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Monday, October 23, 2017

FABULOUS FALL FANTASY: Day 10: Tokyo to Bangkok

Let me start by giving you the good news.  I'm alive and well and in Thailand.  I boarded ANA 807 , a Dreamliner, one hour late, and spent another hour on the tarmac awaiting approval to depart.  After a few scares, we finally took off.  The first 15 minutes in the air were rocky, like being on a bumpy road.  Then, I was able to appreciate ANA business class.  First there were amenities in the bathroom:

Plus, the toilet had that Japanese washlet, where you could shower yourself, below:

The food was theoretically excellent.  The problem was that I had a huge breakfast, followed by an equally large airport lounge meal:

You can't see the olives too well in that cup, but there were two giant green ones.  Here is one to the left.  

The appetizer was a trio of cold masterpieces.  Unfortunately, I could only pick at them.

The steak looked tempting.  However, I took two bites and just could not eat any more.

However, I noticed that you could at anytime also order a ramen or curry and rice dish.  I think because my stomach can best handle certain kinds of foods better in the air, I ordered a bowl:

I enjoyed this.  I did turn down the dessert tray:

At this point it occurred to me that I should be so thankful that I was even on this plane heading for Bangkok.  I would rate this ANA Business Class above the United First Polaris Class from Honolulu to Tokyo.  The United flight had no music.  Something to do with a lawsuit.  The ANA had a system where you could swiftly and efficiently select individual pieces from around a hundred albums and create a song list of 50.  I accomplished this task just waiting on the tarmac.  I also watched a film, The Circle, which was pretty good, although Rotten Tomatoes gave it a horrible 17/22 rating.  I thought the intensity of a Silicon Valley employee work environment was well presented, with good performances by Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and John Boyega.  The ending, where Hanks, playing a Steve Jobs type leader, being trapped into a transparent future was priceless.

We arrived into Bangkok after midnight, and to my surprise, I saw as many people as you normally would during the day.  The check-in through customs/immigration was quick, and I was on an AOT limousine to the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit within half an hour of  arrival.  They will always try to sell you their expensive car options (like the BMW to the left--2300 baht = $70), but keep asking for the cheapest one.  When you succeed, you will still pay $36 when a taxi could well cost you half that amount, but I splurge a bit from the airport into town, especially after midnight.  From the hotel I always catch any available cab hailed by the staff.

The Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit gave me a great room.  This hotel has now been around for 22 years, and is undergoing some renovation.  As in Japan, there is no tipping in Thailand. It was after 2AM when I went to bed.

Typhoon Lan made landfall near Tokyo on Monday as a Category 2, but Japan is well planned and organized, so the effect was minimal.  

Not sure how I would have been affected had I retained my Monday departure for Bangkok, but, no matter, I made it, and can't be any happier.

Oh no!   There is a new disturbance with a path predicted to virtually mimic Lan:

Incredibly enough, this new future typhoon will arrive at Narita next Monday, just about when I land from Incheon, as a stop for me to transfer to a United Airlines flight to Honolulu.  I can't leave earlier from South Korea, so I guess I might need to depart Seoul a bit later to totally miss this new complication.  I wonder what this will cost.  Stay tuned.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

FABULOUS FALL FANTASY: Day 9--Some Interesting Things about the Orient

I hesitate to say this might be My Last Great Brunch, as I've more recently been commemorating a range of final activities, but to end my stay in Japan on a positive note, here was my fabulous morning meal just before leaving the Tokyo Westin:

1.  The Japan Nikkei, now at 21,458, has increased for 14 days in a row.  There is a general sense that the economy is good.  I believe this is mostly delusional.  The Nikkei was at 38,062 late in 1989.  Depending on what economic comparative parameter you use, that value today would be between 65,900 and 125,000.  Say the purchasing power calculator is utilized.  Then, that high today  to exceed the Nikkei all time high would need to be 73,700.  Thus, the 21,458 is a pale shadow on what Japan's economy was when their bubble burst.  Right is the inflation-adjusted American Dow Jones.

