Top 5 New Series of 2015

Arguably, Game of Thrones is the biggest TV series right now. But as much as I love it, I’m not heartbroken when a season ends because there’s so much good TV to go around. Here are the top five new series I got hooked on this year while waiting for Game of Thrones.

  1. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tells the story of a woman who’s experiencing normal life after fifteen years of being holed up in an underground bunker with three other women. They were deceived by a cult leader that the world is ending and that the only way to survive was to live in the bunker. The premise sounds dark, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is actually a comedy.

I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt during one of my low moments this year, which was great because aside from being a hilarious series, Kimmy’s (Ellie Kemper) story and positivity are uplifting without being sentimental.

You’ll like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt if:

  • You miss 30 Rock and want to see a new series created by Tina Fey
  • You like light (but not dumbed down) comedy
  • You believe slapstick comedy is effectively funny only in small doses
  • You like “fish out of water” stories
  • You want to inject some joy in your life
  • You find this video funny:
  1. Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful isn’t new; its first season aired in 2014. But not a lot of people are talking about it so it still feels like an undiscovered gem.

Penny Dreadful follows the adventure-filled, and oftentimes terrifying, life of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) in Victorian London. The series takes inspiration from classic novels such as Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Frankenstein for some of its characters and plots.

You’ll like Penny Dreadful if:

  • You love Eva Green. She plays the central role of Vanessa so you could stare at her and listen to her raspy voice for hours. She’s stunning in costumes of corsets and lace.
  • You’ve read the novels mentioned above and found them boring
  • You like stories with mythical creatures like vampires, werewolves, and witches and want to actually be scared of and not fall in love with them
  • You appreciate meticulous production details such as makeup, costume, and set design
  1. Master of None

Master of None focuses on the different aspects of the life of Dev (Aziz Ansari), a thirty-year-old actor living in New York.

This series reflects so much of my values and principles, and I’m weirded out that I find more things in common with a thirty-year-old son of Indian immigrants living in America than the beautiful, good Filipina daughters in our teleseryes.

You’ll like Master of None if:

  • You find conversations compelling. All the characters talk a lot. And each episode is really about what the characters have to say on the issue at hand whether that be feminism, LGBTQ, racism, or marriage.
  • You like seeing real people on screen. Dev is a short, chubby Indian man. Rachel (Noël Wells), his love interest, doesn’t have a perfectly-proportioned face. The most Hollywood-looking person in the entire series is Claire Danes, and she was there for only one episode.
  • You’re a feminist woman
  • You want a realistic depiction of a romantic relationship
  1. Catastrophe

Catastrophe is a British comedy starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan who play characters with the same name. Rob and Sharon meet in a bar, hook up for seven days, and accidentally get pregnant. They don’t necessarily love each other at first, but they like each other enough to stay together and do the adult thing of supporting each other in the mess they’ve created.

You’ll like Catastrophe if:

  • You think sex and relationships are topics that can be depicted realistically, intelligently, and hilariously.
  • You’re a parent with a sense of humor when it comes to raising children
  • You don’t want to have kids but want to see what it would be like if you would
  • You’re a feminist man
  • You follow Rob Delaney on Twitter, have read his book, and find him funny
  1. Narcos

Narcos tells the story of the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, his rise to power, and the people who are trying to bring him down.

You’ll like Narcos if:

  • You like the intensity of True Detective and the drugs narrative of Breaking Bad
  • You miss Pedro Pascal
  • You enjoy reading subtitles; more than half of the series is in Spanish
  • You like historical drama
  • You want to come out of a binge-watching session feeling as if you’ve been intellectually stimulated

Top 5 Movies of 2015

I watch a lot of movies. And I enjoy persuading or dragging people to watch good movies with me. Here are the top five movies I watched in 2015, and will continue to rewatch in the years to come.

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

I’m not a big Hunger Games or Jennifer Lawrence fan, but I was still excited to watch the final installment to the Hunger Games series. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Mokingjay, Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off–no flashbacks, no long-winded explanations. This is a war movie now. And with that comes nerve-racking action scenes where no characters are safe. The action scenes are built up really well, too. It’s not one action scene after another. The movie lets the audience breathe, lulling you into a fall sense of security until it’s time to blow up characters again. I found the quieter scenes as compelling as the action scenes because that’s when the the characters reveal their motivations and relationships with each other.

