chris vs. the arctic

chris: 72 // the arctic: 47

Tower Love

27.6.06
I have an obsession with towers. The bigger and more grandiose, the better. There's something endearing and grand about societies creating giant glass and steel structures that rise out of the boring masses of 'houses' and 'office buildings.' Every city that's any city has one.

I have been to more than a handful of the world's tallest and most famous buildings. Let's take a tour of Chris' World Towers!


Number 1 // Toronto // CN Tower

Up High

Ah, yes. This one is close to my heart. The first time I visited Toronto's needle-like phallus I was 17 years old. This past Christmas saw my return to the CN Tower. It's still as tall and awesome as ever!


Number 2 // Chicago // John Hancock Centre

The John Hancock Centre

Chicago is one of the most architecturally interesting cities in the world. I had the chance to visit several of its towers last Christmas. I had a martini in the Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock Centre. Definitely worth the $$$!


Number 3 // Chicago // Sears Tower

Chicago at Twilight

I didn't go inside the Sears Tower, but I spied it from the top of the Hancock Centre, so I think that's good enough. It's the 4th tallest building in the world.


Number 4 // Singapore // United Overseas Bank Plaza One

Skyline at Night

It had pretty lights!


Numbers 5 & 6 // Kuala Lumpur // The Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers

They count as two and are the 2nd and 3rd tallest buildings in the world. I used the ultra-fancy pay bathroom in the lobby and lounged around the fountains in the backyard. When I go back to Malaysia, I'm definitely crossing that skybridge!


Number 7 // Kuala Lumpur // Menara Kuala Lumpur

Menara Kuala Lumpur

I love it for pretending to be the CN Tower.


Number 8 // Hong Kong // Two International Finance Centre

Two International Finance Centre at Night

The 6th tallest building in the world. It looks so cool! It's even got a little brother -- One International Finance Centre.


Number 9 // Hong Kong // Central Plaza

The Hong Kong Skyline (Part 1)

Currently the world's 10th tallest tower. The light shows at night are fantastic!


Number 10 // Hong Kong // Bank of China Tower

The Hong Kong Skyline (Part 2)

I don't really like the looks of this guy. It's bad Feng Shui (for real). But you gotta give Hong Kong credit for having the guts to erect it.


Number 11 // Hong Kong // Lippo Centre

The Lippo Towers

These aren't particularly tall or famous, but I love them. They look like they're made of Lego!


Number 12 // Sapporo // Sapporo TV Tower

TV Tower

Yeah, it's cheesy. Yeah, I went to the top. Yeah, I loved it.


Number 13 // Kyoto // Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower

I think it's a Japanese law that every large Japanese city is required to have a TV tower. This is one of the biggest tourist traps out there, but I somehow avoided its clutches.


Number 14 // Osaka // Osaka World Trade Center

Osaka World Trade Centre

I partied hardcore beneath this building at the Summer Sonic music festival last year. It was a great setting for drinking and dancing!


Number 15 // Tokyo // Tokyo Metropolitian Government Building

Tokyo Metro Building

The best looking capitol building in the whole world. It screams Tokyo.


Here is a tag on my Flickr account for all these photos: worldtowers.

Check out world's the up-and-coming creations: Skyscrapers Under Construction Around the World. The future will look like the future!

Just For Kicks

Stephen Colbert vs. Stone Phillips



I don't know how long this video will stay online, but it's absolutely hilarious!

Here is the previous video.

More, Please!

22.6.06
I have something to admit... I've just got to get this out before it eats me away... I'm a dealer. Yes, I'm a pusher, a peddler, a supplier. I have 30, maybe 50, people seeking me out everyday for their daily dose of my drug. They crave it. I can see the desperation in their eyes. They'll struggle for it, and I like it.

What are these people addicted to? What could they possibly want so badly?

Stickers. They want my fantastic, amazing, collectible, tradable stickers.

