Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Happy 40th Birthday, Starbucks!

                 (Insa-dong Starbucks written in Korean)
I love this coffee shop....especially the one at Itaewon, next to McDonald's. I go there to read, write, check my photos, chat with friends and most of the time, people-watch! From the second floor! Ha-ha-ha!
But Starbucks in Itaewon is not 40 years old today. Starbucks is!

On March 30, 1971, 40 years ago, the first Starbucks store was opened at Pike Place in Seattle, Washington.
And lucky me, my friend, Jaelee treated me to a cafe mocha right the first Starbucks coffee shop at Pike Place Market!
That night, when we were there, the whole place was full of locals and tourists, all lining up for a cup of coffee or for a souvenir. 
Being the first ever Starbucks coffee shop, that place is now a tourist attraction, a must-visit place for all Starbucks coffee lovers, especially to one tourist that night. Ha-ha-ha!
But unlike the Starbucks at Itaewon, the one at Pike Place has no second floor! And it doesn't have tables and chairs where we could have cozied up and read or write or chat.
I wonder what kind of celebrations they have at Pike Place today, but thanks to Jaelee (for the coffee) and to Mario (for the drive to Seattle), we already celebrated at Starbucks while we were there. 

Happy 40th!  And bring on that venti-sized Green Latte Frappuccino! And no whipped cream, please!
           (the view from the 2nd floor of Starbucks Itaewon)

Monday, 28 March 2011

A Pinoy in Tokyo: Gonpachi, The 'Kill Bill' Restaurant

                          (Gonpachi from the street)
Heading off to dinner, Jaqi, Jennifer and I took a cab and headed off to a restaurant. They didn't tell me though that it was one kind of a restaurant!  
Upon entering the place, Jaqi asked me, "Do you recognize the place?"  It was a little dark, a little noisy but I still got the picture! Literally!
It's the Kill Bill restaurant!
Gonpachi, a restaurant in Nishi-Azabu (a short taxi ride from Roponggi), inspired Quentin Tarantino for that bloody fight scene in his Kill Bill movie.
In Kill Bill, Uma Thurman flew to Tokyo to hunt down Lucy Liu, and found her at Gonpachi having dinner! Well, at least not in the actual Gonpachi, but in a restaurant whose architecture was inspired by Gonpachi. Perhaps, Señor Tarantino had been there and loved the atmosphere, architecture and the food like I did that night.
In the movie, Uma finished off Lucy Liu's Crazy 88 bodyguards in a sword fight so bloody that the Red Cross people must have cried over the spilt ABO blood types.
But that night, we didn't see any spilt blood, only delicious kushi-style skewered delights, tempura and of course, sushi!
The whole place was spacious with an open area in the middle filled with more tables, customers and Japanese chef. Private rooms were at the sides and on the second floor, where probably, O-Ren Ishii and her entourage were having dinner!
                                  (inside the toi-re wa)
And as I wanted to find out if they were actually up there, I went up and checked. No O-Ren and no Crazy 88 bodyguards. Only a great view of the whole place and the 'toi-re wa doko desu ka'. Ha-ha-ha!
Arigato gozaimasu to Jaqi and Jennifer for the treat at Gonpachi. Its authentic Japanese setting was a delight, its Japanese staff very friend, and the skewered delicacies very oishi-desu!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

A Pinoy in Tokyo: Pilipin Taishikan Wa Doko Desu Ka? (Where Is The Philippine Embassy?)

I had to rush that late afternoon to the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo to meet up with a friend, Jaqi, who works there.
                      (McDonald's at the corner street)
Heading to the Roppongi District, I took the subway and got off at the Roppongi Station, and started to navigate my way with a map and directions from Jaqi and from the Philippine Embassy website. And with my very good sense of direction, pagnaligaw pa ako, ewan ko lang (if I get lost even with these, I wouldn't be able to explain how)! Ha-ha-ha!
                        (Subway Sandwich-turn right)
The Philippine Embassy in Tokyo is situated on a property which was a part of the war reparations for the Philippines. And it's in the Roponggi District, a part of the Minato Ward and home to several embassies, glitzy restaurants and pricey bars! 
 (The lane heading to the Embassy)
Roponggi Hills, an area complete with urban entertainment, museums and offices, apartments and parks, designed to incorporate urban living around offices, is also in that neighborhood.
(Toyota is in the neighborhood)
And as I followed the map and Jaqi's directions, which included the left turns, the right turns and the Subway Sandwich landmark, I just wandered and took my steps around Roponggi much like a typical tourist; only looking at the bars, and not touch! Ha-ha-ha! 
(View of the Mori Tower from the route)
As the Embassy was easy to find, it took me more time stopping at corners to take photos and crossing the pedestrian lanes. 
It didn't take me long to find myself at the gate of the Embassy, ready to ask for Jaqi and to request a political asylum. Ha-ha-ha!
(Malapit na!)
The neighborhood is actually residential. Even the property is residential, with higher floors being apartments. So, during weekends when lots of Filipinos visit the Embassy, everyone had to hush down with their kuwentuhan and tsismisan while milling around the Embassy grounds. 
I was happy to have visited the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo. But it would have been more fun had I stepped into the Philippine Embassador's residence at the neighboring Chiyoda Ward, which I heard was interesting and very historical.
(Jose Rizal-san at the lobby)

Perhaps on the next visit? Hi, Amba!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Eat My (Yellow) Dust!

In spring, when the skies turn yellowishly hazy and the air smells metallic, it's time to stay indoors! 

Why? It's the abominable yellow dust!

And last weekend, when I opened my windows eager to take in the coolness of the fresh spring air, I was suddenly taken aback! What the f-ck?!

