For months, I’d been looking for the right kind of Ramen joint. I’d seen and been to a number of Ramen places in Canada since moving back from Japan. And while the ramen at these places was okay, it wasn’t right. But I finally managed to find one that does it up right in this hemisphere.
If you walk into a Thai restaurant, and they’re speaking Korean, it’s never a good sign.
Don’t get me wrong! You can be Korean and still make amazing Thai food. Anyone who has a genuine respect and passion for cooking what they cook can make delicious, authentic tasting food. This just wasn’t what happened on this day. So even though it’s not necessarily a bad sign they were speaking Korean, it’s definitely not a good one. The manager and their family were the only people eating there when I walked in. Also a bad sign. The place was a pay-at-the-counter deal, too, no real service or incentive to tip. The alarm bells are just ringing in my head.
Any sane person would just have left at this point and went somewhere else. But I wasn’t sane. I was desparate for some Thai food. Which technically I still didn’t really get.
Going from Osaka to Phuket was like heading from the frying pan into the fire. The air was as hot and moist as a steam room, even though the dark had concealed the sun hours before. After I stepped out of the airport I began to paw desperately at my pockets for one of my dwindling supply of Lucky Strikes, and I lit one up. I had been told by my contact here that the airports were semi-formal, so I should wear my teaching clothes to make customs that much easier.
My contact was a goddamn liar. T-shirts, sandals and shorts surrounded me, wearing a variety of people, all of whom got through customs just as fast as I did. And here I was, in a 3-piece wool suit on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far in Phuket.
On the upshot, cigarettes were even cheaper here than Japan.
After meeting up with my contact and heading to the house they’d be graciously hosting me at during my short stay, we immediately began to make plans for the coming week, determined to not waste any time and see as much as we could. The first on the list? Wat Chalong, one of the biggest, best-known Temples around. After an amazing breakfast at a local restaurant, we flagged down a nearby Bike driver with a sidecar, and he gave us a lift to the Temple.
Finally, after my previous stops in Kyoto, I came to the Kitano Tenmangu shrine. This shrine is noted for being dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a notable scholar who passed over 1000 years ago from manhood to godhood, and was deified. As a result, thousands of hopeful scholars come here to make their prayers and buy good luck charms to increase the effectiveness of their study – from middle school to university students.
There are numerous facts about Kinkaku-ji which make it remarkable. Firstly, it’s fairly old, at just over 700 years since its completion. Then, it was nearly burned down in the Onin war in 1466-67, but was spared by the attackers, who razed every other building in the area. Then in the 1950s, it was actually burned down by one of its own monks who suffered from severe mental and emotional problems. Perhaps more remarkable is the beautiful garden surrounding it, with a serene pond teeming with Koi. Or perhaps it’s the way it’s constructed in three different architectural styles – one for each floor.
But likely it’s most notable trait is that the majority of the temple is sheathed in real gold. Which tends to stick out, as features go.
As Kyoto is historically the seat of imperial power for a sizeable period of Japanese history, it has amassed a plethora of noteworthy temples, memorials, shrines, and attractions. from the zen gardens of Ryoan-ji to the golden temple of Kinkaku-ji (of which I will write more later) to a stretch of train line that in Cherry Blossom season is walled on both sides by curtains of blooming pink blossoms, the city has many things to see. One such thing I had never heard of outside of Japan was Arashiyama Monkey Park. On what would be my final trip inside of Japan, I travelled to Kyoto and saw several sights. The monkey park was definitely unique.
In the town of Sakai rests some very peculiar sorts of burial mound. It’s peculiarity lies not only in their immense size but also in the shape of it. These ancient giant burial mounds, the clinical name for which is Tumulus and the Japanese word for which is Kofun, are shaped like Keyholes. The largest of these is Daisen Kofun, which at 110 acres is reckoned the largest grave in the world by surface area.