Stops at Siam

With a few more travel notes to share on my trip to Bangkok with my sister, here’s another entry on what became our favorite stop of the BTS Skytrain: Siam.

View from Siam Paragon: The trains of Sukhumvit and Silom lines make a stop at Siam

Siam Station is where the two lines of BTS (Sukhumvit and Silom) intersect. One side is lined with some spanking malls, from shiny Siam Paragon to Siam Discovery, while the other is a maze of small boutiques, cafes, restaurants, multiplexes, tiny alleys of shops, and tinier galleries that is Siam Square. Throughout our vacation in the Thailand capital, my sister and I found ourselves returning to the station and to the square, where there were always shops, restaurants and corners to explore.

We were introduced to the place on our first night in Bangkok. Coming straight from the airport, we headed to Siam Square to meet two friends for dinner before their flight back to Manila. Over our first Thai meal of Pad Thai noodles, Tom Yam soup, and other local dishes, our friends who regularly go to Bangkok, shared their favorite places to wander around in the city and Siam Square was one of them.

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Riding trains in Tokyo

Woke up sick a couple of days ago. Spent all day in my pajamas. Made pitiful attempts to write, but ended up crawling back to bed. After a busy week, I think my body just wanted to slow down (that, or it was telling me not to accept any more assignments requiring tasting and ingesting 14 kinds of milkshakes).

I did spend an unhealthy amount of time (there I go again) looking at old vacation photos. And one of the things I have always wanted to post in here are some photos P and I took of the trains and train stations back in Tokyo. They’re not a lot since most days, by the time we reached the stations, we were just too tired or too cold to whip out the camera and shoot.

But I love trains. I love it that we at least have three (soon, four) rapid transit lines running within Metro Manila (Update: This isn’t counting the PNR lines, which go all the way from Manila to Bicol), providing commuters like me a faster and more convenient way to get from point A to point B minus the horrendous traffic on some of the city’s congested roads (Rizal Ave., EDSA, Aurora Blvd). So when faced with a massive and efficient railway system like the one in Tokyo, I can’t help but get some sort of inanimate infatuation.

It can be confusing–the many stations, exits and platforms–but once understood, oh the happy rewards. (Plus, this post I made on planning a trip to Japan also covers how to make sense of the Tokyo transit system.) The heated seats. Listening to the Japanese and English announcements made by a lovely Japanese voice. People watching in a crammed morning subway or in an almost deserted car of the last train (around midnight). And, of course, finding your way from point A to B (with a few transfers, of course) in one of the biggest cities in the world. I feel a little better now.

Catching the early morning train. Not a lot of salarymen yet.

Finding our way to Tsukiji Market

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Tokyo, Day 4: Akihabara, geek heaven

In my list of things to do and experience in Japan—see the cherry blossoms, go to Studio Ghibli, see Tsukiji, cross the Shibuya intersection, see the cityscape of Tokyo, check the cos players in Harajuku, ride the bullet train, walk the streets of Akihabara, sing in a karaoke box, see a geisha, eat where and what the locals eat, and get my fill of beautiful temples, shrines and castles—getting pissed drunk and waking up with the worst hangover I’ve ever had was certainly not included. (Though I should have known it would be a consequence, what with the amount of things I wanted to do.)

Prediction from the night before: your head will feel like this after all that shōchū

Every time I would lift my head in an attempt to get out of bed sent me back to horizontal position as the room felt like it was spinning. The fact that we downed more shōchū after we left the dry noodle place the night before suddenly came back to me. C wanted to show us this tiny bar a few meters away called Bar Dr. FeelGood (the name of which I only remember because of the photos), where he also knew the owner—a tall, lanky, long-haired Japanese who also played in a band and tended the bar himself.

While the bar was dimly lit, you could tell that almost every inch of the walls were covered in posters and postcards of music festivals, bands, art exhibits, different beer brands, and even tattoo places. Polaroid snapshots of people were also there somewhere. And before we really called it a night, Dr. FeelGood bartender/owner snapped a picture of us, and tacked it on his collage of a wall. So somewhere in a bar in Tokyo, there is a photo of me, my husband and C, happy, feeling good (but not for long), and far from sober. Another unexpected addition to the growing Japan list of “done that.”

When I finally managed to get out of bed without the room seeming to spin as much, I realized there was no way we were going to have enough time to check the flea market in Hanazono-jinja in Shinjuku and the cosplayers that descend Harajuku on Sundays as we have planned for the morning. (I really had an ambitious itinerary.)

We needed to have our seven-day Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) exchange orders exchanged for the actual passes in the JR Station Information Center in Shibuya for our shinkansen ride to Kyoto the next day (and more importantly, reserve seats), then head to Akihabara for a guided tour after lunch.

While I prefer to explore a place on my own, P wanted to make a pilgrimage to Tokyo’s geek center for electronics, gaming, manga and animation with a knowledgeable guide in tow. The fact that the Akihabara tour he stumbled upon online had a guide dressed as Goku (a character from the anime Dragon Ball) made him instantly book the tour.

As the Japanese are known for their punctuality, we were there in the JR Yamanote Line of Akihabara Station an hour before the designated meeting time. We had a quick lunch at a casual Japanese curry restaurant outside the station, which served the tastiest and perfect-for-the-cold-weather katsu-karē or breaded deep-fried pork cutlet with curry sauce that we’ve ever tasted. (Though our taste buds might not have been the most reliable since we gorged down the hot sticky rice, katsu and spicy curry in record time.) Once we polished off our plates and stuffed ourselves ready for the tour, we walked back to the station where we found our guide Patrick Galbraith in his Goku cosplay costume and spiky Super Saiyan hairpiece waiting for the tour group, which would be composed of a family of four from Spain, an American teenager with his mom, and a Japanese magazine crew of three.

Goku as our Akihabara tour guide

A PhD candidate at Sophia University in Tokyo, our guide tells us later on that the tour was going to be his last, because he needed to finish his studies, appropriately on otaku (“geek”) culture. And if you wanted to behold geek culture in Japan, Akihabara (or Akiba as it is often called) is the place to go to.

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Walking the streets of Japan’s “Electric Town”

Though cosplayers and street performers have been banned from its streets in an apparent attempt to uphold a cleaner, more normal image (a consequence from past disreputable antics and the tragic knife attack in 2008), Akiba still house a dizzying concentration of stores and cafés catering to the otaku; because beyond its many electronic shops, it has also become a mecca of stores featuring a mind-boggling array of anime and manga goods and video games. I swear I heard my husband let out a squeal more than once, trying to contain the giddy, geeky boy inside him for finding his own little piece of heaven.

MaskRider, Ultraman and so many other anime toys. P found his geek heaven.

Seriously, I don’t know what to put as a caption for this.

We went inside several hobby stores and toy stores that held different manga and anime-themed toys of all kinds, including P’s favorite Mask Rider, Classic Ultra Man, and Gundam models. Many were for sale; some were personal collections being displayed for fellow otaku to appreciate. This included dolls in underwear or French Maid get-ups. There was a store that sold those French Maid outfits. A gallery called Art Jeuness with paintings of doe-eyed anime-looking girls in slinky outfits in exhibit. Oh, and the maid cafés.

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