There was something in the air!  

There was no cool spring air when I opened my window. Only that acrid smell of a junk yard and the blurred view of my Hannam-dong neighborhood. Yikes! It's here again!

This irritating yellow dust, or yellow sand (hwang-sa in Korean), comes from the Gobi Dessert in China and lower Mongolia. These sands are carried by strong surface winds which blow around East Asia, scattering them over China, the Korean peninsula and Japan. And these micro-sized elements of iron, silicon and aluminum and calcium can cause sore throat, eye irritation and lung problems.

I learned a very itchy lesson a couple of years ago when I ventured outdoors not knowing it was one of the worst days of yellow dust concentration in the air. That night, I developed a sore throat which, even with lozenges, didn't go away for three days.

So this spring, learning my lesson, I carry a mask in my pocket and always check the Korea Meteorological Administration's website for yellow dust warnings before I hit the outdoors and sniff through my nose a kilo of these metallic dusts, which may now also carry some radioactive particles from Japan. In that case, I may not just develop an itchy throat, I may also develop a radioactive lungs. Ha-ha-ha!

And if you compare the two photos I took of Nam-san, you can clearly tell which one is a colorful autumn day, and which one is a hwang-sa day.

Gaaad, I hate yellow dust!

Monday, 21 March 2011

A Pinoy At The Movies: Red Riding Hood

When I first saw its poster displayed on the Sinyongsan Subway Station weeks ago, I became giddy as a child being read to with this fairy tale. Ha-ha-ha! Why? Because I knew then that the film wouldn't be told as a fairy tale at all!

I love these moviemakers who turn fairy tales into movies with a twist. And now, I am loving Warner Bros. for turning the Little Red Riding Hood tale from our childhood into a film with a very 21st century take.

And like the fairy tale, we have this girl at the center of the story who has a grandma, walks through the forest alone and gets bullied by a wolf. In the movie, the girl is sexy teenager, who also has a grandma, and walks alone into the forest not be ambushed by a wolf, but she goes there to hang out with her boyfriend! Ha-ha-ha! How very culturally up-to-date! And if PETA people watch the movie, they might even point out cruelty to animals! Ha-ha-ha! Cruelty to the werewolf, that is. 

And the meanest twist, she's envied by the all the girls because the most handsome hunks in the village want to marry her!  You can just imagine the gossips she gets behind her back. Ha-ha-ha!

Now, why weren't these in the fairy tale I read when I was in kindergarten?! Ha-ha-ha!

And now, the horror twist. There's no big bad wolf, but a mean, huge werewolf!  And that makes it my kind of movie! It's like a Disney movie, Mean Girls, Underworld and Desperate Housewives rolled into one. Desperate Housewives? Well, the wifey has a secret, too! Which makes it very Wisteria Lane-ish! Ha-ha-ha!

Although it's adapted from a fairy tale, I don't think this one's for the kids to watch. The plot became obviously adult-oriented, but boy, I would have enjoyed reading this when I was still in grade school! Shakespeare should have written horror stories, too!

Amanda Seyfried, playing the Red Riding Hood, wasn't that spectacular. The role could have been played by any other young blonde girl walking down Beverly Hills with shopping bags and newly acquired 'enhancements'. Ha-ha-ha!  There were scenes that she looked like Dakota Fanning in her silly role as a blonde vampire in Twilight.

Julie Christie, the big British star of the 1960s and 70s, was the very mysterious grandma, who almost stole the film from under the hood, literally. In all her scenes, she would always drown out everyone else:  the girl, the wolf and even the red, hooded coat, which she made herself. That's why the wolf made sure grandma was....Ooops! I can't tell you what happened, can I? Ha-ha-ha!

I love, love this movie! That made my week last week. And with the imposing performance of Gary Oldman, as a priest, and the presence of the two boys fighting over a girl (one of whom is Jeremy Irons' son), this one is as entertaining as the other movies they're showing now because one or two have won an Oscar.

And there are funny lines in the movie that you wouldn't find in the fairy tale, but some lines borrowed from the story book found its way to the movie, too:

Red Riding Hood: "Grandma, what big teeth you have!"

Grandma: "The better to eat you with!" (I laughed at this scene! Ha-ha-ha!)

Enjoy the movie! And don't forget the popcorn!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A Pinoy in Tokyo: Omote-Sando!

This street, for a moment, reminded me of the main Hannam-dong street (in Seoul) where I live. Hannam-dong is lined with Gingko trees. Omote-sando is lined with Zelkova trees.
And that's where the similarity ends.
Unlike Hannam-dong, where garbage decorates the side of a Chinese restaurant, and cars are parked on the sidewalk competing with pedestrians and puke (eeew!)  for space, Omote-sando Dori is alluring, charming and very classy!
 Having the same name of a subway station, Omote-sando Dori (dori means street) is full of recognizable shops, restaurants, cars and lots of shoppers!
Stretching from the Harajuku Station up to Aoyama Dori, Omote-Sando Dori is full of cars, buses and bikes!

And as my friends Arlene and Glen, and I walked up and down this street, we passed by flagship shops of some international brands whose buildings were designed by some famous architects. And basing from the incredible prices of the goodies displayed at their shops, those architects must have also been very expensive!

The atmosphere along Omote-sando is different from the that at Harajuku, which is the younger generation's kind of street. Here, it's more of mature-ish crowd. 

Omote-sando, which means 'front approach', was built as the front area for the Meiji Shrine situated behind the Harajuku Station.

But seeing lots of worshippers, shoppers and tourists that day, competing for space alongside 100,000 cars and Zelkova trees, Omote-Sando Dori has now become a shrine of its own.