2.  Japanese Emperor Akihito's abdication, at the age of 85, will probably occur on 31March 2019.  He will have held that position for 30 years.  Amazingly enough, he is the 125th Emperor of his line, going back to 660 BC.  In comparison, Queen Elizabeth II is 91 and has reigned for 65 years.  The first Monarch was Alfred the Great going back to 899 AD.  But there have been different Houses and other complicated ascendency adjustments.

3.  The Japanese vote on Sunday to replace the lower house (which is the only body of any worthiness).  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party will easily retain power.  At one time Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike of the new Party of Hope showed promise of challenging.  However, there seems to be general satisfaction with Abe's performance.  Remember that the Liberal Democratic Party is equivalent to the American Republican Party and is known to be conservative.  Oh, President Donald Trump arrives in Japan on November 5.

4.  Various Japanese companies are in assorted stages of scandal, bankruptcy, takeover and general ignominy:  Kobe Steel, Nissan, Toshiba, Takata, Sharp, Olympus, Sanyo, Tokyo Electric Power, and more.  However, Toyota has recovered, and should be #1 in the world this year, with Volkswagen at #2.  This is their fuel cell car, the Mirai.  I asked Professor Osaka yesterday...why?  We are of the same opinion that the effort seems mostly public relations.

5.  The latest fear is a new H7N9 bird flu strain with pandemic potential.  This version has been circulating in China.  However, it seems that the largest threat will be to the poultry industry.  The last global outbreak, of the H1N1 swine flu, was in 2009, killing more than 200,000 globally.  Four vaccines are being developed for the H7N9 version.  The flu shot you got this fall?  Only protects against influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and one type of B.

6.  CIA Director Mike Pompeo was quoted to say:

With respect to, if Kim Jong-un should vanish, given the history of the CIA, I'm just not going to talk about it.

No wonder then that the North Korea chubby leader vents, but at least somewhat more colorfully.  Regarding President Donald Trump (September 2017):

I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.

And (December 2014):

Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds, like a monkey in a tropical forest.

7.  I thought my one-hour presentation to Mensa last week was a bit long.  Xi Jinping spoke for 3.5 hours to the the Community Party Congress, effectively kicking off his second 5-year reign.    He put former President Jiang Zeming to sleep,  However, this was nothing compared to Fidel Castro addressing the UN General Assembly for 4.5 hours in 1963 and Ted Cruz mesmerizing the U.S. Senate for 21 hours and 19 minutes on Obamacare in 2013.

8.  Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live fame thought he was a quarter Japanese.  His Oriental root, Masami Kuni, was a legendary dancer from Japan, who, during the 1930's and '40's, staged performances throughout Europe, had a brief affair with a German woman, who gave birth to Armisen's father in 1941, all the while serving as supporter of the Third Reich and spy for the Emperor of Japan.

Turns, that his grandfather was born Park Yeong-in in 1908 Korea.  Here is a clip from PBS Finding Your Roots.

Super Typhoon Lan is now up to 155 MPH, and still projected to make a direct hit on Tokyo from the Pacific Ocean:

Lan has picked up speed to 26 MPH and will now be arriving even earlier.  The few hours of safe time before my flight departs at 6:25PM is now a concern.

....The road to Narita Airport seemed to be on the verge of flooding.  However, my bags and I got to the ANA check-in desk and all seems well.  I had a feast in the ANA lounge...just in case of a bad case scenario.  According to sources here, it will get a lot worse in a few hours.  

Whoops, just heard an announcement in the lounge that all flights are delayed because of the typhoon.  Not sure what that means.  Hope to send you my next from Bangkok on schedule.  Tokyo has now been raining, quite hard, for eight straight days.  The weather in Bangkok and Seoul over the next week show no precipitation.  It will be 90F in Bangkok, but Los Angeles will hit 100F on Tuesday.  Seoul looks to reach a high of 70F when I get there in six days.


FABULOUS FALL FANTASY: Day 8--Why I came to Japan

Today is the day for the retirement ceremony and celebration of Tadashi Matsunaga from the presidency of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, or Nokodai.  I almost blew it!!!

