Monday, October 24, 2011

Mad for Mad Men!

Every morning I wake up and think of my mantra - WWJD - what would Jackie do?  The epitome of high-style, grace and poise, I like to channel her when I throw on a pencil skirt for work, or attempt to bring wearing a hat in public back in fashion.  Jackie O aside, I love the swinging sixties look, which is why I was jazzed to receive an invitation to a Mad Men Affair party this weekend.  I immediately found my teasing comb and gloves, while Matt pulled out the grey suit (it really helps to own your own suit making company) and skinny tie avec tie clip, of course.

While I don't really look like any of the Mad Men gals I was hoping to embody the style of Betty, the assertiveness of Joan and the brains of Peggy, and Matt - he just actually makes a pretty good Don Draper, lucky him.  We felt very chic as we left the house and then quickly realized that we might have looked a little out of place when we stepped directly into a crowded elevator!  27 floors later (and a few weird looks) and we were at our destination.  With a martini in hand, we joined the rest of the Mad Men fans and had a great night.  Hot topic of the night  - who are you going to vote for Kennedy or Nixon? 
Our host and the man of the evening - Rooman "Draper"
Don, is that you?
Stepping back in time for the night.

Friday, October 21, 2011 - Just When You Thought You Couldn't Have More Friends!

It's always great to know that you can meet someone new in Dubai.  After four years gallivanting around town, we are lucky to have a good group of friends and acquaintances - who without any prior planning you are pretty much guaranteed to bump into during a night out on the town.  Dubai can sometimes be a small town that can act like a big city, so it can be easy to fall into a comfort zone.

Thankfully was able to remind us that there are more fish in the sea!  We were delighted to receive an invitation to their annual anniversary party and after two years they have built up quite an impressive group!  Social Circles is the brain child of fellow American (woot) Rachel Morton, who started the group two years ago to connect people with like interests across the UAE.  They host great events for working professionals and socialites alike, and even have special interest groups for people to participate in like - I Love Movies, Dubai Party Lovers and Flirty 30's.

If the party was an indication of how fun this group is - then sign me up!  It was a fantastically organized event at the brand new Republique lounge.  It was elbow to elbow action as people participated in raffles, raced to compete in a few fun games and enjoyed some great gift bags.  If our camera reel is any indication, we had a great time!  Four hours later we had not taken one photo, we were so business meeting the great group there!  Thankfully, fishfayce had us covered.  A local fun photographer who can keep things lively.

The evening was a great reminder of how many future friends we have yet to discover and just how much fun it is going to be to find them!

With some new friends!  I've always wondered what I would look like with silicone lips!
Warning: these glasses might be regularly sized if my 3rd grade photos have anything to say about it.  Matt with the 'stache might work if he always pairs it with the fez.
The lady of the evening, with Social Circles founder Rachel Morton!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kyoto: The Final Stop

Kyoto is the crown jewel of Japan and one of the world's most culturally rich cities.  It's where you will find the Japan of your imagination: raked pebble gardens and bamboo groves, arcades of vermilion shrine gates, geisha disappearing into tea houses, and temples that float on water.  Kyoto has 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites, 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines.  Most of the sites that make up the popular images of Japan are from Kyoto.

Here are just a few of our favorites.

The formal dining room in the Nanzen-ji is a beautiful example of bring the outside in.
The evenings in Kyoto were simply stunning.  The weather was warm and it was a great time to stroll along the Shijo-Qhashi bridge and enjoy dinner on the water.  The lights twinkled on the Kamo-gawa and it has a great effect on illuminating the tea houses that hovered over the water
We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary while we were there and these was our divine desert!
The zen garden at Kyoto's Imperial Palace was, you guessed it - zen!
Our guide, Tammy,showed us the best udon place in town and  we learned all the tricks of chowing down the homemade noodles - slurping is not only tolerated but encouraged!
Kyoto's Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) was originally built in 1397 but in 1950 a young radical monk set fire to it because he believed that the temple would be most beautiful in fire!  This reincarnation was rebuilt in 1955 and it is completely covered in gold leaf from Kanazawa.