What I really liked about Mockingjay, Part 2 was that it’s not all about good versus evil. Katniss’s motivation for joining the rebellion is mostly selfish–revenge. Her allies are shady. Peeta battles the evil within himself. And even Snow shows morality.

The last scene in Mockingjay, Part 2, which I fully credit to Jennifer Lawrence’s acting, is my favorite. Even though the battle was won, even though Katniss is with someone she loves and who loves her, we see how the effects of war still run deep in her. She may even have mild depression. That Katniss seems the most vulnerable when the world is already at peace was a good contrast and a statement that life goes on.

4. Sicario

I love Emily Blunt and I will watch whatever movie she’s in, and Sicario is one of her best movies to date.

Sicario is a movie about the drug cartel in Juarez, Mexico. Emily Blunt plays Kate, an honest, law-abiding, and capable FBI agent who was recruited by the CIA on a mission to bring down the head of the cartel. She is joined by Josh Brolin who plays Matt, the mission leader, and Benicio del Toro as the scary, mysterious killing machine Alejandro. All of them are amazing in this movie.

Sicario will have you on the edge of your seat until the last second. At the cinema, I felt the audience collectively holding its breath whenever some shit is about to go down. Throughout the movie you’ll fear for Emily Blunt’s character’s life. What makes Sicario suspenseful is its unpredictability; except for Kate, all the characters are shady.

Mexico looks beautiful in the landscape and overhead shots that I want to visit it. But the movie is so effective in showing the perils of Juarez that I’m also scared.

3. Trainwreck

A good-looking guy who sleeps around because he has commitment issues suddenly finds The One. Sounds familiar? Now replace the good-looking guy character with a woman, and you have Trainwreck. Except it’s so much more than that trope.

Trainwreck is a romantic-comedy written and starred by the funny Amy Schumer playing a character named Amy. I use the term romantic-comedy loosely because it’s really more comedy than romance. It follows the rom-com format yet avoids being a cliche. In Trainwreck, Amy is awful to the guys she sleeps with, and the movie doesn’t try to redeem her or make her more palatable to the viewer by making her cutesy. Even Bill Hader’s character Aaron, Amy’s love interest, isn’t trying to save, fix or change her, which I found refreshing.

I also need to mention how funny John Cena and LeBron James are in this movie. John Cena’s sex scene with Amy and his delivery of the crossfit joke is so on point that Dwayne Johnson needs to be worried if Cena decides to continue pursuing acting. The sensitive LeBron James character is also well-written.

Many romantic-comedy movies end with a song or dance number or both, and Trainwreck is included in that list. There are two things that usually happen during these production numbers: either the lead character performs really well or fumbles really badly in a super cute, hilarious manner. Amy’s performance is neither. She really tries to get the dance steps down. And when she makes a mistake, it’s not depicted like “Oh, she made a cute, little mistake. Isn’t she adorable?” No. She goes balls off for the performance and stresses about not being in synch with the professional dancers. It’s awkward, real and funny.

2. Inside Out

I had high expectations for Inside Out because of Up. And at the cinema, my expectations only increased after watching the short animated film Lava that preceded the actual movie. (It was so sweet!) It’s unnecessary to describe the concept of Inside Out by now because I feel like everyone has already watched it. And that’s a good thing. Our lives are so much better because we have this movie.

For a change, we have a Disney movie lead character whose parents are both still living. But the real change is how Riley, the young girl whose feelings we’re watching, is a complex human being. We actually see how she grows to be a multifaceted girl.

I grew up watching Disney princesses and these characters were graceful, kind and forgiving even when they were being treated in the worst possible way. And it’s great to teach kids kindness. But I never fully related to these princesses because I’m not always kind and good.

So it’s revolutionary to see a Disney character be depressed when life turns sour. And to use that movie as a mirror for the viewers, especially kids, to understand and acknowledge their negative feelings is such an achievement.

The impact of Inside Out in understanding our emotions is huge, but movies should be, first and foremost, entertaining. And it is. It will make you run through the gamut of emotions, especially that one heartbreaking scene; Pixar is worse than Game of Thrones when it comes to killing beloved characters. It’s such a joy to see all those bright colors on screen. And being Pixar, the animation is flawless.