The university paid my way just to give a 5-minute testimonial.  This was a huge honor, and the other person designated his five minute statement was Professor Tetsuya Osaka, a world famous authority in electrochemistry.  He is the oldest professor at Waseda University because he is the only person in the history of that institution who was authorized to stay on after he attained the age of 70 two years ago.  You might say we three are karaoke buddies.

I've caught the JR trains maybe a hundred times from Tokyo to the Nokodai Koganei campus.  This time, JR was fixing a portion of the Shinjuku Station departure area, so I mistakenly went up some steps, saw a Chuo train there, and there seemed to be a sign that hinted that it was headed for Mitaka Station, which is a couple stops away from Higashi Koganei.  I noticed this train was blue instead of orange, but hopped on anyway, re-thought this haste, but the door closed and I was stuck.  

To my shock, this was an express train to Matsumoto, where I visited a couple of days ago.  This is a three-hour ride between Shinjuku and Matsumoto. Although I left the Tokyo Westin two hours before my appointment in the Matsunaga/Tanaka lab, if the train never stopped, I would be back way after the retirement ceremony, and might have even missed the reception.  The ignominy would have ruined my reputation.

I anguished for a while, but then heard that the train stopped at the Hachioji Station, half an hour away.  I asked the conductor how to get back to Shinjuku so that I could the next time catch the right train.  Of all the luck, the train going that way was to arrive in two minutes.  But more importantly, one of the stations way before getting to Shinjuku was Higashi Koganei.  

Got off after an interminable number of stops, and, to make a much longer story short, it was pouring rain, so instead of making the 10 minute walk to the Nokodai campus, I caught a taxi (for $7) and was only 15 minutes late for my appointment to work out my presentation details for the retirement ceremony.  I could easily have missed the whole thing.  While I felt euphoric, I really don't need this kind of stress.

The session went perfectly.  After a few introductory remarks, Professor Osaka gave his 5-minute talk, well illustrated in Powerpoint.  I too did a PP.  It's much more difficult to prepare a 5-minute show than that of a full hour, which I had recently completed for Mensa.  Essentially I went over a few highlights of the karaoke, cuisine and golf experience Tadashi and I have had over the past quarter century. 



By   Patrick Takahashi
21 OCTOBER 2017

I showed half a dozen slides, then ended with:
A quarter century ago Tadashi Matsunaga served as the First International Professor for the Blue Revolution while on sabbatical at the University of Hawaii.
Today, he is retired from the presidency of Nokodai, and will mostly spend the rest of his life chairing important committees.
Could Matsunaga become the leader for the Blue Revolution?

All of his research life he has focused on the micro aspects of biotechnology.  After serving as dean, then president, he should now have the experience and vision to bring together the entire package at the macro level.  So I'll continue to follow up with him into the future.  All we need to do is find $1.5 billion to build the Pacific International Ocean Station.  This could be his legacy for Planet Earth and Humanity.  (Interestingly enough, several of his colleagues later at the reception came up to me and said they too wanted to join the blue revolution.)

So, anyway, he received a goodbye bouquet after his 45-minute lecture summarizing his life:

He put Professor Osaka and me in a taxi to take us to Keio Plaza Hotel for his retirement reception.  In charge were Tsuyoshi Tanaka (right) who replaced Matsunaga as head of the lab, and Atsushi Arakaki, also a staff lead in the lab.  They both spent some time at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute.  The current and past presidents of Nokodai gave their 5-minute statements, Matsunaga provided a short talk, we had a kanpai, and then drinks plus a huge buffet:

There was also an unlimited supply of beer, wine, sake and whiskey.  I was invited to join them on a follow-up party, and who knows what else, where I could well have returned back to my hotel at 2AM.  So, in consideration of the stress I went through for my near disaster, my advanced age and the fact that that I had to leave tomorrow to beat Typhoon Lan, I decided to return to the Tokyo Westin.

One thing I never did during the past eight days in Japan was a room meal, so after getting off at the Ebesu Station close to my hotel, I stopped by and got German beer, Italian minestrone, American Burger King cheeseburger and Japanese chicken curry rice, which I enjoyed while watching Japanese enka:

There is something soul settling about this sort of cuisine combination in the privacy of your own room after a particularly rough day.  Incidentally, the total cost of the above was $15, about 1/30 what I paid for at Robuchon last night (scroll down to the next posting).