After cruising downtown I turned my back for one minute and Matt was gambling!  The Japanese are big fans.
From one vice to another, we checked out the local sake breweries.  It was fascinating to learn about the process of turning rice into liquor.  It is a lot more complicated than you might think!  I'm standing in this picture just for scale - check out how big those special occasion bottles are!
These are just of the varying jugs that they need to complete the many steps in making sake.  They are all bigger than her!
There were a lot of taxis driving around down with "M&K" in a heart on the top.  Apparently that is the name of the company, but I thought it was just a nice way to celebrate our anniversary!
Not real geisha - but wannabe geisha.  Still love the outfits though.
In front of the steps leading to Kiyomizu-dera temple.
The old neighbors in Kyoto have lots of surprises.

The Fushimi-inari Taisha has over 30,000 individually crafted vermillion torii.  It's like an optical illusion!
We couldn't have passed up a chance to learn a little about Japanese cooking and we found Emi!  She runs classes right from her own home in Kyoto and we had an amazing afternoon with her learning how to prepare rice and fish, tempura, and grilled veggies.
If you are ever in Kyoto make sure to visit Emi at
The puffer fish is extremely poisonous to humans, but the Japanese like to live a little dangerously and remove the poison and consume the fish (which can still end in fatalities if not done properly), I like them better with this friendly look.
The Nishiki market was a great place to pick up anything your heart desires, fresh food is everywhere.

A parting view of Japan, Kyoto by day...
...and by night.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Osaka and Hiroshima: From War to Wonderful

Osaka and Hiroshima were both prime targets during WWII and so the story of how two war-ravaged cities turned out to be some of the most fun, energetic, and colorful places we visited is a testament to the resilience of the Japanese and their focus on rebuilding after the Second World War.

Osaka is the beating heart of Kansai, the central prefecture in Japan.  It's know for good eatin' and great people watchin' - it's a work hard, play hard town that is even more charming at night as the neon city comes to life.  It's a major port city and the 2.65 million residents are impatient, sometimes gruff, and always colorful.  The city has a true energy about it - a pervasive beat that you can feel as you walk down the sidewalk under the glaring light and the constant noise.  After mediating in the Buddhist temple that morning - this definitely woke our slumber!
Dotombori is Osaka's liveliest nightlife areas.  This is a the view from the famous Ebisu-bashi (bridge).  It's packed with people and energy, and it's hard not to draw references to Times Square.
Osaka nightlife can turn you into a real hermit during the day, but we were insistent on seeing her top historical site Osaka-Jo (castle).  Founded on this site at 1583 the castle has been rebuilt 3 times!  The story inside depicts a fierce battle for dominance between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu to unify Japan.
Only a few several tons, Matt was kind enough to get the door for me.
Thank you hotel points.  After sleeping on a hardwood floor in a temple, the room at the St. Regis seemed to suit us just fine!  The hotel had a lovely patio on the 17th floor where they maintained their own zen garden.
Of course we could have stayed at one of the local "capsule" hotels - but I don't think our luggage would even have fit!  These hotels are famous for usage by Japanese businessmen who have worked so late (or drank so much) that they missed their last train home to the suburbs.
One of Osaka's top attractions is their world-class aquariums, I'm sorry was I saying something - can't concentrate when I'm in a fish tunnel!

Here are just a few of our favorite critters:
The stately Empire penguins.
He's a little camera shy.  (Probably because most people consider him lunch!)
This baby sea otter was getting a lot of attention from the girls and he seemed to want to flirt back.
The giant spider crabs look like aliens invaders, but I don't think they would be so scary if they were crab cakes?
Always weird and wonderful.
Reaching new heights!  The pier at the aquarium had a giant Ferris wheel -it's said to be the largest in the world at 112 meters tall.  From here you can see both Osaka and Kobe - where's the beef?
The Dotombori-gawa (river) is lit with lanterns the entire length of the city.  Sometimes Osaka is so bright at night it's hard to remember what time it is!

