to exotic places on their holiday, would it be possible to spend the entire duration of a holiday alone in a hotel room? You could argue that many famous tourist sites are disappointing. a nd with the recent terrorist attacks, there is more danger than ever in visiting cities.

In the afternoon I want some company so I contact Jun, my A irbnb host. She asks me what I think of the apartment and I answer that its very small. a problem with airnbnb for me is that when you’re staying in someone’s house you feel inclined to be positive. Yet you’re also spending money so you want to get your money’s worth.

She recommends a few places and I leave with my head full of things I won’t have half enough time for. But one of the places she recommends is Yoyogi Park, which I can walk to.

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There are lots of trees and some shrubs. At the end of it there is shrine, where many tourists come to visit. Right at the end you get to Harajuku, the centre of youth culture and fashion. In fact, it was made famous outside of Japan by Gwen Stefani in her song ‘Rich Girl’. I also check out the massive, monolithic structure that was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

I take a walk around the Shibuya area and pay attention to all the kids on the streets. one thing you soon notice in Japan is how differently the young people dress, They have their different tribes that they belong to. It’s said that most Asian trends develop here and you can well believe it.

I still have time before I have to meet Miho so I go over to Asakusa; another busy area popular with tourists.

I stop off in one of the many convenience stores. I’m fascinated by these well-run, clean treasure troves which are so well-stocked. for one thing, they never seem to close. Secondly, they sell things that you would actually want to buy. For example, packs of rice balls. Bread, even yakitori. You can buy pornographic magazines which are sold next to fashion and sports magazines.

There are dozens of restaurants. I also spot a famous revolving car stand, which allows the vehicle to spin round before pulling out.

It starts to pour with rain before I can meet Miho. Not just light shower but heavy driving rain. I arrive back at our apartment absolutely soaked to my skin.

Day 4

The rain continues so I stay in the flat for a few hours. then I walk over to Yoyogi hatchiman, an area close to where I am staying. There are several nice-looking shops ( I mean traditional, not chain stores here). I want to buy some katsu curry which is so good here. But no point buying it too early I suppose. Instead, I take the metro to another area of Tokyo for the araki exhibition. an entire display devoted to photos of his wife Yuko. Some of the photos are stunning and he is clearly a master of his form. But what also impresses is the total respect that patrons have for the exhibition. No-one stands in front of the pictures for too long. No one pushes or shoves. I spend a good hour taking in all the photos.

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Day 5

I go to an area I have already heard a lot about. The electronics area of Tokyo Is called Akhibara. Actually, first I went to Ueno but it was pouring rain and the place was full of locals still on their vacation. So its better to go somewhere else. there is also a market near the station: Ameyoko. But there is nothing of interest to buy there.

Although most people visit the area for electronics, computer games etc, I’m more interested to find girls who work in Maido-kissas. These are cafes where women dressed in maid costumes serve coffee and cakes to men using extremely polite and deferential language. It looks a little bit like prostitution but there’s nothing sexual about the service they provide. I’m tempted but the funny thing is the service is already plenty polite everywhere I have been so far.

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Going for lunch in a soba restaurant I meet another traveller. Ocasionally when I’m travelling alone I like to talk to other foreigners. So I ask Alex about what he has done so far in Tokyo.

Oh and they have ‘cat cafes’ here. I’ve never seen them anywhere else. But it seems people go there to stroke and play with cats for a thirty minute time slot. Another concept that originated here and will be unlikely to spread anywhere else although its possible I suppose.

A cool discovery was seeing a street that only sold musical instruments. On one side were several guitar shops and then on the other side several stores selling brass instruments. It makes things very easy for the customer but probably causes unnecessary competition for the other shops.

The other thing out here is they have people everywhere to guide you, or answer any questions. The other day I was walking near Akhibara and there was someone standing by a part of the road that had been closed off; he wasn’t doing any roadwork, he was there to apologise to pedestrians over the inconvenience of the road being closed!

As well as people manning the train station platforms, there are almost always staff standing outside shops and restaurants to invite people in. You can have as many free samples of snacks in the department stores and no-one seems to mind. I had expected my purchases to be carefully wrapped, but other than the occaisional ribbon, most things are simply quickly put into a plastic bag and handed directly to you. Or maybe its just that I haven’t been buying any big ticket items.

 

I have found the apartments I have been staying in a little hard to get used to. The rooms are very small with low ceilings. And the bathrooms are strange too. There is often no separate compartment for the shower. You turn it on and the water floods everywhere, so you slosh around until you are done. they also have the air conditioning on all the time and I have to remind myself to turn it off when I’m not in the room.

 

I’ve seen plenty of lone diners. Today I went for my morning coffee at about 8:30. The place was full of workers on their way to the station, drinking coffee and chain-smoking. You can still smoke in bars and restaurants without a problem. Its seems like a very civilized way to live.

The quality of life is what makes it so special here. Of course, there are one or two things I’m not so comfortable with. For example, when you order something in a restaurant, you’re not expected to be able to change your mind, or ccomplain if something isn’t right. It’s a different concept they have to human rights, or consumer rights.

I’ve noticed that Miho would rather eat her way through a bad meal in silence than kick up a stink. Whereas in the same situation I would be itching to ask for a replacement or a refund.

Speaking of food, you have to look around for the best prices. Its possible to eat a bowl of ramen in a quick-self service restaurant (order by vending machine)for lss than 5 pounds. But for something of higher quality (cooked to order) you will have to spend up to 900 yen, which is about 6 pounds. Sometimes the price of food is close to what you would spend on coffee. Its pretty strange. Starbucks is poular and there are several local brands that do something very similar for a lower price. In any case, it seems that coffee is more popular than tea for most people. It’s usually drunk cold in a glass half filled with cubes, but ask if you want it hot and they will do it for you.

I’ve seen a lot of attractive women here, similar to those in Korea. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that they are more attractive than Korean women because they have less plastic surgery. They are also more likely to show individual taste in their fashion sense rather than dress the same way.

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I’ll be visiting some more museums here. You need to pay unfortunately. I’ve been to the museum of photography and the museum of Oriental ceramics. Tomorrow I’m getting up early to go to the Ghibli museum, then I might wander over to the cemetery where several famous Japanese authors are buried, including Yukio Mishima.

When it comes to obvious places to visit, I’m usually disappointed. When we were in Osaka, we thought about visiting the sky observatory. We went as far as the 38th floor, and then looked at all the tourists queuing for tickets, and we decided against it. I think I remembered not going more than actually going upo there. Then a few days later, we had some time to kill before travelling to the airport, so we went up there and this time we paid for a ticket. In the end, we were right to have our doubts, as it was nothing special , just a view of the skyscrapers and nothing more. As in so many areas of life, things are better in imagination than reality.

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