Monday, January 23, 2012

Crazy snow and spicy food in Tokyo

Hello from the land of sushi, where of course we're celebrating Chinese New Year with a Chinese dinner even if I'd much rather have wagyu. We arrived in Tokyo last night to an airport that was unusually full for 8 PM. Narita Airport is far but it's one of the busiest and yet most efficient airports in the world. My usual time from getting out of the plane and into the car is 10 minutes, especially if JAL parks in the terminal nearer immigrations, where you don't need to use the connecting train.


But last night was chaos. The foreigner line at immigration snaked through the hall and most people must've waited over an hour for their turn. And even in the foreign residents' line, which is usually a two-minute wait at most, there was a line all the way to the health check counter.

What's going on? I thought. And it didn't help that some people in the foreign residents' line -- who should really know what to do at the immigration counter by now -- hadn't filled in their immigration forms. So when they got to the counters, that's the only time they filled in their forms, taking a good extra five to ten minutes for this.

This put lots of people in a bad mood, and we were all grumbling about how people like this should step aside to fill up their forms instead of hogging the counters unnecessarily. Finally, one of the officers opened up the Japanese lines to the foreign residents and so I got my turn at the immigration counter a few minutes quicker.

By the time I got to the counter, I was just happy to get out of that line and I was already thinking of something else. But it was the immigration officer who struck up a conversation.

"It's such a busy night here tonight," he began. That reminded me again that I'd had to wait about 30 minutes instead of the usual 3 minutes for immigrations. So while I was doing the fingerprints and all that stuff needed to get into Japan, I asked him: "What's going on? It's never usually like this."


He replied: "Even I'm surprised. I think it's Chinese New Year. Lots of Chinese on holiday moving around, either into Japan or out of Japan." He was probably right. At least 1 billion people are celebrating Chinese New Year this weekend.

And speaking of the Chinese, it seems almost inevitable that they're going to be taking over the world just by sheer numbers, and then by their quite admirable aggressiveness and ambition. Landing in Japan last night just reminded me of this fact, and it made me also realize just how much the Chinese have made themselves a part of Japan, their relatively small, prosperous and attractive neighbor.

For one thing, lots of Chinese are ski-mad and so many wealthy Chinese have bought properties in Hokkaido in Northern Japan, which is supposed to be the best skiing in this part of the world. Not a few Chinese, too, now have second or third homes in Tokyo and other major Japanese cities. This was never the case before, but now it's become the norm with so many of them flush with cash and quite enamored with Japan, which is safer and more orderly than most other places in Asia.


My next-door neighbor in Tokyo, for instance, is a relatively young Chinese guy who made his fortune early on by working hard in Hong Kong's financial industry and then investing in Hong Kong real estate. Then he retired and now he spends his days managing his investments and traveling the world, living a pretty cushy life and dividing his time between Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York. He lives next to me but he has a string of apartments all over Tokyo and one of them is just used as a halfway house.

More and more of these kinds of successful Chinese are making homes in Tokyo or having vacation homes in prime Japanese holiday spots like Mount Fuji (which is supposed to have very good feng shui, so it's popular with Chinese) or Hokkaido.


Chinese New Year is pretty subdued here in Tokyo compared to elsewhere in Asia, obviously, but we're going out for a Sze Chuan dinner as I'm in the mood for something very spicy, especially as it's suddenly started to snow like crazy. And Chen, this place we're going to, which is the Tokyo branch of a famous Sze Chuan restaurant in China, is the spiciest place I've ever been to in Tokyo, and it's very well known especially for its spicy mabo tofu dish and equally spicy dan dan men.

There's lots of Chinese new year celebrations going on all over Asia tonight, but if you're in Macau, don't forget to head over the seaside near Macau Tower and the Kun Iam Ecumenical Tower as there's a fireworks celebration at 9 PM. And tomorrow, the 12 Zodiac characters are appearing all over Macau from at 10 AM - 1020 AM at the Macau Ferry Terminal, 1120 AM - 1150 AM at Senado Square, 315 PM - 340 PM at Isao Hon Park and from 355 PM - 420 PM at Macau Fisherman's Wharf.

Happy Chinese New Year wherever in the world you happen to be. Love, peace, prosperity -- and a year of more amazing travels to all.

* * *

To commemorate the resilience of the Japanese people
one year after the Great Earthquake,
and to celebrate the beauty of Japanese culture.




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