Monkeys and a Straw Man*
This was my second visit to Japan. On the previous visit in 2008 the four of us spent 12 days divided between Tokyo and Kyoto, and with day trips; so on this holiday my itinerary was a little more free-flow. JF had suggested Kawagoe to me and it sounded appealing, so off the three of us (one of JF’s friends, as well) set on my first full day in Japan.
So much for Spring. Light snow was falling as we finally caught up with my Seoul Friend for a tour of Noryangjin Fish Market, where one can select their dinner and then take it upstairs to be cooked. We, though, just came to ogle these National Geographic caliber creatures of the sea.
This crab had other plans…
Winter was clinging to the breezy and cold Korean peninsula, so it was our parkas we donned for this sightseeing day. Compared to the attention-to-detail-to-a-fault of young Korean women (some might call it vanity) we felt woefully underdressed and certainly under K-cosmeticked; however, we were warm.
Incheon International Airport’s new Terminal 2 opened in January of this year, in time for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is sleek and pretty and calm and soothing. What it is not, is near to Terminal 1, from where the express train to Seoul Station departs.
The clock was ticking on our final full day and there remained several “Heritage” and self-identified “Really Should Try to Eat” foods still to conquer. “Coffee Hut” at the Berseh Food Center was where our food day began. Two orders of “Kopi and Toast” were placed; amusingly we were handed one of those paging devices and motioned to take a seat. Except, no one else was at the stall.
Not surprisingly our order was ready quickly. Just two bites into the toast, slathered perfectly with the Coffee Hut’s own Kaya spread, we understood. In fact, we requested a second order of Kaya Toast, we liked it that much. The Kaya spread was not at all what we were expecting, especially for Tony, who in general despises coconut. Now, the hunt is on to find this product in Vienna.
What wonders a restful night can bestow upon a traveler. My eyes popped open around 0500, and I luxuriated on the terrace with a coffee, scanning news highlights and posting enviable photos on social media to shivering friends in Vienna. The hotel offered a complimentary breakfast we enjoyed on just this first morning of yogurt, fruit, and the horribly dry national toast with strawberry jam, though on the following morning I would beg forgiveness for berating the humble bread when the goodness of Kaya toast touched my lips.
Sixteen hours after departing stuck-in-winter’s-grasp Austria, the heat of Singapore greeted me warmly (pun intended), and I was ever so glad that I had worn linen trousers for the flight. Our hotel was an easy and humid half-kilometer from an MRT station, and in good order I was resting in the air-conditioned reception of Hotel Vagabond, a glass of lime juice (Singapore’s magic elixir) in my hand while the clerk was cheerily upgrading us to a terrace suite for no apparent reason at all.
The genesis for this odyssey lies of course with our talented Anna Grace, who successfully auditioned for this year’s international schools honor orchestra. The competition is intense; more than 500 students vie for 150 chairs. The event rotates between European, Asian, and Middle Eastern schools for the concert location; this year the host was the Singapore American School, and the performance piece was Dvorak’s entire Symphony No. 8.
Only after Anna Grace received the exciting news could the flurry of travel planning commence, naturally. At first the holiday was to be only Singapore. Then friends in Tokyo messaged, “Our guest room is always open—we’d love to see you!” and I was further inspired to check in with a Vienna friend who now lives in Seoul to see if they would be around. Tony muttered something about “the office,” but suggested I carry on to visit our friends since, after all, we would be practically next door. He is practical like that. And that is how five days in Singapore grew into sixteen days across Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.