You see, I give my students point cards at the beginning of every term. If they manage to collect 21 points from me, by either speaking to me after class or volunteering in class, they can get a prize. Usually the prize consists of a small certificate and a lame Canadiana gift. They don't care about the pure cheesiness of it. This is Japan. They live on cheese (although, ironically, you'd be hard-pressed to find decent real cheese in this country). My stickers are premium quality goodness and everyone wants them.

Stickers

The frenzy has gotten out of control. Students wait for me outside of other classes to sputter out their English. They follow me to the bathroom, talk to me when I'm eating lunch, and even wait for me by my bike after school. I've had enough of it. I love my students and their unlimited energy and willingness to learn English, but it's got to stop!

Just the other day, I was walking down the hallway dreaming of the coffee on my desk. Not three seconds after I had left the classroom, I was surrounded by students yelling, "Chris! Chris! What colour do you like? What kind of animal do you like?" and "I like chahan! I like blue! I came to school by bike!" I had just ten minutes to drink my much-needed coffee and get to my next class, so this situation wouldn't do. Instead of being patient and willing to answer the same question for the hundredth time from the same student, I stuck my hand into my pocket, grabbed a big wad of little square stickers, and threw them into the air!! As the kids scrambled frantically to collect the precious pieces of paper, I literally dashed down the hall for the staff room! My coffee never tasted so good.

My replacement had better get into sticker dealing right away, or he'll be facing 650 addicts going cold turkey. Not a pretty sight.

I Just Realized...

...after two years of living in the Sutorimuhaitsu apartment building that I didn't know the name actually means Stream Heights.

...Razor Ramon Hard Gay is actually really funny when translated into English.

...cherry tomatoes are really delicious.

...spring practically flew by because it's now officially summer.

...I have only 38 days left in Toyama.

...I will see my best friends in only 38 days and my family in 70.

...I have a lot of things to do before I leave Toyama.

...I will miss this place, but I'm very happy to leave.

★ Article: "Drinking lots of coffee saves liver from alcohol damage, research finds"

13.6.06
Read the Article

My drinking life in Japan has been saved! I seriously drink about 4 or 5 cups of coffee a day. That's almost 80% protection against liver cirrhosis! Looks like I can afford another nama biiru or two... ;)

The Home Player

Imizu-shi, my 'home' city in Japan, is fairly small, but at the moment, it's the largest city in Toyama prefecture. All 1 million people here have turned their eyes to the soccer (football) player who is currently playing for the national team in Germany -- Atsushi Yanagisawa.

Even though I don't care about soccer, it's pretty exciting to hear about a local making a name for himself internationally! GO YANAGISAWA AND JAPAN!!

Tokyo Times

For my first year and a half here in Japan, I have gone around claiming that Osaka was my favourite city. This may have been true at the time, but it's definitely not the case now. Tokyo is the place to be, no question. 12 million people (36 mil, including the surrounding suburbs) can't be wrong, right?

Whenever I make my way to the big city, it's not what you'd classify as a 'trip.' It's more of an 'event.' Something weird, wacky, or wonderful is always sure to come up. My excursion to Tokyo with Amber C. in May was no exception.

We left on the overnight bus Saturday night. Yeah, we're hardcore that way. Most people would opt for the cushy bullet train. Not us! The overnight bus is the most convenient when it comes to packing in as much of Tokyo as possible, which, of course, is always the goal.

Amber and I decided to find an onsen to freshen up before the day began. We went to Asakusa so seek out the famous Asakusa Kannon Onsen. Upon our arrival, we found something bizzare. Asakusa was littered with empty beer cans and overrun by hungover Tokyo citizens wearing nothing but thong underwear and headbands. As we moved closer to the Asakusa Kannon Temple, we noticed a huge crowd of people surrounding something. We couldn't tell what that something was because everyone was standing on step ladders, blocking our view of the movement in front of them! It turns out they were watching people carry a mini-shrine on their shoulders. We had stumbled upon the dying embers of Tokyo's largest festival -- the Sanja Matsuri!

Sanja Festival

We were lucky to see part of it. It's a very famous event in Tokyo. Needless to say, however, the onsen was not accessible. So Amber and I searched through our guidebook and found a much more interesting place. But before we went there, we decided to breakfast in Harajuku and check out Meiji Shrine.

