Thursday, February 8, 2007

ANA 008 NRT to SFO

Alcoholic beverages are not taboo in Japan the way they are in the States.

This guy seems to be having a pretty good time (billboard in the Ebisu section of Tokyo) thanks to Sapporo beer. But it seems like things quickly took a turn for the worse.

This is definitely the strongest advertisement against drinking beer that I’ve ever seen.

I’ve already raved about ANA, and keeping with the high-quality of most Asian airlines they’ve got a great lounge at Tokyo Narita complete with a cooked-to-order noodle bar.

In an earlier post I wrote about their sake brand, but this is ridiculous. I did indeed eat that thing with the ANA logo on it – I think it’s some kind of fish cake slice but I hope that those of you that know better will let me know exactly what it is. This is a bowl of “Kitsune Soba”, which is a very typical Japanese dish – buckwheat noodles in a savory soup with some seaweed and a slice of fried tofu thrown in. Tasty, filling and cheap. Even though Japan has a reputation for being very expensive, I had an amazing Sushi lunch today in the Shibuya section of Tokyo, at a “conveyor belt” sushi restaurant. Better than anything you’ll get in the States, and the check came out to $12 for 14 pieces of sushi and 2 beers. Try getting amazing sushi for that price outside of Japan.

But despite all that, it looks like Ronald is resorting to pimping out lockers in the Ebisu subway station.

Sorry state of affairs…

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Nihon-go Dekimasen, Gomen-Nasai

Always a good idea to learn how to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak your language” wherever you go. I had to use that phrase to remind the flight attendants on ANA a couple times . . .

Culture shock is setting in already. One of my colleagues here in Tokyo recommended I take the “Airport Limousine” from Narita to my hotel, and he did warn me that “it is not a limousine.”

At least it’s the friendly kind.

“Airport Limousines” aside, the first thing you notice when you arrive in Japan are the ubiquitous vending machines.

With little street crime to speak of, these things just don’t get broken in to, so they’re everywhere. The drinks with the blue line beneath them are cold, and the red ones are hot. You can buy all kinds of stuff from vending machines in Japan, but the ones with these kinds of beverages are the most common.

Then you go to visit the restroom and it’s the most confusing experience of your life.

Toilets have control panels here, you have to get used to that. Good thing this one came with instructions on how to use the “Equipment to cleansing the buttocks with warm water.”

Despite what they’re telling you, it’s not the buttocks that gets cleansed, it’s what’s between them. I’ll spare you the details, but man, are these things accurate with their aim. At least in this particular restroom, at Narita Airport, there’s an emergency switch just in case the apparatus goes haywire.

That’s just what you need when the buttocks cleaning mechanism has you by the balls -- a guard rushing in. I wonder how often people need to use that switch.

I’ve been to Japan quite a few times and this kind of stuff still never fails to amaze me. I really, really like this place.


NH stands for ANA which stands for All Nippon Airways (so why the heck is it NH? Well, in the Japanese language Japan is either “Nippon” or “Nihon” depending on context, so I’m guessing stands for Nihon).

When you fly to Asia, always fly with an Asian carrier if you can. The concept of customer service is completely different than it is in the U.S. – they actually really want you to have a nice experience and work hard to make it happen. This becomes apparent the minute you step up to check in at the ANA counter at SFO -- there are people bowing at you like crazy and the check-in person is unbelievably friendly and efficient. Starts to get you ready for check-in at the hotel in Tokyo which is also a bowing-fest with the staff taking care of your every need and not accepting tips! I tried to tip a bellman in Japan once and he went running for his life. Takes a bit of getting used to coming from the States where so many people just don’t give a sh*t.

The crew on this flight is amazing, they come around every hour or so with different goodies to eat and drink, and the individual video screen at my seat has a Video-On-Demand system with a whole bunch of movies & TV shows. This kind of stuff really makes the 11-hour flight fly by (har-har-har, I almost injured myself there). This is all happening in coach too – I’m starting to wonder what could be going on up there in business class . . .

I think there are 5 more hours to go in this 11 hour flight. Right now I’m watching a Japanese movie about a small mining town in Hokkaido where all the women learn to hula-dance. Earlier I watched “The Hustler” with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason shooting pool with Japanese Subtitles.

I’m one of the only non-Japanese people on this big old 777, and the flight attendants have taken to addressing me in Japanese. Feels like I’m already in Tokyo. And, hey, you gotta love an airline that has it’s own Sake brand.

The best part was when the flight attendants all lined up in the aisles after the safety announcement and bowed in unison. I wish I had gotten a picture of that.

Cap’n announced we’re landing almost an hour early, so maybe I’ll have time for a nice dinner in Tokyo tonight.

They’re not dimming the cabin lights since the reading lights are busted, but I’m not getting any sleep anyway. Enjoy the Super Bowl, everyone, I’ll be oblivious to it along with the rest of Nihon.

AA 1818 MIA to SFO

The thing about South Florida is if you don’t clean things they get dirty real fast.

That’s the view from my room at the FAAAAHHHBULOUS Deauville Beach Resort in North Miami Beach (which is a long ways away –both literally and figuratively -- from the stylish art-deco scene down in South Beach). The last event of significance at this resort was the Beatles performance there in 1964. I think there may have been some gristle under my bed that Ringo spat out after the show.

Maybe if they cleaned the roof on this place they’d be doing better business?

Look -- if your idea of a good time is hanging by the pool with a bunch of 90-year-olds and a few confused people from South America with really bad travel agents, and waking up every morning to Hassidic families pushing screaming babies in strollers down the hallway outside your room, then by all means book yourself a vacation at this place.

I had to be there for a conference so I had no choice. You can go off and make your own mistakes, but please don’t let this place be one of them.

We did manage to get over to Joe’s Stone Crab for dinner. If you’ve never had the Stone Crab then you gotta go to this place next time you’re in Miami. It’s a crab that only grows in the Gulf of Mexico, and they only harvest one claw then throw the crab back in the water. It grows a new claw just to start the torturous process anew, but man is it ever the sweetest crab meat on the planet. And I used to be a vegetarian.

Stone Crabs don’t freeze well, so you need to get them fresh, in season, and Joe’s is the place to go (they’re only open when it’s Stone Crab season so if you go there in the summertime you’re outta luck). If you’re not spending big at this place the waiters can be downright rude, but try and get yourself seated in the waiter named Michael’s section (it’s near the front) and he’s gonna take care of you.

The flight back home was the old-school American Airlines experience that I’ve come to know and loathe. MIA is a cluster f*** of an airport if there ever was one, and I try to avoid it at all costs, but it’s the only option if you want to go non-stop from SFO to South Florida without taking a red-eye. The place felt like a zoo as we tried to check in while thousands of folks just off of budget cruise tried to make heads-or-tails out of the most confusing major airport in North America. Everywhere I looked there were sunburnt couples wearing matching Hawaiian shirts, and preteen girls with bad cornrows that they were really going to regret on their first day back at school. Not pretty, folks. AA’s check in kiosks were all broken (typical) and the line at First Class check in basically didn’t move at all.

American’s crews seem to be getting really friendly these days, what happened there? Not what I’ve come to expect in recent days, and since their overall product is such a piece of crap it’s nice to get some of that thing that doesn’t cost the airlines anything to provide – POLITENESS!!! Keep it up AA flight attendants, it really DOES make a difference!

That whole Super Bowl thing is going on in Miami right now (let’s see if the NFL sues me for writing “Super Bowl” without licensing the name).