Friday, July 31, 2009

Field of Colors


For the last month I've been passing through this field of colors in Gilroy on my way to work. Last Monday I could no longer resist the view so I finally stopped to take this picture. Thank goodness this field has not withered under scorching temperatures but the sunflowers down the road sure did. I took too long to take a shot of that. Time takes it toll.

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Image by Charie

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Last Call

It's 1:30 p.m. and we are waiting for the rest of our party to join us. The buffet bar is closing in 30 minutes and all the food will be taken away. The image above shows our panicky response to last call.

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Image by Charie

Friday, July 17, 2009

How to be a good tourist


In the latest survey of 4,500 hotel owners around the world conducted for Expedia, French tourists were ranked the worst tourists for the third year in a row. So what went wrong? Survey found the French arrogant, rude, stingy tippers and the least likely to speak another language. The French were followed by the Spaniards and the Greeks.

On the other hand, Japanese tourists were rated the best tourists by those surveyed because they are polite, clean, quiet and least likely to complain. American tourists were most likely to complain among all groups but were ranked in the Best Tourists category because they are generous tippers and big spenders. Americans however ranked poorly in tidiness and grooming.

Let's count the ways to be a good tourist:
1. Be polite
2. Be clean
3. Dress carefully and appropriately
4. Don't be loud
5. Try to speak at least a few words in the language of the country you are visiting
6. Tip reasonably (Check Conde Nast Traveler tipping guide by country) http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/articles/500117
7. Study the culture and traditions of the country you are planning to visit
8. Complain when it's called for but remember that you can't expect your destination to be exactly like your home country

"A good traveler has an open mind and respects the people and culture of the places he/she is visiting ." Rosario Albar

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What's in a bento box?


I was invited to lunch recently at Dashi Restaurant in Menlo Park. I ordered the saba shioyaki bento lunch and here's what I got: miso soup, green salad, fried tofu, california rolls, steam rice, grilled mackerel (saba shioyaki) and a slice of orange. I ate everything but the salad. Why? I'm not fond of lettuce. The orange is for cleansing the palate. But after eating fish, I needed to brush my teeth anyway.

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Photo by Charie

The Wooded Hills of Kamakura

Daibutsu

The Kamakura countryside is within an hour by train from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo but is so far removed from the trappings of the big city. Set amidst a backdrop of wooded hills and sea, it is the ideal place for prayer and meditation. A small train chugs along the Enoden line from Kamakura to Hase where we got off for the short stroll to see the Daibutsu or Great Buddha. Measuring 37 ft. in height and weighing 93 tons, it is the second largest bronze statue of Buddha in Japan. I could see its face through the wooden slats which made up the gate enclosing an area where a temple once sheltered the statue. That temple was washed away by a tsunami in 1495, exposing the Daibutsu to the elements for the last 500 years. But this has proved to be a godsend because visitors can see the Amita Buddha in full view, serene yet majestic against the natural setting.

Closer to the train station is Hasedera (Hase Kannon Temple) which is up on a hillside. A typical Japanese garden leads to a flight of stairs. Halfway up is an area full of statuettes of Jizo, the deity of children. In the past, these figures were offered by parents for the protection of their children. Today, it symbolizes the children that are stillborn, miscarried or aborted. There are so many of these statuettes that temple staff have to replace them every year to make room for new offerings. Hasedera is dedicated to Kannon, the 11-headed goddess of mercy and happiness. Inside the largest of the halls or Kannon-do is a 30-ft. gilded wooden statue of Kannon. Worshippers toss money into the offering box, clap their hands three times then bow their heads and pray. Outside the hall, pilgrims surrounded an incense burner to draw in the cloud of smoke emitting from its embers for good fortune.

A terrace affords a panoramic view of Yuigahama, the Miura peninsula and the rooftops of Hase. Picnic tables and chairs allow visitors to enjoy their surroundings while eating or relaxing. Down the hill is a small cave dedicated to Benten and to other minor gods. Benten is the goddess of beauty, wisdom and the arts and as such, is the patroness of geishas, dancers and musicians.

Three red torii gates mark the way to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Hachiman, the Kami (god) of war. He is the patron of the samurai and the Minamoto family. It was Minamoto Yoritomo who founded the Kamakura government and was its first shogun. He enlarged and moved the shrine to its current site in 1180. There was a wedding party at the shrine and the tourists (myself included) waited patiently for the ceremony to finish for a chance at taking a picture of the bridal entourage dressed in traditional attire. While waiting, I examined the wooden tablets called ema on which were written the wishes of worshippers for special blessings. I also found strings of fortune telling paper called omikuji. Tying the omikuji to a tree branch ensures good fortune will ensue or bad luck will be averted.

One of Tibet's most revered yogis, Milarepa, wrote the following song in the 11th century:
"Rest in a natural way like a small child
Rest like an ocean without waves
Rest within clarity like a candle flame
Rest without self concerns like a human corpse
Rest unmoving like a mountain."

Under the glow of fading light in the Kamakura countryside, I rested blissfully, albeit fleetingly, before being swept once more by the sea of humanity that awaited me in Tokyo.

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View My Saved Places in a larger map

Getting there: The JR Yokosuka line bound for Zushi, Kurihama or Yokosuka departs from Tokyo Station for the hour-long trip to Kamakura. From Kamakura to Hase, take either the Enoden line or a bus bound for Hase in front of the train station. The walk from Kamakura station to Hase may take 20 minutes or so.


Article transferred from my Geocities blog
Photo by Charie

Geocities is closing

Yahoo sent me an email last week informing me that they will be shutting down Geocities for good. I'm saddened by this because Geocities is the original blog. I kept my first travel writing journals "Decouvrez" in Geocities. It's a free site and hosted both my writing and photographic works. So sorry it will no longer be around. Thanks Yahoo for the free ride.

In the next few weeks I'll be uploading some of my articles from Geocities to this blog starting with "The Wooded Hills of Kamakura". Hope you'll follow my past journeys as you have my latest ones.

"The Sweet Life in Paris"

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

My nephew who is an avid reader gave me this book by David Lebovitz for my birthday. I can't rave enough about it. Here's what I wrote to David about his new book: "The narratives in "The Sweet Life in Paris" are as savory as the recipes which you've thoughtfully paired with each of the chapters. Can't wait for your next book. Till then I'll be reading your blog which is a visual feast."

David's prose is candid, funny, honest and amusing. He confirms what I've thought and experienced in Paris in particular and France in general during my many visits there. Here's a sample: In the chapter What they say versus what they mean David writes that when a restaurateur tells you they are completely full, they mean "We already have enough Americans in here".

My own personal experience dining at a starred restaurant in France is that we were escorted to the upstairs dining room where we were joined by another American couple and a French couple with a poodle. The restaurant staff had only one English speaking waiter so they bunched us in the same room. Maybe the poodle spoke only English as well. haha. Though I requested in French for a seat in the main dining room, my date and I were banished to the lonely room, regardless. But I go back anyway because France has a certain "je ne sais quoi" that calls to me.

After you finish reading the book, you'll want to read more about David and his adventures and try his new recipes. Thankfully he has a blog http://www.davidlebovitz.com/ or if you would like to hear more from him, he twitters too under his own name.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Fourth of July


America the Beautiful by ccendana



For more on Chris Cendana's videos check out www.youtube.com/ccendana.