It’s a movie based on a simple, genius idea with solid storytelling and perfectly executed animation. We’re all better people for watching it.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Other than watching the trailer, I had no idea what Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be about until I stepped in the cinema. By the end of the film, I was blown away.

Watching Fury Road was an experience, like a well-timed rollercoaster ride giving you just a millisecond to gather yourself until the next drop. The action scenes are fast-paced and chaotic but coherent–the viewers always know what was going on with each character. The crazy, hyper supporting characters keep the tempo building. Fury Road was shot so well that you could almost feel the heat of the desert on your face and the sand in your mouth.

The eponymous character Max is played by Tom Hardy (*swoons*), but the movie was really about Imperator Furiosa, played strongly by Charlize Theron, and the women she’s saving.

The movie alludes to a number of issues like the gap between the rich and the poor, cult mentality and false messiahs, feminism, and effects of abuse. The real triumph is that they managed to cover these topics, but the characters only had minimal dialogues.

I haven’t watched the original Mad Max and didn’t see the point of remaking movies until Fury Road.

Pretentious posts on Paris

Pretentious posts on Paris

The first thing I do when I wake up is to check my phone—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The morning of November 14 was no different. It was a Saturday so I was able to leisurely check my social media accounts. When I opened Twitter, I knew something was wrong. All the news outlets were tweeting the same thing: the Paris attacks.

Since I rarely watch TV, I get my news from the Internet, which I prefer because you can choose what stories to read. If I watched TV news, shows that tend to border on sappiness, I would be angry and/or crying all the time. Not that I can avoid that altogether on the Internet.

After I checked Twitter—the more level-headed social media platform, if you ask me—I moved to Facebook, where I learned that other shit went down on the same day: an earthquake in Japan and a bombing in Beirut.

Social media is great for disseminating information. It also allows people to share their views much easier. And share their opinions, they did.

There was the relatively harmless slew of online prayers and the ubiquitous #PrayForParis hashtags. More “cultured” people used the French version, #PrierPourParis. If the events in Paris had happened a few years ago, I would’ve probably be one of those annoying atheists posting about the futility of prayers and the use of said hashtags. And then there were those who were indignant at how people were only praying for Paris when there were far greater tragedies, which have been overlooked by the media.

For some Filipinos, it was their moment to shine the light on the lumad issue. I appreciated that, but I felt like some of them were being a little too smug about it. Like, “Oh, you know about the earthquake in Japan and the bombings in Beirut? Pfft. That’s nothing. I know about the lumad killings.”

Is this the new hipster? Is there a competition on who could cite and grieve for the most obscure social issue? And the funny thing was, some of the people who were preaching on how we should be directing our attention to our own country’s issues instead of a tragedy thousands of miles away, haven’t shared anything about the lumad issue prior to the Paris attacks.

A slightly harmful post that I saw was of someone saying that the Paris attacks were a result of France taking in Syrian refugees. He also wrote that ISIS used the refugees as a Trojan Horse for terrorists. His posts were accompanied with links to news articles that didn’t support his statements.

This wasn’t helpful because that’s how fear and misinformation spread. People who don’t actually read would think that his captions were the gists of the articles he was sharing, when, in fact, they were merely his theories.

To clear it up right now, reports say that none of the known terrorists in the Paris attacks were Syrian refugees.

Facebook then rolled out an update that allowed you to temporarily change your profile picture with a French flag overlay, and people had a lot to say about that, too.

I’m not discounting the merits of such posts. Sure, I would like to know why I care more about a tragedy in France than our own country’s problems. (I think it’s somewhat related to why I feel like my life is better represented in American TV series than sappy teleseryes. But that’s another point altogether.)

Yes, I would like to care about Japan, Beirut, the lumads, Africa, and other lesser known tragedies, but I’m not going to pretend that I suddenly do just because someone guilt-tripped me into it.

I get it. We just want to be heard. And social media makes us feel like we’re not just screaming into a void. I just wish the screaming didn’t come with a subtext that says, “My scream is superior compared to everybody else’s.”

