Monthly Archives: January 2012

Tokyo: Earthquakes and train suicide.

Warning: This is not a very happy post!! Skip it if you’re already having a blue day.
While we were in Tokyo, although we did love every inch of the city’s excitement and hustle, we also experienced two of it’s arguably worst elements: an earthquake that shook us awake and made me wish we were not in a multi, multi story hotel room and a train suicide. We were returning from watching my grandmother’s choir practice and just as we walked up the steps… a train pulled up… but then the doors didn’t open. And everyone started quietly talking to their neighbor… and then looking under the train. My grandfather was conversing with someone in Japanese so we really didn’t know what had just happened until suddenly a few people started earnestly pointing and looking under the train just in front of us… and that’s when we realized there was a body just there. What a sinking feeling to know that someone had taken their own life, in this very place, just a minute before. I instantly felt a collective responsibility. What had happened to this poor person to make them do such a thing? How had their society let them down so drastically? If we had gotten there just a minute before, would there have been something we could have done? Would I have tried to pull them back?
On the practical side of the fence, my grandfather and the Mr. began dragging me away from the tracks, down the stairs, past the stretchers and angered commuters… and were figuring out how to get home. In the end, we had to walk about 30 minutes to another station and take a different line home, adding I would say about 75 minutes to our trip home. On the subway television screens next to several trains, including the one we were trying to take, it read in red: jinshin jiko, or “human accident.” What a cryptic way to describe someone’s death.

When I got home, I couldn’t help but wonder how common this was and if Japan’s suicide rate was higher than other developed nations. And what I found really surprised me.
  • JR East, the line we were trying to take, is the most popular for suicides because it charges the bereaved families the least. CAN YOU BELIEVE they actually charge families for the delay their child’s death causes the metropolis?!
  • JR EAST has been trying to discourage suicide by doing things like painting train crossings green, which shrinks say can alter the state of mind of would-be suicides. They’ve also added more cameras and trimmed trees to deny jumpers a sense of privacy. And in popular enclosed jumping areas, they’ve added mirrors thinking that a view of one’s self might make a jumper pause. They’ve also added blue lighting, which is supposed to be calming. Mark Saldana’sTokyo’s “Human Accidents”: Jinshin Jiko and the Social Meaning of Train Suicide
  • Roughly 2,000 Japanese individuals commit train suicide each year, a figure that accounts for about 6% of total suicides nationwide. More than 30,000 Japanese commit suicide each year, one of the highest rates in the world, but only a small percentage — just over 2% of men and 3% of women — do so by throwing themselves in front of moving vehicles, usually trains. New York Times, 2009.
  • According to Wikipedia, Japan has the highest suicide rate (25 for every 100,000 people) of any first-world nation and is ranked six out of all countries.
  • The suicide rate is very closely tied to the economy; during the 2008 recession, it jumped 40%. More than half of people who commit suicide in Japan are unemployed.
  • Working class people, aged 45-65 are most likely to commit suicide and there’s a 3x chance that they’re male over female. In this demographic, suicide is the no. 1 cause of death.
  • Surely the Japanese historical tradition of ‘hari-kari’ or ritual suicide by self-disembowelment on a sword, practiced by samurai in the traditional Japanese society contributes to the high suicide rates today.
  • The ‘copy-cat’ principal is equally at play… the problem with a suicide problem is that they’re contagious; suicides breed more suicides… especially among young people. There’s a very scary trend online now where young people kill themselves online. How terrible is that?!

Sorry for the depressing post…. I do appreciate how traveling really does literally show you what is going on in the world. Anyways, I promise to make up for this with something lovely and pretty to look at tomorrow!

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Tokyo: Tonki’s.

Right before Christmas, we took a weekend trip to Tokyo to see my grandparents, who lived there for 30+ years. We had a free night for dinner and I knew exactly where I wanted to go: Tonki’s — a restaurant I remember vividly from my visits to Japan as a child to visit my grandparents and still my cousin’s favorite restaurant in the entire world. The Mr. had never been and I would venture to say that it is now one of his favorite restaurants.

Tonki’s has an open kitchen surrounded by a beautiful cedar bar. My grandfather thinks it was started right after World War II to cater to the GIs and it’s still popular with foreigners although we were the only toeheads at the counter on the night we dined.

