Sapporo is Good Eating

My wife and I recently made a short trip to Japan with another couple.  We went to Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido and to Toyama and Kanazawa on the main island of Honshu.  As the other couple are ardent foodies, this was primarily an eating holiday with food markets, street food and restaurants being the order of the day.  A couple of hiking trips, some shopping and sightseeing was done during the times we had to allow the food to digest.

On arrival in Sapporo, our first order of business was to seek out the seafood market (there are two, Nijo and Chuo-ku markets and we went to both).  Our mission, apart from gawking at the variety of fish and marine creatures on sale, was to seek out and devour a heaping big serving of Taraba King Crab.  These guys are monstrously, nightmarishly large but also delicious.

Another highlight was the Ganso Ramen Yokocho or Ramen Street.  In the midst of the flashy neon lights of the modern, vibrant Susukino district, there is a small narrow lane between buildings which house a series of small stalls which seem to be a relic from another time and which serve some of the best ramen on the planet.  These hole in the walls are small.  The smallest could only accommodate about 6 diners while the largest could probably sit about 16 diners.  We visited this street for dinner and supper a number of times.  Once we went around the witching hour on a wet rainy night to find queues of men in business suits waiting patiently in the rain for their turn to sit in the few seats available.  Our favorites included a delicious clam ramen served with basil oil and the Hokkaido local speciality of sweetcorn and butter ramen.

It may seem strange but we also tried out a French and an Italian restaurant and the Italian place, Picchu, was really memorable for using local Japanese ingredients in a creative interpretation of Italian cooking; a Taraba Crab meat sausage is an example.

Hokkaido is also famous for its milk and ice cream so a few helpings of that was also sampled especially the green tea ice cream.

Anyway, here are some photos to whet your appetite.

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Hi everyone!  I celebrated my birthday last week and I left clues in one of my posts to let you guys know where in the world I was.  Well, I waited and waited but none of you showed up to my birthday party.

What’s wrong?  Couldn’t solve the clues? Got lost? Got mugged in Tokyo and loss your memory?  Got stomped on by Godzilla?

Well anyway, you didn’t show up and it was your loss cause I chose to celebrate my birthday in my birthday suit!  Yes… naturel.  Bet you are kicking yourself for not getting on that early flight to Japan.

After decades of thinking about it, I finally got a chance to go to a ryokan and go into an outdoor onsen.  And I took the plunge!  I embraced the whole experience which involves letting it all hang out in a public bath.

I Mean, …Ten Thousand Monkeys Can’t be Wrong

For the uninitiated, let me walk you through the process.

Step 1: Get Naked. – all you take with you is a tiny towel that is barely big enough to cover your privates.  Now it seems that the native Japanese tend to strut around with the tiny towel folded neatly on top of their heads.  Those less accustomed to public nudity may rather uncomfortably use it to shield the nether regions from prying eyes but it really doesn’t help much.  I tend to subscribe to the strategy of using the towel to cover the face so that no one knows who you are.

Step 2: Soap and wash. – There are washing stations lined up along the side of a wall where you are expected to sit on tiny stools and wash  and clean yourself thoroughly. NOTE:- You Have to be CLEAN before entering the hot spring pool.  Soaping yourself in the hot pool is a major faux pas; nay – a major diplomatic incident; nay reason for going to war.

Step 3:  Enter the hot spring fed pool and soak while enjoying the cold outdoors.  The waters heal all kinds of physical and mental ailments and tiredness.

So here we go …….

Dressed for the Occasion in a Yukata (which apparently should not be confused with Yakuza)
To prove your worthiness to enter the waters of the onsen, some torture may have to be endured
Isn’t this just magical?

Well, that’s pretty much the end of this post.  If you were expecting some nudity, shame on you!   Please remember this is a family oriented blog.

Now, do you really want to see the squirrel disrobed?  I mean, do you really?  Are you sure?  Your final warning.  It’s not too late to turn back.  Last chance to save your eyes.

If you really want to see then follow this link…… I WANT TO SEE!

P.S. when asked about wearing his birthday suit for the occasion, LGS merely told the paparazzi that “it needed ironing”.

The Greying of the Squirrel

The Lone Grey Squirrel is getting more grey.  Today I am another year older and deeper in debt.  Yup….. a look in the mirror  and ……well, not a pretty sight.

For most of my life, I have always looked younger than my age. Even up to a couple of years ago, some of the younger folk had thought I was about 15 years younger than I really was.  And I really didn’t feel old either.