Edited by Allan

Photo via

Japan Travel Diary: Tsukiji, Shopping, and the End of the Trip

Japan Travel Diary: Tsukiji, Shopping, and the End of the Trip

November 10, 2014

Since we were in Tokyo, we had to have sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

One section of the Tsukiji Fish Market
One section of the Tsukiji Fish Market

In Tsukiji, we chose a sushi place based on the menu displayed outside each shop. We didn’t even know the name of the sushi place we ate in. Ruther waited with us in line, but being allergic to seafood, he didn’t eat with us. He ate at the chicken place beside the sushi restaurant instead.

The sushi restaurant we chose. My friend said that the sign reads "Ichiba Sushi."
The sushi restaurant we chose. My friend said that the sign reads “Ichiba Sushi.”

I had a Welcome Set, and Butch and Allan ordered the most expensive omakase set.

My Welcome Set
My Welcome Set

I was very happy with the first sushi I ate—it had teriyaki sauce on it. I’m usually averse to salmon, but their salmon didn’t have the aftertaste I’ve come to hate. The shrimp sushi had a lot of wasabi in between the rice and shrimp that assaulted my nostrils for a couple of seconds. My maki was good, too—I always love me some fish roe. Allan and Butch’s set included fish semen sushi. They said it was creamy but tasteless.

The semen sushi is the leftmost sushi in this photo.
The semen sushi is the leftmost sushi in this photo.

After our sushi breakfast, we went our separate ways to shop. Butch went back to Akihabara. Allan and Ruther went to Koreatown. And I went to Takashimaya in Shinjuku.

My first stop in Takashimaya was the Kinokuniya bookstore, which was in a separate area from the main Takashimaya mall, and once I got there, I was not disappointed. They had copies of Rookie Yearbook Three; Yes, Please; and Rob Delaney’s book. I haven’t seen these titles in Manila. I thought the price would be inflated because this was Tokyo, but they were reasonably priced. I had to stop myself from buying so many books. Sadly, they still didn’t have a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Maybe I should just order a copy from FullyBooked once I get home.

I went back to the main Takashimaya building and bought these cute but inexpensive earphones as Christmas gifts for my cousins at Tokyu Hands. I then saw paper bags with a drawing of Santa Claus and when you fold the top, it becomes Santa’s hat so of course I bought those, too. I also got a tax refund for my purchases. Then I went to Uniqlo to look for more Christmas gifts. The price tag for button-down shirts in Uniqlo was half their Manila price! I regret not buying more shirts. But at least I finished most of my Christmas shopping.

I really felt like an adult walking, shopping, eating, and commuting alone in Tokyo. I felt like a subway expert, too, wending my way through the stream of people and no longer looking left and right to make sure I’m going in the right direction. I also enjoyed not worrying about whether the guys were getting bored waiting for me.

I walked back to the hotel to drop my loot and ate the strawberry shortcake and opera cake I bought at Takashimaya.

Sadly not my cake. This was Allan's.
Sadly not my cake. This was Allan’s.

Then I met the guys at Shibuya for dinner. I was finally okay to have my picture taken at Hachiko’s statue. (However, the photo was corrupted.)

We ate in the same sutameshi place we had dinner in yesterday.

Allan's sutameshi
Allan’s sutameshi set

I then went to H&M and found so many clothes were on sale. I wish I went there before Uniqlo because the clothes were so much cheaper. I was able to buy some stuff for myself. I also bought some cute t-shirts for Jonas.

Even though I was there until the store’s closing, it still wasn’t enough time.

I went to a 7-11 and bought different flavors of KitKat and Pocky for pasalubong.

When I was done shopping, I messaged the guys to ask where they were and learned that they had been in the hotel for two hours already.

I packed after Butch finished packing because I found it too confusing to pack with all our shit laid out all over the hotel room. I didn’t know why he didn’t pack while I was still out. Maybe he thought I wanted a companion while packing.

I managed to fit everything in my two bags.

I put Salonpas on my lower back and slept for four hours.

***

November 11, 2014

We rode a taxi to Shinjuku station and bought our Narita Express tickets there. I was asleep the moment the train started moving. When I woke up, we were speeding through rice paddies. I want to visit the provincial parts of Japan, too.

Ruther forgot the posters he bought at Koreatown in the train. Allan was the most heartbroken that the trip was ending.

I spent my remaining yen buying more pasalubong at the airport. I regret not buying a yukata in Asakusa. Apparently, it’s not available everywhere.

I may not share the same intense separation anxiety Allan has for Japan since this trip has been less than perfect for me, but I still want to go back. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what this country has to offer; there are still so many places to see and food to eat.

I’m definitely going back.

Until next time. Thanks for reading my travel diary!
Until next time. Thanks for reading my travel diary!

Japan Travel Diary: Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya

Japan Travel Diary: Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya

November 9, 2014

I was in my dream travel destination, and I wanted to cry.

For our second day in Tokyo we went to Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya.

Since we were going to Harajuku—a known fashion hub—we took more care than usual in dressing ourselves. I love dressing up so I was psyched. But once we arrived in Meiji Shrine, my excitement gradually waned. The guys walked ahead together, and I was left behind. I already expected this to happen, but it didn’t make me any less sad.

People watching during the walk to the shrine distracted me for a short while. I thought it would be cold because of the trees, but they actually shielded us from the wind so it was slightly warmer.

The walk to Meiji Shrine
The walk to Meiji Shrine

We chanced upon a traditional wedding. We didn’t write wishes on those wooden things anymore because we found it pricey. We just used our money on food instead.

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There wasn’t a lot of food choices within the shrine’s complex. We ate staple temple food again, this time yakisoba with okonomiyaki.

Oba-chan preparing okonomiyaki
Oba-chan preparing okonomiyaki

We mistakenly took the long way around Meiji Shrine to get to Takeshita-dori. Maybe I was just tired, but during this long walk, with me trailing behind a good thirty paces, I really felt alone.

I decided to rid myself of the guys once we arrived at Harajuku because I didn’t want them waiting for me and unintentionally pressuring me while I look in different shops. So I took a pocket wi-fi for myself and set off on my own.

Takeshita-dori
Takeshita-dori

Most of the wares sold in Harajuku are too kawaii for my taste so all I managed to buy was a printed button-down shirt and earrings. 

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One of the shops on Takeshita-dori

I met with the guys at the end of the busy street, and we walked to Omotesando.

There were so many people in Omotesando. And because it’s situated on a hill, you could see the people, which seemed like thousands, walking miles ahead.

Allan, Ruther, and Butch went in the huge Apple store. I stayed outside and sat on a bench to rest my, by now, dead feet. Wearing boots, no matter how comfy, for two straight days of non-stop walking was indeed a sacrifice for beauty.

Saw these cuties while I was sitting in front of the Apple Store in Omotosendo
Saw these cuties while I was sitting in front of the Apple Store in Omotesando

We then looked for an obscure coffee shop called Omotesando Coffee. Allan, probably sensing something’s wrong, treated me to a cup. I don’t drink coffee so I didn’t really appreciate whatever subtle flavors Omotesando Coffee had to offer.

At Omotesando Coffee
At Omotesando Coffee

Even though we were already hungry, we decided we would travel a few minutes more to eat dinner in Shibuya instead of Omotesando.

I lost all remaining happiness at Hachiko’s statue.

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Once we arrived at the statue, I needed to pee. The nearest restroom I could find was in a mall across the street from the statue. It took me about twenty minutes to get back. Naturally, they already took photos with Hachiko. For me, that was the last straw. When Allan asked if I also wanted to take a photo with the dog, I refused. I felt that if I uttered more than one sentence, I would’ve burst into tears, let alone be able to smile for a picture.

I sound like a whiny fuck because I was in Japan and I should’ve been enjoying myself, but I wasn’t. And the fact that I wasn’t enjoying myself made me that much sadder.

When I crossed the famous Shibuya crossing, I felt like I could disappear in the sea of people, and no one would care.

Is this filter emo enough to express my feelings?
Is this filter emo enough to express my feelings?

Still very much hungry, we walked around Shibuya a few minutes more until the guys finally agreed on a place to eat dinner. Allan’s dish was good. I was happy with my burger steak set, too. It went well with one of the dressings. I don’t know why I kept ordering meal sets with shrimp furai when all the previous ones I had ordered had been disappointing.

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Because I couldn’t handle the cold anymore, I went to the Forever 21 building nearby (alone, of course) and bought a sweater.

If the guys noticed my sour mood, they didn’t let it on. I honestly don’t even know if I wanted them to acknowledge my feelings anyway. I just wanted to belong, but I also didn’t want to force it.

But I don’t feel that anymore. At least not as intensely as earlier when I felt like crying. I just have to come to terms with not being part of the group. I’ll be fine if I just do my own thing.

I actually prefer to be alone tomorrow for shopping day, but Butch says he wants to join me.

Hopefully my next Japan trip will be more fun than this.

Japan Travel Diary: Asakusa and Akihabara

Japan Travel Diary: Asakusa and Akihabara

November 8, 2014

We started our first tour day in Tokyo in the afternoon, and our first stop was Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

The first time I saw Sensoji Temple was in a photo of my mom with the instantly recognizable big red lantern.

We ate staple temple food (yakisoba paired with chicken karaage), before exploring Sensoji.

Allan and Ruther, temple food endorsers
Allan and Ruther, temple food endorsers

As we were walking around the temple, we saw a gathering of people dressed in different Japanese costumes: men wearing kimono-like worker coats, women in kimonos, and children in those same worker costumes.

These worker-like kimono costumes are called happi.
Found out that these worker-like kimono costumes are called happi.

More onlookers and costumed locals continued to gather so we hung around to see what was about to happen.

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It was a lantern parade. The men carried or pushed big, intricately-designed paper lanterns while shouting a battle cry. The women held fish-shaped paper lanterns. And they had a marching band of drums, flutes, and tiny cymbals.

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It was dark when the parade ended, so we got to see Sensoji Temple and the Five-Tiered Pagoda lit up. It was beautiful.

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We then shopped for souvenirs at the line of stalls just outside the temple. We weren’t on a tight budget, but we were still hesitant to buy stuff thinking that since this is a tourist spot, they might price their goods higher.

I bought some “lucky cat” magnets and the wind chime my mother wanted.

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At some point during shopping, the guys walked too far ahead and I was left behind. Luckily, I saw Allan stepping out one of the stores and followed him to see if he would turn back to look for me. (He didn’t.)

Then we went to Akihabara for some duty-free gadget shopping. Allan bought a fancy leather case for his new camera. I bought a waterproof pouch for my phone so that I could take selfies while submerged in water.

Otaku heaven
Otaku heaven

There were buildings housing floors of arcade games, and we went inside one of them. We tried our luck at those claw crane machines, but we weren’t able to grab any prizes.

We did find a hilarious game involving flipping tables though. It’s like those games where you hammer or punch something as hard as possible to get a high score except this one’s flipping tables, like the meme. The game starts with you choosing a scenario. (Ours were a family dinner and a nightclub scene.) Then it will play a story where the character slowly gets pissed off. You slam your hands on the table to release your building agitation. And then, once you deem it the proper time for an outburst, you flip the table. The graphics are hilarious. It even shows a slow motion, 360-degree view of the scene once the table is flipped.

Great for when you need to release some stress
Great for when you need to release some stress

We went to Akiba Achi to look for a place to have dinner and decided on a restaurant specializing in unagi or eel. One of the servers there was so cute. He had a serene face and soft features like a girl’s. He moved quickly and gracefully. I wanted to take him home.

Some people like fatty fish, but I don’t, and the unagi was really fatty. I think, for unagi, being fatty was supposed to be a virtue, but my mouth hated it. Still, I finished my bowl.

Bleeeerch!
Bleeeerch!

We then went to Golden Gai. The walk from Shinjuku Station to Golden Gai was interesting, because we found ourselves in another red light district. We were reminded of home and our world-class entertainers when we saw an establishment named Manila Boom Boom.

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Golden Gai was the type of seedy place that Allan likes with its graffitied walls, cramped bars with yellow incandescent lighting, and a constant haze of cigarette smoke. I think it’s because of his Tony Leung and Wong Kar Wai aesthetic obsession. The speakeasies looked intimidating for the uninitiated. And when we chanced a glimpse of the barmen (and women), they seemed like characters with gripping stories to tell.

