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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

GAWA Day #15: My Day in Seoul

I did it again.  Remember Silver Week in Japan, which totally demolished my plans to Shinkansen around Japan?  Well, arriving in Seoul I found out that this is about the biggest 4-day holiday in South Korea.  It is called Thanksgiving, or, in Korean, Chuseok, which, more accurately, was on September 27  But the holiday this year is celebrated from September 26 through the 29th.  (Note, next year, Chuseok is on September 16, which means it will most probably only be a 3-day holiday.)  I asked, why aren't they doing this in November, and the fact of the matter is that this has been happening since the time of the Silla Kingdom in 57 BC.  The must munch is songpyeon (right), a rice cake filled with stuff for dessert.


What happens during Korean Thanksgiving?  Everyone goes back to their homes and villages to have a feast, drink rice wine and honor their ancestors.  Most stores are closed.  Here, shopping is everything and major shopping areas completely shut down.

Anyway, today is September 29 and all is back to normal.  I have lunch scheduled at Jung Sik-dang, a restaurant I helped discover 4.5 years ago with Professor Kiryun Choi.  The chef, Jung-sik Yim, actually delayed his flight to New York to open his new restaurant (Jungsik--and already, has earned 2 Michelin stars) there, just to cook for us.

Jung Sik-dang is now the #93 Best Restaurant in the World, and is #10 in all of Asia.  There are now three Korean restaurants in the latter category:  #27 Ryunique and #38 La Yeon.  Here is a quote about the best restaurant in Korea:

On a recent weekday, ladies who lunch filled the second-floor dining space at Jungsikdang, oohing and aahing as each delectable dish arrived at the table. There was indeed a discernable noise of clicking, diners not shy to whip out their smartphones to take shots of the creative and often whimsical presentation.

I'm back from Jung Sik-dang, but will alert you to my next post, which will be entitled:

     My Best $200 Meal...Ever

Tonight I also take the elevator to the 7th floor and visit The Man from La Mancha.

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Well, Tropical Storm Joaquin is doing some interesting things.  First, it will become a Category 2 hurricane, and move north along the Eastern Seaboard.  Where will Joaquin make landfall?  Stay tuned:


Why am I so unsure?  Here are some computer models of the potential track:


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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

GAWA Day #14: Agony and Ecstasy on Asiana 101 to Seoul

Asiana is one of my very favorite airlines, and much more so now after my anguish and resurrection today.  But first, at Narita Airport, I went to the ANA Lounge, but not to eat anything.  If you'll recall, I had a huge breakfast and was planning to skip lunch.

Well, there is a noodles kitchen there, so I ordered something, then picked up more than I originally planned:


Regular salad, potato salad, musubi (rice ball) fried noodles, ramen and minestrone soup, with sochu, chardonnay and beer.  The ramen was fabulous.  Looks like I'll need to skip dinner tonight.

This is what business class looks like on Asiana:


On the plane, I was about to skip the meal, but thought I'd at least look at it:


This was the best Korean cuisine I've ever had on a plane.  Basically, there are six kinds of leafy vegetables.  You place some rice, kimchee, bean paste and beef on a leaf and eat the whole thing in one gulp:


Even the bathroom was exceptional:


The flight was fine, except for one problem.  I checked through immigration quickly, and put my passport into a special pocket where I kept my wallet.  It was missing!!!!!  Oh the agony...the sheer fear of distress.  I quickly went through all my pockets.  No wallet.  Did I leave it at the hotel?  Possible.  But more probably, in the process of filling out the forms at my seat on the plane, the wallet must have slipped out while I had to keep checking on my passport number and such.  Then, the thought of losing all my Korean money and credit cards sunk in.  Day 14 of a 65 day trip, so how do I continue?

I've done this before, for about 20 years ago, my wife picked me up at the Honolulu Airport.  Arriving in our apartment, I noticed that my wallet was missing.  The shock was similar, and I instantly remembered the hassle of canceling four credit cards, getting a new driver's license and a whole bunch of other things that required calling the airline, previous hotel, etc.  The good news is that a week later, my wife found my wallet in her car.  But what a pain.  The frightening thing is that this is Seoul, Korea.  The thought of what I had to do was overwhelming.  I most definitely am getting too old to travel.

So I went to the Asiana lost and found desk, showed the man my ticket and indicated that I thought I had lost my wallet in seat 2K.  In his hand was my wallet!!!  The company was so efficient that in the 20 minutes it took me to go through immigration and pick up my suitcase, they found the wallet and delivered it to this desk.  Amazing!  He didn't even ask for any ID...he just smiled and gave me my wallet.  The awesome ecstasy, the incredible euphoria, my GAWA--which if this is your first visit to this blog site, is the acronym for Grand Around the World Adventure--is now already a resounding success.