On to Hiroshima!
After a night in Osaka we were headed South to Hiroshima.  A two-hour train ride isn't bad when you can grab a beer and fresh gyoza at the train station.  Why can't plane food be this good?
As soon as we checked into the hotel, I went to check out our view and the Mazda Zoom-Zoom (yup) Stadium was front and center.  I immediately checked the schedule for the Hiroshima Carp (you know those terrifying large goldfish) and we were in luck!  I scored two tickets for the following night.

Imagine my surprise when I arrive at the game to find the Philadelphia Fanatic's estranged Japanese cousin.  It was so strange!  Apparently they love to copy mascots from MLB teams.  Of course, the Fanatic is a top choice.  Imitation is the highest form of flattery!
Then it just got weird.  The only sign in English in the whole ballpark and it's for a Philadelphia Cheesesteak.  I wish I could tell you I took one look at that picture and turned away in digust.  No, I promptly ordered one (it's my duty) - and only then could I confirm my disgust - gross!
During the 7th inning stretch they sing songs and fire off balloons.  Only after perfectly sequencing the count-down.  Honestly, these people can put order to anything!

I traded in my imitation cheesesteak for a steaming bowl of fresh udon noodles.  Now that is a ballpark snack!  Oh yeah and the "beer girls" sell sake instead!

The next morning we woke up early to travel to the island Miyajima, a Unesco World Heritage site, which was ranked one of the top three views in Japan.  The vermilion torii (shrine gate) of the Itsukushima-jinja is considered one of the most beautiful sites in Japan.  In ancient times the island was considered sacred and commoners could not step foot on the land - they could only sail a boat through this "floating" gate.

The island is home to a lot of friendly (and well fed) white-tailed deer.  Some of whom (right) really like to test their limits.

Hiroshima is famous for its okonomi-yaki, a savoury pancake with veggies and meat or seafood cooked on a griddle and served with noodles.  The serve them up fast and hot and you can't find a seat during lunch time!  I think just one is all the energy you will need for a week!

Matt's good at taking pictures of everything else, but this trip my specialty was happy Japanese kids - they are adorable, plentiful and easily delighted.  Great subjects!  This gal was splashing around in mock tidal pool and was having fun man handling a giant snail.  You go girl.
A shot of the torri just as the tide started to come in and the fog started to lift.
For most of the world Hiroshima means just one thing.  The city will forever be remembered for the terrible instant on August 6, 1945 when it became the target of the world's first atomic-bomb attack.  There are few words to express the heaviness in my heart as we approached ground-zero almost 66 years to-the-day of the attacks.  It was a bright and clear, August morning for us, which was the same weather report from the bombing - in fact one of the reasons the city was chosen that day.  There was an eerie sense of responsibility and sadness, but also a sense that to the Japanese this was history and the people of Hiroshima don't want this event to define them.
The bomb exploded almost directly above the Gembaku Domu, now known as the A-Bomb Dome.   It is stunning that it is still standing after all the other materials vaporized.  It was build in 1915 and served as a industrial exhibition hall.  The city has decided to preserve it as a stark reminder of it's tragic past.
On the other side of the Motoyasu river stands the Peace Memorial Park and this cenotaph which contains the names of all the known victims as well as the Flame of Peace, which will only be extinguished once the last nuclear weapon on earth has been destroyed.
The Children's Peace Monument contains thousands and thousands of folded paper cranes from children around the world.  The display was inspired by leukemia victim Sadako Sasaki.  In 1955 at 11 years old she was diagnosed with the disease.  She decided to fold 1000 paper cranes - the crane is the symbol of longevity and happiness - and she thought if she could reach her goal she would be cured.  She sadly passed away before achieving her goal, but her classmates finished folding them for her.  Now children around the world send their cranes to the memorial every year.
I was extremely touched when we came upon this field trip of Japanese school children, learning about the bombing.  Their teacher was not angry or resentful, and she did not lay blame.  She explained to them how important peace was in our world, and that their jobs were to make sure that something like this never happens again.
I saw a lot of peace signs during my time in Japan, but this was one place where I did not hesitate to flash one of my own.