Friday, October 08, 2010

Kon'nichiwa Asuka II Part Eight - Watch Me Eat A Bug

At the moment I am sitting in cabin number 6278. Outside my water stained porthole a container ship slips slowly to our aft, heading in the same direction as the Asuka II, but at a slightly slower clip. We left Yokohama this morning, tying down just long enough to let go of roughly four hundred and fifty pax, and at a current speed of 21.9 knots (holy cow, we are hauling some serious ass!) we make our way to Kobe.

Speaking of Kobe, I finally made it back after my initial visit almost three months ago. This time I made sure to load pictures onto my computer as soon as my feet hit deck 6, and for good reason...

What you are seeing is Kobe beef being cooked at the center of my table (called “yakiniku” here in Japan). Let me take a moment and brag... I ate Kobe Beef in Kobe. This sort of accomplishment goes up there with drinking Bordeaux wine in Bordeaux, and eating French fries in France (yeah, yeah, I know... but they don't call them Belgium fries, now do they?). So, how's Kobe beef? Delicious. As a matter of fact, it's so good that you can even eat it like this...

What you're looking at is a plate of freshly ground Kobe beef with a raw egg on top. Although I never heard it trumpeted, I can assume it's a Kobe egg as well. For all you carnivores out there, let me be clear: even when it's raw, covered in slimy uncooked egg, and slowly dripping off your chopsticks, Kobe beef is still awesome. And speaking of egg, the Japanese think of eggs the way Americans think of cheese, that is to say eggs can enhance any meal. I've seen it as an option on everything from rice bowls to hamburgers, and from sushi to ice cream... okay, I made that last one up, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, only that I haven't seen it yet. I mean, come on, they do eat wasabi ice cream after all.

Anyway, all kinds of Kobe beef and seafood were consumed at this tucked away little mom and pop place that some passengers knew of, and in turn treated me to. My job was to sit and knock back Japanese draft beer and watch my hosts prepare the meat, which was brought raw, platter after platter, by an old Japanese woman whose other job was to yell at what I can only assume to be her family that helped her run the restaurant. The sunken, gas fired grill in the center of the table did quick work of the bite sized strips of beef, and mere minutes passed from platter to palette. Boy, lemme tell you, after four months of rice and fish, Japanese BBQ is a very welcome change of pace, and has since ruined me for the afore mentioned rice and fish... sigh.

But it hasn't all been Sake wishes and Kobe beef dreams around here... because soon after hitting Kobe the Asuka II made a detour to South Korea.

Here I am sitting in front of the Choenjiyeon Waterfall, the largest on the small island of Cheju (or Jeju, as I saw on many taxi cabs and signs in the area). So, we came to South Korea, and I saw a waterfall... big deal. what kind of blog would this be if I stopped there? Not a blog I would write, that's for sure.

This, friends, is a simmering pot full of bugs. What kind? Who cares! When you're offered a chance to eat a freshly cooked bug, you don't waste time asking what kind; you simply jump up and down in a panicked glee with your watering mouth agape. Seriously, this pot was not the only one, as almost every vendor close by had an identical vat full of the same looking bugs, fully cooked and ready to move.

Standing down wind of the hot bug stew, I can only describe the smell as “meaty, foul, and thick.” You could purchase a cup of bugs for a price, but for visitors such as myself, sampler toothpicks were handy to quickly convert the non-initiated into true believers. So, when the lady noticed I was standing with my head cocked, trying to make sense of the crock pot of insects, she grabbed a toothpick, stabbed a bug, and handed it to me, grinning. Immediately, my mind raced to the old joke “what's the difference between an oral thermometer and an anal one,” as I took hold of the sliver of wood that skewered the bug, cooked and dead, on top. And the taste?

Yeah, it tasted like a bug... and no, I am not interested in having another one. Back on board, I told my story to some Filipinos, who inquired as to the type of bug (still no idea, although they said crickets are the Kobe beef of the bug world), how it was prepared (simmered in water and the bug's own natural juices, I suppose, since I've never seen Kerr's brand bug bullion cubes), and was vinegar involved (no). “Well, you didn't have a good bug!” they say to me, smiling the same way the South Korean lady did when she handed me the toothpick. Then they told me I should try one prepared in the traditional Filipino way, to which I politely declined, reminding them that they make the same promises about balut (basically a rotten egg that contains a half formed chicken fetus).

But South Korea isn't all about bugs and waterfalls. The day before Cheju we hit Pusan.