Anthony Bourdain featured Golden Gai years ago in No Reservations, so maybe that’s why there were a lot of Caucasians.

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We wanted to drink, but we were too tired and still had an early morning for Meiji Shrine tomorrow. We’ll just go back another time. Hopefully, it’s not demolished by then.

Japan Travel Diary: Universal Studios Osaka and Shinkansen

Japan Travel Diary: Universal Studios Osaka and Shinkansen

November 7, 2014

This day made a huge damage to our budget.

We had a small “adventure” on our way to Universal Studios. We waited at the platform where the train to Universal Studios stops and rode the first train that arrived. We were relaxed as we talked about the highlights of our Kyoto tour yesterday, until we heard an announcement through the PA system saying that the train was going to be separated at one of the stations ahead—the first six cars will be going in one direction and the last six cars in another. We looked at each other’s befuddled faces. What if we were in the wrong car once the split happens? Should we change cars? We checked Google Maps and saw that we were not moving anywhere close to Universal Studios. The entire train line that we rode was wrong.

Although I would’ve loved to see the train cars being separated, we hopped off the train before it happened, then rode the correct one to Universal Studios.

It was already 10:15 a.m. when we arrived.

I didn’t know if it was because it was Halloween month or Japanese pop culture dictates it, but there were a lot of people in cosplays. My favorite were these three guys wearing radish costumes and one of them was carrying a tiny baby radish plushy.

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Because most of the rides had a long waiting time, we were only able to ride the Spider-Man 3D ride which was like the Transformers ride in Universal Studios Singapore. We should’ve just bought the cheaper express pass because that allowed pass holders to skip lines.

The Harry Potter park was also packed with tourists even though a timed entry system was already implemented. There were long lines everywhere. I wasn’t even able to go inside Honeydukes to buy a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Bean or a mug of butterbeer because we didn’t have time to waste on long queues.

But Hogsmeade and Hogwarts were still a sight to see. We toured inside the Hogwarts castle. I managed to buy an overly priced Chocolate Frog so I’m happy.

Hogsmeade is filled with Muggles
Hogsmeade is filled with Muggles.

I want to go back once the hype has died down and there are fewer tourists.

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We bought our shinkansen tickets at the Universal Studios Station. It was more expensive than our round-trip flight tickets.

After eating dinner, we went back to Hotel Kinki to pick up our luggage, then we went to Shin-Osaka Station.

Shin-Osaka Station was a vast, intricate, and bustling web. Luckily, the ticketing officer at the Universal Studios Station already told us which platform to go to. The platforms for the bullet trains were outdoors so waited in the cold night.

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We rode the Nozomi train which was the fastest bullet train line.

The train was stable for something that moved so fast that you didn’t feel it shaking once you’re seated inside. The most impressive part was how the train could stop smoothly despite its high speed.

Lugging our baggage in the bullet train was no big deal because it was spacious. But once we arrived in Tokyo Station, it was a different story.

We arrived at Tokyo Station at 11 p.m., but there were still a lot of people. The train to Shinjuku was one of the older ones, so the cars were narrow. It wasn’t even rush hour, yet it was packed. What more during then?

Once we arrived in Shinjuku, we didn’t know which exit to take. We took our time figuring out which was the correct exit until we saw the exit gates in front of us being lowered down. We hurried to find another exit because we didn’t want to spend our first night in Tokyo trapped inside a train station.

Despite the lateness of the hour, our luggage situation, and our state of semi-exhaustion, we were still adamant in our refusal to hail a cab. We were in Tokyo and we welcomed adventure. So we walked from Shinjuku Station to Citadines. It was Friday night; we passed by a lot of drunk people on our way to the hotel.

We finally arrived at our hotel at 1 a.m. We were tired and happy, and we made it in one piece—that deserved a group hug. We then went to the nearby Yoshinoya to celebrate.

This is the first time I’m going to sleep with Salonpas patches on. I hope it helps relieve my tired muscles. I also have foot patches stuck on the soles of my feet that are supposed to remove toxins. We agreed to sleep in and start our tour later than usual.

Tomorrow Later we’re going to Asakusa and Akihabara.

For now, good night, Tokyo!