I was floating on my limousine bus ride to the Sheraton D-Cube City, went up to the Club Lounge to check in, and got a fantastic room on the 40th floor with a fabulous view.  I went back to the Club to get a drink, and they had reserved a window table for me, as the whole place had filled up.  There was even a waiting line to get in.  I've never seen this in any Starwood lounge.  Heck with my diet, in my state of elation, I ate a whole meal with a Johnny Walker Black Label on rocks, champagne and glass of red wine:


I have determined that the Club Lounge of Sheraton D-Cube City, like 15 Craigside, is also Purgatory.  After all, with 108 billion Homo sapiens since the beginning of our species, Purgatory must be scattered all over the place.  While Popes keep saying that Purgatory is not a place, but a process, I'm not seeking any indulgences from Pope Francis, so I'm perfectly happy in my current state of purification.  If that does not make much logical sense, I take liberties on reality not unlike The Bible.

I was here about a year ago and reported how this is the latest generation of hotels where the rooms are on the top floors (of the green building to the left), and everything else below, like theaters, shopping galleria, subways, etc.  The #1 and #2 lines cross in my basement.

Oh, one more thing, The Man from La Mancha is one of my favorite broadway shows.  The Impossible Dream is just about my theme song.  It is playing in this building on the 7th floor.  But a seat costs $140.  How can I not go, especially now, when something astonishingly impossible happened to me today?


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Typhoon Dujuan reached a wind gust of 181 MPH on the Okinawan island of Yonagunjima.  Then, with peaks up to 153 MPH, Dujuan spent seven hours over Taiwan, bringing more than 24 inches of rain in mountainous areas:


There is a tropical depression in the Atlantic, but it is not expected to become a hurricane:


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Monday, September 28, 2015

GAWA Day #13: Tokyo to Seoul

Well, happy to say that I remain on Planet Earth.  Thank you St. Peter.  On the other hand, perhaps I'm not yet sufficiently purified.

The Tokyo Westin, at the age of 21, needs a total makeover.  Well, maybe not total, but the audio-visual system is antiquated, and the rooms are getting almost tawdry.  Compare, for example, just the slippers, with Ritz Carlton's to the left:


You can't quite see or feel the difference, but the pair on the left is plush and thick and soft.

For my final dinner in Japan I went to Mitsukoshi across the street and picked up an expensive sashimi dish, a sukiyaki/beef bento of some sorts, some sake and a can of beer.  I heated the sake in my wash basin and used a hairdryer to warm the bento:


Something similar in the Japanese restaurant here would have cost at least five times more.

I had my final breakfast, something I've done more than a hundred times here, and every one is different in a detail or two:


For example, I've never had miso soup, consommé and udon at one sitting.  After a meal like this, I do everything possible to avoid lunch, and I'm off to Narita Airport, observing some dark clouds on the horizon:

Best as I can tell, Little Leader Kim Jung-un does not plan to fire off a rocket over South Korea, but he is pissed off about a thing or two or more.  From all reports, he has gained 30 pounds over the past five years.  He might still want to consider my posting of MUGA Day #7:  A TOTAL MAKEOVER FOR NORTH KOREA.  Anyway, on the plus side, Korea is now MERS free.

Then comes Hong Kong, where a year ago in September, the occupy students protested into December.  From all reports, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, and Scholarism, are organizing public forums about the time I'm there.  In addition to some independence on who can run for office, a point of contention is that in 2047 China can, legally, re-convert Hong Kong into a standard communistic model.

Further, next, schools have closed in Singapore because Indonesian forests are being cleared and burned.  The Pollution Standards Index hazard level is 300.  The reading today reached a high of 420.  And this condition will apparently last a whole month.   Nature just published a study showing that 3.3 million annually perish from air pollution.

Then on to Bangkok, where it is still the Monsoon Season.  The average highs will be around 90, while the chance of daily rains for the next ten days is 80%, with especially heavy thunderstorms in the afternoons.  Hope there are no more terroristic bombs.

Dubai follows, and the daily highs these days are in the mid-90's.  From all reports, though, the country has recovered from bankruptcy.  It is the most expensive city in the Middle East and does have the tallest building in the world, by far, Burj Khalifa.

Soon thereafter, though, Istanbul, then Italy, where it will be Fall.  The World Expo is in Milan.

Pope Francis had immigration as his highest priority in America, and Europe, especially Hungary, one of my stops, is in the midst of a crisis.   According to one report, 35 million are headed their way.

How does this compare with the USA?  You might be surprised, maybe even shocked, to learn that the number of legal and illegal migrants in the country exceeds that total, and will reach 51 million in 2023, representing 82% of our population growth.  However, it is, thus, the long term future that is of concern, and our Congress is doing absolutely nothing.

Appropriately enough, as the highlight of my trip thus far was Miyazaki wagyu beef, let me close my Japan stay with, now, my current hero, Hidekichi Miyazaki.


Know as the Golden Bolt, he holds various Guinness records, recently, at 42.22 seconds, clocking the fastest 100 meter time ever, for anyone older than 105.  He at one time held the world record for centenarians, 29.83 seconds.  That above pose mimics Usain Bolt.  Commented Miyazaki after Bolt's latest victory at the IAAF World Championships:  He hasn't raced me yet.