This picture was taken on top of the Busan tower (another alternate spelling of a South Korean city), located in Yongdusan Park. The park, which had a couple other things like a statue of an important Korean figure and one of those large flower beds that doubled as a working clock, was hidden on top of a hill that overlooked Texas street, a busy, name brand shopping district. It was on my way back from the park that I discovered a South Korean (Hindu?) temple, also hidden, this time on a larger building's rooftop.

Yeah, there were hundreds of those little gold statues. Yeah, I took off my shoes before entering the temple. Yeah, I took that last picture without permission.

So, South Korea was exotic and delicious... which reminds me... remember our green friend from the last blog?

Well, with the help of my Japanese friends and Wikipedia, this is what I know: his name is Marimokkori, which from what I have learned is a combination of two words. The first word is “marimo,” which, as described by Wikipedia, is “a rare growth form of the species of filamentous green algae (Chlorophyta) that grow in some of Hokkaidō's lakes, where the algae grows into large green balls with a velvety appearance.” The second word is “mokkori,” which essentially is Japanese slang for a boner. So, with this in mind, Marimokkori literally means “green algae balls boner.” It's still anyone's guess why that would make him smile the way he does. His popularity is due to nothing more than merchandising, which from what I gather includes cartoon shows on television. And from the picture below, I also gather that there is a Marimokkori for every boy and girl in your family.

Fortunately, my visits to Japanese ports have been more culturally stimulating than a stimulated puppet.

As promised in my last blog, I forewent (forewent? Since when do I use that word? Is that even a word? I gotta stop eating bugs) the opportunity to sample Nagasaki spongecake (spongecake? What's spongecake?) and instead visited the Nagasaki Peace Park. Nagasaki, as I am sure we all know, is infamously known for being one of America's World War II atom bomb targets (although not first on the list, as Nagasaki was targeted last minute when the originally planned city, Kokura, was shrouded in thick clouds, making it impossible for the B-29 Bomber to target).

The peace park is a large sculpture garden, where many countries have contributed statues celebrating global peace. The above picture is Japan's own contribution. The statue's right hand points upward to symbolize the threat of an atomic bomb, the left reaching for world peace, while the eyes remain closed in prayer of the bomb's victims. That's all very nice and symbolic, but holy cow, does that statue have a nice head of hair...

I mean, it's perfect. He must use a leave in conditioner for all day moisture and shine. Oh, but he has a secret. He gets salon hair at home, without the salon price, and from a two in one! Don't tell his stylist...

Around the park are other monuments, including the bomb's hypo center (the bomb actually detonated 500 meters above the city), various statues and information, and an atomic bomb museum, which included startling artifacts that endured the blast.

This is... was a water tower. I forget exactly where it was in the blast's radius, but the metal was bent like a plastic straw. What's most interesting about all of this is that while taking it all in... the statues that lay on park ground that was once obliterated, the museum full of mangled relics, and everything else, I was at all times surrounded by Japanese school children, obviously brought there to learn about the very real casualties of war. Through it all, while I walked from place to place among these kids, it all felt very peaceful, almost surreal, to see them playing and laughing among these stoic reminders of some very bad decisions.

And hey, since we're talking about kids, if you can't find a Marimokkori doll at your local Walmart, then take the short bus ride to Nagasaki and pick them up one of these...

But parents, remember, this toy is for kids ages six years and older... at least, that's what the box says. Now, if the manufacturers of this toy really had a sense of humor, they would explain that the toy could also be a choking hazard... I mean, if you're gonna put an age requirement on a plastic boob, let's go all the way with it. Another acceptable quip would contain the words “complete set.”

So, after squeezing all the juice outta Nagasaki, we moved on to some other Japanese ports of varying interest. One worth mentioning is Maizuru, where after grabbing a map I ventured out and found me a whole mess of shrines and temples. Mostly located at the base of a mountain, some were big and impressive, while others lay somewhat forgotten. However, I can now say that shrines and temples are starting to feel the same way as cathedrals in Europe and Russian palaces... you've seen one, you've seen them all. Still, sometimes the path leading to the shrine is better than the shrine itself. Case in point is the following video. One of the shrines I visited during my day in Maizuru was not located at the mountain's base, but at the top...

On the subject of the bell, I really don't know whether ringing it is encouraged or not. On one hand, I've seen bells like this at many of the shrines I've visited, all with ropes hanging down from the banging stick that look so, so inviting. But since I was around a bunch of people, many times who are there meditating, or tending to the shrine, I left the rope alone. Here, on the other hand, I was up a mountain and all by myself, so what the hell. It was after my cloak and dagger exploits that a father and son ambled up the hill. Seeing the rope, the boy ran ahead of his dad and swung on that sucker as if the bell was some kind of candy dispensing Japanese pinata. Dad just looked on, I think halfway expecting the same thing. Of course, even if the bell was some convincing paper-maché facsimile, I know better than to think any Japanese candy would be worth eating... but that talk is best saved for the food blog.

Coming back from my hike, I took a stroll through town to get back to the ship, and that's where I found something unique.

That, friends, is a battery vending machine. At first it seems kind of strange, but then I think of some of the drug stores I've frequented, where they keep the damn things behind locked plexiglass. Now that I consider how long I waited for the graveyard shift reminder of why higher education is so important to come out of hiding with the ring of keys so I can purchase four AA batteries, I can't understand why these things aren't in America.

Speaking of vending machines, let me say that you can't walk a city block anywhere in Japan without seeing several of them. They contain everything from colas to water, and canned coffee that is both hot and cold. Pricing tends to float over a hundred yen, sometimes up to one-fifty depending on the location. Not forgetting that, at the moment, eighty-three yen equals a dollar, the Japanese vending machine people seem to have things figured out, since a 100 yen coin still feels small compared to the 500 yen coin, and even smaller when considered next to the 1,000 yen note (the smallest of their paper currency). Think about that next time you bitch about a seventy-five cent can of soda.

Still, with a country that has a limitless array of vending machines, I would be remiss if I didn't have a favorite... and I do.

Man, I love me some Suntory vending machines. I mean, they function just like all the other vending machines, but look at the side. “SUNTORY BOSS is the boss of them all since 1992.” I love that! Suntory Boss, in all caps, is the hot damn boss of them all! Above the slogan is the picture of Suntory himself, calmly smoking his pipe, but ready to kick some ass if shit goes down. Yeah, I said it... and I believe it. I truly hope that one day I see one these machines sprout beefy arms and legs and beat the syrupy carbonated hell out of some other mama's boy vending machine. Yeah, I might sound crazy, but wait a second, who is that on the front of the Suntory Boss (who is the undisputed, heavyweight champion of every last stinkin' one of them, since nineteen-freaking-ninety-two) vending machine?

Tommy Lee Jones doing his best Easter Island Statue impersonation! Oh, it's on now! IT'S ON!!! One of you wussy little battery hawkin' squirts even think about steppin' one foot into Suntory Boss's territory, and one of these big blue beautiful monsters is gonna sprout big ass arms and legs and run at you with rusty barbed wire wrapped around its hairy knuckles, and the last thing you'll see before that sweaty fist punches you straight into your C-cells is the fire and venom that will erupt from Tommy Lee's flared nostrils... and that is why SUNTORY BOSS is the boss of them all... since 1992... and don't you ever... EVER forget it.

Keep on Livin' the Dream,

Michael Lamendola

(Taking a quick kneel in the hidden temple in Pusan, South Korea)


Try finding a trash can to dispose of your soda bottle anywhere in Japan, and you'll be outta luck. Seriously, you compare New York City, with its dirty streets and overflowing trash cans, to the spic-and-span Japanese boulevards that are void of any refuse receptacles, and you'll be left scratching your head (while still holding onto your plastic bottle). But then you realize all those sissy little trash cans have run cryin' to their momma, because SUNTORY BOSS IS THE BOSS OF THEM ALL!!!! SINCE 1992!!!! HE AND TOMMY LEE JONES ARE GONNA WHUP SOME ASS, EAT PLASTIC BOTTLES, AND CRAP SHINY CHROME PLATED YEN!!!! AAARRRRGGHHH!!!!

...never eat South Korean bugs...


  1. Michael: What about some info on your PAX? What are their nationalities?
    George Flint

  2. Bug stew, mmm...I bet that hint of Raid really makes the meal. (Tell Campbell's to get in on that.)

    This post was another great read with great pics and vids, as always...or perhaps I should say this blog was boss. ...THE BOSS OF THEM ALL!

    Tommy Lee Jonesing for more,

    Yeah, I just made that joke.

  3. dkcolon@yahoo.com10/11/2010 9:42 AM

    OMG!!! A bug??? Really??? You're a better man than I am.

  4. EL DUKE de Caxias11/01/2010 2:28 PM

    I didn't know Tommy Lee Jones was a tough guy. Did you taste anything else that was, Korean?