Then something happened and it seems as if a switch was suddenly flipped and everything changed.  First, a friend wanted to introduced me to his new sweet young thing.  He liked her and wanted my opinion of her. And so we were introduced and she said, “Hello, Uncle!”  In my culture, this is the way of showing respect to one’s elders.

Hmmph!  “Hello Uncle” indeed.  So I told my friend that I didn’t like her – call it a gut feeling.

Surprisingly, he listened to me and after sometime, he introduced me to another girl and we hit it off; like we had been friends for years.  None of that “Hello, Uncle” nonsense.  I was happy when they said they planned to get married.  And then, the girl’s mother was due to come to town to visit and meet my friend.  He recruited me to help entertain the mum and to help him make a good impression.  I was honored.  And then I met the mum ……… (pregnant pause) ……and learned that she was younger than me.  My friend’s girlfriend’s mum was younger than me.  When did I get that old?

Then again, recently I had cause to make a police report and I went to the station and was directed to see this elderly police sergeant.  He was clearly pass his prime and was waiting out his time before retirement doing a desk job.  His hair was shocking white and he was constantly out of breath; the result of years of smoking probably.  This frail old man looked up at me and said, “Hello, Uncle!”

Hmmmph!  But there was nothing to do but shrug it off.  I was due to have lunch with some of my buddies and I wanted to relate these funny incidents to them.  Unfortunately when I arrived, they were too busy exchanging information about vitamins, supplements and which doctors were good for colonoscopies!

You know what? If this means that I really am old now, then I plan to be grumpy as well.  You know like my heroes……..

grumpy old men

Where in the World…..

The Lone Grey Squirrel is out.  He is not here

He is scouting for suitable locations for his secret hideout from which to plan world domination and enslave mankind for their own good.

You might ask, “Where in the world is ………LGS?”

Here are some clues to which country I am scouting out.  See how many clues you need before you figure it out!

  1. Imports 85% of Jamaica’s coffee produce.
  2. You could feel the earth move under your feet at least 1500 times a year.
  3. Has the world’s largest fish market.
  4. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson appear together in a movie filmed here.
  5. “Handsome Weeping Boys” is a good paying career.
  6. Surprising number of missing fingertips.
  7. Baseball is its most popular spectator sport.
  8. In 2015, the title of “World Whiskey of the Year” was awarded to one of its brews.
  9. Won a famous victory against South Africa in the Rugby World Cup 2015.
  10. “Wax on, Wax off ” Part II

Have you figured it out?  Where in the world is LGS?

“To Prince Edward Island” by Canadian artist, Alex Colville – One of my favorite paintings.


Graveyard Shift

A little bird blogger tells me that this weekend is Labor Day in the USA and Canada.  As such, most of you will be out enjoying the last days of summer with a Barbecue and a Bud at the Beach, Ball park or Beach. (The previous sentence was brought to you by the letter ‘B‘; tough economic realities has forced the management of this blog to accept sponsored messages).

What that all means is that this post may be a waste of time as it will remain unread…….but never mind, the blog must go on.  And, actually for the rest of the world, Labor Day is May 1st.  Don’t know why the North Americans have to do things differently.

Anyway, this North American only Labor Day celebration got me thinking about my own very checkered history in the work force.  Some of the jobs I had to do were quite demanding physically, emotionally and mentally.  I have paid my dues.

One of the things I once had to do was a 48 hour timed experiment where I had to take water samples from an elaborate setup meant to study the survival of pathogenic microbes and their indicators in the environment.   Initially, the setup was  in a laboratory to get baseline data but later, I had to repeat this with the equipment setup in the field.  I had to take samples and process them which takes about 45 minutes and then repeat the process every 4-6 hours.

This meant that  1)  I became increasingly sleep deprived and prone to making mistakes, 2) I became addicted to coffee and 3) I regularly worked the graveyard shift when past the witching hour, strange things are seen and heard.

For about two years, I was set up in a small medical laboratory in a very old building of a very old teaching hospital in Malaysia.  For most of the night, I was the only one in the complex.  Apart from the long corridors, my small lab was the only one lit as the rest were locked and in darkness.  The long corridors were also dimly lit and passed through open courtyards where ancient trees with creepers hanging down blocked the night sky making the darkness more complete.  I know this sounds like the setup for a B-grade horror movie but it is absolutely true and there is more.  As this section is essentially shutdown at night, for me to go in and out, I have to take the back way which connects with the main hospital building………….and this means I have to walk through the morgue. And I have seen many horrible sights there.  The bloodied bodies of accident victims were often in this room I had to walk pass ……..and after that was that long, long, dark corridor.  And when the wind blew and the trees creaked, you could almost swear you heard voices and saw shadows.   A glutton for punishment, I then killed time in the wee hours of the morning in between my samples by listening to ghost stories on the night radio.  Never needed coffee.  I stayed jumpy all night!