And they really only serve one thing: tonkatsu or deep-fried pork cutlet. Kushi-katsu has some fatty meat as it is a boneless pork chop. Hire-katsu is only lean meat or pork tenderloin. The meals come with rice, miso soup (which not surprisingly has pork pieces in it!) and Japanese pickles (I am OBSESSED with Japanese pickles!) Or you can just get the meat skewered with onions. That’s it. No salads here.

Tonki’s is a male-only, family-ran establishment and grandpa rules the roost! He deep fries the cutlets and slices them as well. No one else is allowed!
Oh how I love grandpa!! It seems he hasn’t aged at all since I was last here when I was 19! Even though the cutlet is deep-fried in giant vats, there is not a drop of oil or grease to be found on the end product. I don’t know how they do that, but they have been doing it for decades. It really makes you think: maybe it is better to just do one thing, literally, and do that one thing really well.
Ooh and that spicy mustard is delicious. And I got thirds of that cabbage… it’s so fresh and crispy–the perfect compliment to the pork. Check out this video of the breading, battering and frying in action… (I have never seen women working at Tonki’s–I think maybe they help with serving during rush hour, but I highly doubt they touch the pork.)
Here my grandfather is right before diving in. Being a pseudo-local, he is trying to pretend like he doesn’t know his tourist granddaughter who is photographing every inch of the restaurant… this is a serious place. People are all about the eating. At times, it’s so quiet you really could hear a chopstick drop. People come, they order, they eat, they grunt, they leave happy.

If you are ever in Tokyo, I say Tonki’s is a MUST! If you’re Hong Kong based and looking for the best Tonkatsu here, I reccomend Ginza Bairin–although equally delicious… it’s a bit different than Tonki’s. At Tonki’s the meat floats in the shell–there is a lot of empty space in it–whereas at Ginza the batter sticks to the pork. They also offer the tonkatsu in rice bowls with an egg cracked on top. American readers, do you know of anywhere good to get tonkatsu in the States?

Tonki is located at 1-2 Shimo-meguro 1-chome, Meguro-ku, Tokyo. (West side of Meguro Station) They are open from 4:00PM – 11:00/11:30 PM (Last Order is 10:45 PM). They are closed on Tuesdays, and the third Monday of every month.

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2012 happenings in HK.

Hong Kong’s roadside pollution levels were the worst ever last year, according to the Environmental  Protection Department. Readings at the three roadside monitoring stations in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok showed that pollution levels were above the 100 mark more than 20 per cent of the time. This was 10 times worse than in 2005, when very high readings were recorded only 2 per cent of the time. –SCMP

  • In better news: We are getting a J. Crew. Usually I bemoan America’s take-over of local institutions, but in this case I welcome the news with wide open arms. Gap opened in 2011 and Abercrombie is expected imminently…
  • Questions about home ownership after 2047, when Hong Kong is incorporated into mainland China, are already on people’s minds… in 5 years, will people even be able to get a 30 year mortgage?
  • Politicians are still debating what to do about the crazy influx of Chinese mainlanders who come here to deliver their babies… so they not only have better maternity care, but because their offspring are then entitled to permanent resident status, Hong Kong passports, education and health-care.
  • Hong Kong will “vote” for its next Chief Executive on March 25 and he’ll (yes, no women are in the contest) take office on July 1. Although there is a strong Democratic candidate, no one believes Beijing will let the 205 Democrats on the 1,194 member Election Committee vote him in.
  • One HKHousewife begins 2012 with a lot of spare change in her pocket…  Florence Tsang Chiu-wing won US $154 million dollars in a divorce settlement this past December… I believe that is the largest divorce settlement ever. (In comparison, Ivanka Trump got just$25 million from the Donald and Paul McCartney paid Heather Mills $49 million in 2003). And while this HKHousewife frowns upon divorce, it does seem that Ms. Tsang Chiu-wing had reasonable cause; “The marriage broke down after Li demanded his wife have an abortion, which she refused. He then had an affair and saw his daughter only twice after she was born, according to media reports.” The daughter has been awarded a separate fund of a little more than $3 million US. –According to China.org.cn Thanks to NYWife for the story tip!
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Holidays: fine feasts + knitted gifts.

One really fun handmade Christmas gift this year were these little bonnets from Purl SoHo’s Last Minute Knitted Gifts.

They were the perfect first hat project from me as they are really a ‘T’ shaped mini-blanket.

Another fun project was homemade gingerbread… my first attempt. I tried my hand at Martha’s recipe, which although quite sticky and challenging to roll out and cut results in a remarkably tender and delicious cookie.