Meiji Shrine ToriiMeiji Shrine

We were luck enough to catch a Shinto wedding. It's always a beautiful sight.

Shinto Wedding

After eating and awing, we finally made it to an onsen. But this wasn't any ol' onsen, my friend. No. It was Oedo Onsen Monogatari -- an Edo period onsen theme world! In this magical land, you wear a funky yukata and wander around a fake Edo period village, buying food or souvenirs with a barcode bracelet. You can also wander outside and soak your feet in a foot onsen, or relax in a sand bath. Of course, you can get naked and use the full onsen at any time. This place was definitely worth the ¥2,800 entry fee!

Oedo Onsen MonogatariShopping in the Edo Period
Lounging Around

Now that we were fed and bathed, it was time for the reason we ventured to Tokyo -- Design Festa! Twice a year, Tokyo hosts a huge art and design convention for independent artists from across Japan. I attended last year and it was quite a show!

This year, the sheer size of the event astounded me! There must have been at least double the amount of booths and artists! Fantastic.

Tokyo Big SightDesign Festa!
More of the Fashion Show
Live Stage
A Reading
Performance ArtArt

Five hours of music, art, fashion, and shopping later, we were spent. There was one last thing we needed to do to complete our full day of Tokyo -- eat with ninjas. Yes, that's right. For years, I've heard about a restaurant in Akasaka ward called Ninja, which boasts gourmet food served by sneaky servers dressed as ninjas! My dream come true.

All good things must come to an end. (Why??) After nearly 17 hours of festivals, shrines, temples, shopping, onsens, yukatas, restaurants, music, art, design, fashion, subways, and ninjas, it was time to return to boring Toyama-ken. I will be back, Tokyo! Don't you worry.

★ Article: "Slumming the Golden Arches"

This is a great explanation of my gravitation towards McDonald's and Starbucks in foreign countries.

Read the Article

★ Article: "The shadow of slaughter hangs over whales"

12.6.06
I think perhaps one of the most tragic things humans can do is to not question ourselves and our motivations. Look at what happened in Nazi Germany. Look at what's happening within the American government right now. Why do people have so much faith in others? Why are people so blindly led down these paths of death? Is it really that easy to tune out of the bigger picture?

Guardian

I don't think the world realizes the gravity of this whaling situation. The Japanese public won't speak out against their government on this issue, even though most of them don't support it. It's not the Japanese Way. This is a culture of laying down and taking the punches. I don't know who's driving this weighty and rusty political ship (Yakuza? Mitsubishi?), but what I do know is that it's on course for a head-on collision with most Western countries, and more importantly, with the existence of whales.

I think if Japan and other countries really want to hunt whales freely, they should just say "eff you" to everyone and do it already! Why be devious and evil by blackmailing poor countries into voting your way in some organization? It's immoral.

Tread Carefully at the Grocery Store

8.6.06
Japanese grocery stores are quite a phenomenon. I'll never forget my first experience shopping at my local Albis. On the surface, it looks just like any other North American food market. It has a fruits & vegetables section, a meat counter, aisles, check-outs, carts... All typical, right?

Not on closer inspection. The fruits & vegetables have price stickers attached to them with seemly random numbers. Apple - ¥128. Green pepper - ¥299. Watermelon - ¥4,400. Oh, I'm sorry. I only brought ¥20,000 to the store with me today. Perhaps there is a common denominator I was forgetting to divide all the prices by? No? Oh, okay.

The meat counter is another story. Instead of selling meat they opt to sell the actual animal. I guess that's easier...



Yum! But that's Asia, right? Actually, I highly respect it. It brings the connection between your food and you closer. Probably a lot closer than most North Americans would want.

Unfortunately, the Japanese break that food connection in other ways. Let's take a look at a typical grocery store aisle:

The Japanese Grocery Store

All that plastic can't be healthy for either you or the environment.