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Just about now, almost super Typhoon Dujuan, at 145 MPH, is beginning to batter Taiwan.  However, the track went sufficiently south of Okinawa and, appears most likely to also largely miss Taipei.


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Sunday, September 27, 2015

GAWA Day #12: Ritz Carlton Tokyo Club Lounge--One Step from Heaven

It's Sunday, so in honor of Pope Francis, who had a boffo tour of the USA, the thematic thread of my posting today will have almost a biblical strain.  It was about a year ago that I had the gall to declare that the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo Club Lounge was Heaven. Well, I'm back, and would like to adjust my proclamation.  I've already declared that 15 Craigside is Purgatory.  It is said that after you are thusly purified, the next step is a journey to the Pearly Gates.  So, clearly, there has been a logical progression for me.  Thus, I've now determined that the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo Club Lounge is actually the waiting room to enter Heaven, if there is one.  I expect St. Peter to anytime appear to take me through the Gates.

Here are some signs that convince me that I must be nearing the ultimate terminus.  On check-in, they sit you at a table with a wonderful view from high up and ask if you want a drink.  I ordered a Mimosa:


If clear, that would be Mount Fuji in the background.  Turns out they serve breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, evening hors d'oeuvres, and, from 8-10PM, sweets and cordials here in this lounge.  So before even bothering to go to my assigned room, I had lunch here, starting with a soba and prepared beef.  This was followed by two kinds of endive, a prosciutto and watercress sandwich, blue cheese and Kir Royale:


Of course, as this is that final processing point, there is no charge for all the above.  While having my meal, I arranged to have Hector do a search for the ideal restaurant where a reservation was possible (this was, after all, a Saturday night), and, now overdosed on sashimi, wagyu beef, bento and the like, I selected Armani Ristorante, an Italian restaurant.

After lunch I walked all of 20-seconds to my room, and they had a birthday gift for me:


The view, of course, is spectacular, being on the top floor of the tallest building in Tokyo:


So, after a short nap, off I went on the Hibiya Line (short walk from my hotel) to the Ginza Station and took exit #B3.  Ten seconds later, there it was:


Giorgio Armani owns the whole building, with the lower floors showrooms and uppers offices for their Orient staff, with Armani, the restaurant, on the top floor.  I was mostly served by Stefano, chief sommelier, with, to the right, Hisashi, the operations manager.


First, a free appetizer with a free Prosecco:


Each piece was exquisite.  I did not order the set menu, for the last thing I need is too much food, so I just had a  risotto and beef combo, with a glass of Barolo:



Stefano said there is no individual glass of Barolo, but he could open a new bottle and would only charge me for one glass.  Seemed extravagant, but it worked out fine.  Here is a close-up of the beef dish, which was somewhat similar to a Wellington, but with some sort of cabbage and bacon combination instead of foie gras and pastry.  To the right is a lump of corn polenta


The risotto was not quite up to the white truffles version I had in Rome, but what is, and the beef was from New Zealand.  All in all, the combination was tasty and worthy.  This was the fanciest Italian restaurant I've ever experienced, and being in Tokyo, it was not inexpensive.  However, the value was fine and service was terrific.  I do hate, though, that bottle of water they bring for which you pay $10. Oh, there were two guitarists providing background sounds, and that was a big plus.  When they were not entertaining, it was fashion music, the kind they play as models parade on a catwalk.  I can highly recommend Armani to my readers if you want Italian cuisine beyond spaghetti and meatballs and don't mind splurging a bit.

I returned to the Ritz Carlton to partake of the sweets and cordials.  Turned out to be more than that, for there is a bar in the Club Lounge, and they serve anything you want until after 10ish.  I started with a bowl of pine nuts, blue cheese, apricots and chocolates, with a glass of cognac.  A couple from Texas, Jackie and Eric, sat at the adjoining table, whose son at the University of Chicago essentially does what Einstein did, and is looking for an academic position.  Otherwise he might have to join the their company and make a lot of money.  I'm now reading a special edition of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN on the centennial of relativity.  As we chatted, I followed up with a Jameson's on rocks.

After a great night's sleep, I walked over for breakfast, but clouds obscured Mount Fuji:


However, I did get to see Desiree, who bade me goodbye:


So, returning to my passage through Purgatory--what might be something like that scene to the left--my preference, at this time, is for St. Peter to ignore me for awhile, as I still need to complete this Grand Around the World Adventure (GAWA).  Should I survive tonight, next, back to the Tokyo Westin, where I have stored my suitcase, then on to Seoul, and the 50 reasons cited by CNN as being the greatest city on Planet Earth.  #1, incidentally, being Galbi, sometimes spelled Kalbi.  #16 is kimchi, now and then spelled gimchee, credited for wiping out SARS and MERS in the country.

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Typhoon Dujuan at 120 MPH is continuing to strengthen and is waggling a bit such that both Ishigaki and Miyakojia Islands now are threatened, followed by a likely direct hit on Taipei.


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