The impetus to make gingerbread was from not having enough ornaments to cover our tree.

They looked great–but just for a few days. Sadly, after that the weight of the cookie pulled the hole through and I was left with cookies sitting on (rather than hanging from) branches.

I finally finished my first blanket for myself! It’s a red Christmas / Chinese New Year / Valentine’s blanket… it’s hard to see, but there is a cross pattern across the whole thing.

It took me about a year to finish and I still needed the pattern up until the last row. The blanket is the perfect length to cover you up from your waist to your toes while you’re seated, working or chatting away.

Last year I’d given my sis-in-law a teapot so this year I thought it would be fun to knit her a custom cozy… here is the finished project on my teapot, which is a lot smaller than hers… I’m hoping it looks a little nicer when it fits a little better.
I got so crazy about it wanting to fit perfectly that I actually found a china shop in Central that had the teapot… I convinced the VERY reluctant salesladies to let me try my cozy on the teapot…

So I hope after all that trouble that it actually fits!

Before we left for New Zealand, we had a few Hong Kong friends over for a Christmas dinner… I was trying to think of the perfect menu… I was debating roasts and turkeys, etc… and then the Mr. came up with the brilliant idea of a Mexican Christmas…  which was also great as two of the guests were vegetarians.

Homemade guacamole, enchiladas and fresh out of the oven chocolat chip cookies. Enchiladas are an awesome make-ahead alternative to the ever-present lasagna.

We spent actual Christmas day at our dear friends new home in Queenstown. They really outdid themselves with a studded ham and a turkey, which really made it feel like Christmas even though it was 80 degrees outside!

It was a really nice group… all Hong Kongers who just happened to be in New Zealand for Christmas! Can you tell how sunny it was?!

I had knit a hat for each of the two girls… but for some reason the eldest just never wanted to put hers on… so here we have darling little Manny modeling both colors!

And here I am with Kitty and our cracker crowns.

Christmas crackers are a British tradition I plan on adopting… and I’m going to make sure to only get / make crackers with hats included!

Hats make everything more festive, don’t you think?

In closing, I’ll leave you with our Christmas view: the Remarkables.

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New Year’s Resolutions vis-à-vis the Internet.

Sometimes I really do wonder how bloggers manage to simultaneously live and share their beautiful lives, all at the same time. Like when I’m cooking a fancy feast I really don’t have time to stop and shoot the ingredients and the process every step of the way… and once the guest have arrived, forget it! I feel like it’s so rude to interrupt the conversation and take 20 photos of the spread and plates I’ve just put together… it feels like bragging to want to document your own work so thoroughly when you really should be chatting with your guests. But at the same time I’m not going to buy all those ingredients and spend all that time cooking just for the internet–I guess that’s the definition of a profesional blog.

And then when I’m traveling… even if I happen to be somewhere with Internet quick enough to actually let you upload a photo I rarely have the energy to blog after a full day of exploring and adventuring. All of this is a really long-winded way of apologizing for being MIA for the last three weeks and letting you know that there actually has been a lot of fun stuff going on that I’m excited to share with you now that I’ve finally caught my breath.

I think there must be a balance between living life and documenting it so not stressing when you did make the most beautiful pie ever, but being okay with not getting a perfect snap of it because your friends were too busy diving in… and for me, I guess, that involves a good amount of letting go.

And… on that subject… my New Year’s Resolution is really a bifurcated one: 1) to simultaneously take real breaks from the Internet as noted above and enjoy them rather than itch to refresh my iPhone or feel guilty for being a bad blogger and 2) to be more of a contributor when I am online and less of a  taker. What I mean by that is… I do rely on the Internet for everything: Addresses, directions, restaurant recommendations, ideas for things to do… on and on. I vow to write more reviews on Trip Advisor, Yelp and online recipes, to comment more when I (as I often do) really enjoy someone else’s blog post (do you have any idea how excited I am for each and every comment left here!?), to ‘like’ more things from friends on FB, and maybe even to voice a political opinion or two on one of the many news pieces I read each week just to force myself to articulate what it is that I actually think, instead of being such a people pleaser that I’ve really gotten quite out of practice on voicing an actual opinion! While that is a very “loosy-goosy resolution,” my stretch resolution is the ever-elusive “In-Box Zero“… everyone needs something to dream about, right?

So my two resolutions are so seemingly at odds with one another, but that’s what makes it fun right? Perhaps keeping less than 20 windows open at once will help me accomplish them both.

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