Here are some other aisles:

Japanese Dainties

Just the essentials, please. You'd be hard-pressed to find more than one type of cream soup. Nevermind one that is less than ¥400. Baking section? I think there's one shelf somewhere in the soy sauce aisle. You'd like some cheese to put on a hummus sandwich? Bahahahahaha!

Here's another enigma of the Japanese grocery store -- cheap bananas:

12 for ¥183

One can easily imagine why they are cheap. (Developing nations' bananas in a developed country...)

For you pizza lovers, watch out! Here's the favourite pizza combination of Japan:

Tuna and Corn Pizza

Yes, that's tuna, corn, and mayonnaise on top of that pizza! Actually, as strange as it sounds, I really do enjoy it. But I'll take my good ol' pep & mushroom any day.

I think the grocery store is truly my weak point when it comes to culture shock. When I went back to Canada for Christmas this past year, nothing really phased me, save the market. English signs? Meh. Being able to understand everything? Overrated. Grocery store filled with more than two kinds of bread, aisles upon aisles of Western food, cheap produce, and a dairy section? I... I... Let me just lean against this chair... Okay. I think I'm all right. Being able to pay for your groceries with a debit or credit card? Sorry, I can see the screen through my tears...

06/06/06

6.6.06
060606 Day

Sushi Eating Contest!

5.6.06
Yes! I finally did it! Jimmy and I have been planning to compete against each other in a sushi eating contest for quite some time. We had our chance yesterday at Kito Kito Sushi in Toyama City. Warren decided to enter the contest as well, along with a bunch of other witnesses.

In a stroke of luck, which may have actually been due to my sleeping in until 13:00, I hadn't eaten anything earlier that day. The first plate went down well. I devoured it, actually.

The First Plate

The next few plates quickly followed their predecessor. Very tasty. My compliments to KKS. I decided to stick to the ¥120 silver plates only, just to keep things cheap. Who knows what double-digit number of servings my gastric experience would involve?

Sushi Passes By

For those of you heading to Kito Kito Sushi any time soon, I highly recommend the gyoza sushi. It's some sort of mutated sushi, consisting of a deep-fried gyoza piece loosely attached to a brick of cold rice. Hey, if the Japanese call it sushi, it's gotta be, right? I have to admit, these pieces were a little hard to get down. I think it was plate #6.

Gyoza Sushi!

I think it was around plate #13 that I started to see things. My chopsticks and plates were getting a little hazy. It doesn't help that my ebi (shrimp) fry sushi still had its eyes attached.

Look Into My Eyes!

We took a survey of our current plate count at one point. Just looking at the stack made my stomach turn.

Higher and HigherColour-Coded Plates

In a bid to catch up with Jimmy and Warren, I ordered ice cream and melon. We decided that both counted as an item, as you get a plate with the dishes. My efforts were in vain, however. Jimmy, the "Toyama Eating Champion", kicked my butt.

Jimmy -- The Undefeated Toyama Eating ChampionI Lose

The final count:

Me // 16 plates
Warren // 18 plates
Jimmy // 19 plates

Congratulations Jimmy!! You truly deserve your well-defended title.

I'm just going to go lie down now. I think I'm about to enter a sugar-induced coma...

▲ List: To Do In Japan

4.6.06
This is my checklist for my stay in Japan. As I complete items, I'll check them off.

✓ Play pachinko (Completed: August 24th, 2005)
✓ Stay in a love hotel (Completed: July 20th, 2005)
✓ Climb Mt. Fuji (Completed x2: July 17th and August 28th, 2005)
✓ Visit Okinawa (Completed: September 23rd, 2005)
✓ Swim in the Sea of Japan (Completed: June 25th, 2005)
★ Visit Tokyo Disneyland OR Osaka Universal Studios
✓ Order the most expensive plate at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant (Completed x2: December 6th, 2005 and May 11th, 2006)
★ Visit Shikoku
★ Camp on the Noto Peninsula
✓ Get drunk off of sake (Completed: July 23rd, 2005)
★ Attend a Japanese baseball game
✓ Watch sumo live (Completed: May 15th, 2005)
✓ Go to an early morning fish market and eat sashimi (Completed: August 25th, 2005)
✓ Visit Kyoto (Completed: October 8th, 2005)
✓ Stay in a capsule hotel (Completed: May 7th, 2005)
★ Watch firewalking at the local shrine
✓ Bathe in an electrified onsen bath (Completed: June 23rd, 2005)
✓ Eat wasabi ice cream (Completed: August 27th, 2005)
Participate in a sushi eating contest (didn't win) (Completed: June 4th, 2006)
★ Visit Ginza and Roppongi Hills in Tokyo
★ Visit Nara
★ Check out the Osaka Aquarium
★ Bike from my house to Toyama City or the ocean
★ Go on the Kurobe Gorge trek
★ Go to Taikoyama Land in Kosugi

If you have any suggestions, please post a comment. Arigato gozaimasu!

[This post is continually updated and bumped to the top.]

Korea // Gyeongju

My Golden Week adventure this year took place in the lovely land of Korea. I have to admit, this trip felt more like an obligation than a vacation. For the past two years, I have been telling myself that I will make the 2 hour flight across the Sea of Japan to the little conflicted peninsula. It would be like living in Buffalo, NY for 2 years and not going to New York City.

Golden Week is notorious for being one of the most expensive times of the year to travel in Japan. My flight from Tokyo to Seoul would have cost around $700 -- over twice the regular price! I got lucky, however, and was able to use points to fly for FREE! Ooooh, yeeeeah.

Melissa decided to come avec moi, along with a cast of characters making guest appearances, cameos, debuts. Here we go:

Friday, April 28th
I woke up early to take the train from Toyama to Tokyo with Melissa, Amber C., and Kyle. Amber and Kyle flew to Seoul in the morning, but Melissa and I didn't fly until the evening. We decided to brunch and lounge in Harajuku before heading out. I sometimes forget that Tokyo is effectively one season ahead of Toyama. While Toyama was chilly and rainy, Melissa and I enjoyed cold apricot tea and croissants at a sidewalk cafe, basking in the glorious sun.

Genki for the Trip!

We eventually dragged ourselves away from Tokyo and made it to Seoul. Our arrival was a bit late for the bus system into the city, so we had to negotiate Seoul's subway immediately. I like how subways are the same everywhere in the world. It's like riding a bike. I don't even pay attention to the process anymore. After our subway ride and walk through dark, foreign streets, Melissa and I found Amber and Kyle at our hostel.

Saturday, April 29th
You'd think that after 12 hours of traveling, I'd be done with it and stay in Seoul. You'd be wrong, my friend. Dead wrong. Okay, actually, just wrong. No one's dead... We hopped on a bus for southern Korea early in that morning. Our destination was Gyeongju, a small city at the opposite corner of Korea (southeast). Gyeongju is sort of like the Kyoto of Korea. It was the base of the ancient Silla Kingdom several millenia ago. We heard about the burial mounds and had to see them for ourselves.

Mounds!

The surrounding area of Gyeongju is packed with historical places, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We spent the next several days hiking around the area.

Emille BellCheomseongdae
The Pond at Sunset
Cherry Blossoms at BulguksaBulguksa TempleSakyamuni BuddhaLet's Enjoy Donald Boat!
Stairing Back

Sunday, April 30th
After climbing several mountains (okay, hills) and experiencing several impressive temples, we sat down and ate the largest Korean feast ever. Ssambab is a dish found in the Gyeongju area, and it consists of not one, but twenty-one dishes! For a moment, it seemed like the server wouldn't stop bringing them out! The tiny plates and bowls held everything from kimchi to fish to pickled beans. You wrap the exotic (and sometimes disgusting) items in various types of lettaces. Very tasty!

Ssambab Feast

After dinner, I decided that it was time we scaled one of the mounds. Sure, it's disrespectful of the guys buried under the hill. Sure, we're probably damaging a World Heritage site. But you know what? It was worth it!

Illegal Climb
Here we are on top of one of the hills. Can you feel the rush?

The next stop on our Korean adventure was the port city of Pusan.