Well, Typhoon Lan is at 150 MPH and still heading straight for Tokyo, with landfall expected early Monday morning.

I will depart Narita at 6:25PM Sunday night for Bangkok.  Lan seems to be moving faster and faster towards me.  Hope I get out in time.


Friday, October 20, 2017

FABULOUS FALL FANTASY: Day 7--Niigata and Tokyo

As usual, my day started with breakfast, which this morning was minimal, for I was planning on a monumental Shinkansen bento meal, and, tonight, dinner at Robuchon:

This was a rainy day in Tokyo, again, but note in particular the hugeness of those two grapes, about the size of a ping pong ball.  I noted that there were no seeds because a device extracts them out:

The Max Toki I took has two levels.  If you're bringing a heavy suitcase, you need to deal with steps going up or down.

However, I had nothing to carry and the vantage point so high affords a better view.  The view inside:

Niigata is known for rice and sake:

That's about all you'll get about Niigata because I spent all of 45 minutes just at the train station solely to purchase what could well be the final bullet train bento I'll ever again consume:

Niigata beer, Niigata sake, salmon bento and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  One flavor was teriyaki:

This lunch cost me $25 and was a fitting conclusion to my one week on the Shinkansen.  It will be raining over Tokyo for the next few days, but from the train, that surely looked like Mount Fuji:

Getting off the train in Tokyo, I noticed that this is the year of the Shinkansen:

I stopped by Ginza to shop at Uniqlo:

I've now been in Japan for a week, and will have only my second real restaurant meal.  I dressed up for Robuchon located across the street (the French mansion closest to my room):

Joel Robuchon has 31 Michelin stars, and his restaurant across the street from my hotel is one of three 3-stars..  One floor below is his 2-star diner.  And a floor below that is his bakery.

Getting a last minute reservation at his 3-star temple can be a challenge.  However, I somehow bullied my way into a table.

I ordered their house White Burgundy and Bordeaux (a Margaux).  They use Riedel glasses here.

The bread display is wheeled to your table:

Here are portions of the menu:

For the record, I ordered the egg, artichoke and chocolate souffle' dishes. You can read the French version.  But it began with the amusement, something to do with quinoa, but I think those grains below the eatable pieces were the quinoa:

An okay start.  Next came the assortment:

This photo doesn't do justice to the french fried egg with caviar, which looked like this inside:

This could have been the highlight of the night, but the next is that caviar and sea urchin spaghetti, and I unfortunately mixed it up before taking the photo:

So which spaghetti was better, this, or the one I had yesterday (scroll down to the next posting), which cost $15, including salad and a glass of red wine?  The supplement just to add this dish at Robuchon was $30.  The classical Italian versus enhanced French Italian fusion.  I'll spare you the financial details, but I felt that the 15 times cheaper pasta was actually superior.  

The chocolate souffle' was exceptional, and came with a sherbet:

But that was not all.  There was a cheese wagon, and I selected two blues, with a glass of Port wine:

Then came two more dessert carts.  Here is only one:

After all that, just the below with a cup of cappuccino:

I only got a quarter-way through the souffle', and just could not fit any more food into my body.  The bill came with my photo.

And this one came from my camera:

I'm not that fat.  My suit is the same color as my seat, which is more like a sofa.  Incidentally, this the  the last time you'll ever see me so well dressed.  Tonight was a dress rehearsal for tomorrow, when I provide my five-minute testimonial, and no one who will be there reads this blog.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average Index again broke it's all-time high, up 166 to 23,329.  

The more important matter has to do with Typhoon Lan, which is now up to 115 MPH, but will strengthen at least into a Category 4 tomorrow.  

The crucial issue, for me, is the timing.  On Sunday night at 9PM, Typhoon Lan will be sufficiently south of my presence.  I leave Narita at 6:25 PM for Bangkok.  The projection remains a path straight to Tokyo.