Even more unnerving was when I had to retrieve samples in the Malaysian jungle at night.  In one location, I was camped in the jungle.  The camp itself was quite nice and well lit but every 4 hours, I had to drive a jeep about 20 minutes along a rutted and unlit logging trail.  I then had to scramble for another 10 minutes along some rocky terrain on foot to a small river with only my head lamp to guide my way.  Taking the sample would take another 10 nervous minutes.  All that time, it was pitched black except for where my light shone in front of me.  Especially, when I was bent over collecting my samples, I felt very vulnerable.  There were some very real dangers like tigers (uncommon but not at all impossible) and perhaps more of a danger were wild boar and snakes.  But my heart was also pounding as I remember the tales of jungle spirits and wraiths.  The jungle at night is very dark but it is very noisy with all kinds of sounds; many of which one would not be able to identify.  Why, that noise could be the Malaysian jungle version of Jason or Freddy Kruger!

Then, even if I made it back to the jeep with heart racing, one always had to check to make sure something evil was not hiding in the darkness of the back seat.  But the part I found scariest of all was when I was driving back and my world was just that arc of illumination in front from the jeep headlights.  Occasionally, I would look at my rear view mirror and all I could see was darkness.  But you know, I kept expecting that the next time I looked, I would see a pair of glowing red eyes and hear a deep guttural growl.

But anyway, all’s well that ends well.  The Lone Grey Squirrel made it through those dark spooky nights unscathed …………..or did he? Mwahahaha.

What’s Your Poison?

The first time I was asked, “What’s your poison?” was at a British pub.  As a young, non-native English speaker, I was wondering what I did to offend my host so that he would offer me poison.  Since then, I have learned that it is just a way of asking what drink I would like.

Err….that is a way of asking what drink I would like, right?

But some of you gentle readers may be surprised to learn that one man’s poison is another man’s cure.  And so, here is a post on drink and poison.

I refer to the Korean practice of having the notoriously deadly and venomous Asian Giant Hornets and other stingers in their alcohol or soju.  I came across this in a market in the city of Sokcho which is in the northeast of South Korea and not too far from the border with the North.

It is said to give a richer flavor profile to the soju as well as a characteristic bitter after taste.  More importantly, like most such medicinal alcohols, it is supposed to give a boost to “male stamina”.  And so, for those of you gentle readers who may be interested in alcoholic drinks or traditional medicines or need help with “male stamina” or are poison wielding murderers in training or are just interested in the bizarre ……. try this poison!

This is the shop where the magic happens.  The metal distillers can be seen.
Ingredients for Traditional Medicines:- The usual dried mushrooms, roots, fruits and even eggs
And then, there are these – hornet hives.
The display shows some of the venomous stingers being used
The Hornet Nest is quite pretty, I think.
And finally, the drink with a sting (quite a few stings actually)

I could only find one video in English that covers this beverage. So here it is….

So….would you try it?

Lost in Thought

Tradition is important here in the Realm.  And so, it is time for my semi-annual, very occasional, sometime, when I remember to do it and am not too lazy, once in a blue moon event.  I refer, of course, to my tribute to the funny one-liner.  The last time I did it was here, “one-liner-or-two”.

Yes, every year during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, some critics sift through all the comedy routines performing, nominate 5 one-liners each, which are then put to a panel of 2000 people for voting, and out comes the official pick for the best one-liners.

Here are some of my favorites from the list;

1. “My dad has suggested that I register for a donor card. He’s a man after my own heart.” Masai Graham

2. “Why is it old people say ‘there’s no place like home’, yet when you put them in one …” Stuart Mitchell

3. “I’ve been happily married for four years – out of a total of 10.” Mark Watson

4. “Brexit is a terrible name, sounds like cereal you eat when you are constipated.” Tiff Stevenson

5. “Is it possible to mistake schizophrenia for telepathy, I hear you ask.” Jordan Brookes

6. “My motto in life is always give 100%. Which makes blood donation quite tricky.” Tony Cowards

And then there were the one liners which caused the most groans from the crowd like Darren Walsh‘s gem; “What do you call three members of Abba in a French slaughterhouse? Abba trois.”

In case you were wondering about the title of this post, “Lost in Thought”, it is a quote from one of my favorite one liners of all time which is “I just got lost in thought……it was unfamiliar territory.”

(feature post image of squirrel from The Business Insider Australia)

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels