Thursday/ foreign agent or useful idiot .. which one?

There have now been so many revelations about the Trump 2016 campaign’s collusion with the Russians, and so many pro-Russia, pro-Putin actions that Trump had taken in plain sight, that it really appears that the President of the United States can only be 1. an agent for Russia or 2. a useful idiot.

Writes Garrett M. Graff in Wired magazine:
In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election—or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.

So we are in a place way, way beyond Nixon.

Wednesday

The days are slowly getting longer here in the Pacific Northwest.
It has not been ‘too cold’ (always a relative term: 50 °F/10 °C) and we have had a nice stretch of six days of dry weather.
The rain is coming back tomorrow, though, and will bring more snow to the mountains as well.
P.S. The traffic adjustments and volumes with the Alaskan Viaduct now closed, has not been too terrible at all.

It’s 5.15 pm and I’m heading out towards 15th Ave for our Wednesday night beer & bite. It’s nice that some houses on my block, like this one, still have their holiday lights on. It brightens up the winter darkness a little bit.

Tuesday/ deal or no deal?

Now there is political chaos on both sides of the Atlantic, with the historic defeat of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons today – and with the United States Government shutdown deadlock dragging on to Day 26.

Only time will tell what happens next, in both cases.

Reporting from the New York Times, Jan 15.
Tweets from Donald Tusk (President of the European Council), and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Union Commission, responding to the vote in the House of Commons that soundly rejected May’s deal with the EU.

Monday/ Trump’s cheapskate feast

Trump on Monday night in the White House, with the table groaning with cheesy & cheapskate fast food. (I guess those are a few salads at the top left). This is for the Clemson University football team, for their national championship celebration. I thought there was a government shutdown, Mr President. Should you not furlough all your White House staff, as well?

Sunday/ the sun sets on the Alaskan Way Viaduct

The Alaskan Way Viaduct (opened 1953) that runs along the Seattle waterfront, was closed at 10 pm on Friday night. It took traffic officials until well after 11 pm to get the revelers and the final vehicle off of it.
On Saturday, pedestrians had to be shooed off of what has now become a construction/ demolition site.

It will take three weeks to finalize the opening of the State Route 99 Tunnel below the Viaduct. We will know by Monday night how disruptive this period will be to commuters to downtown Seattle. Transport officials’ advice to the 250,000 commuters: shift your schedule/ walk/ bike/ take the bus/ train/ carpool / try the water taxi. Just do not drive in by yourself.

Sunset on Sunday (4.44 pm), on the empty Alaskan Way Viaduct. This view is from Victor Steinbrueck Park just north of Pike Place Market. That’s Mount Rainier bathed in pink in the distance (4,392 m/ 14,411′, last eruption 1894). 

Saturday/ souvenirs from my trip

Here is an ensemble of the souvenirs that I found stuffed into my bags, as I unpacked them.

Clockwise: Red & blue north-south bar magnet (polar opposites, so a perfect metaphor for Republicans & Democrats in American politics, right?), mini set square, 28.57 mm steel ball & perspex cube, all these from Tokyu Hands store | white porcelain tray from Muji store | chimpanzee, banana in hand & white solid polyhedron set from Akihabara | origami Starbucks coffee filters | porcelain mug by Koransha (Japanese porcelain) | platypus piggy bank with ‘combination lock’ as a belly button from Commonwealth Bank | the ‘Red King’, an ultramonster with oversized fists (No 57 in the Ultraman series) | melamine tray with Australian kookaburras | diecast model of N700 series bullet train

Friday afternoon/ now in Seattle

I’m home! .. but it’s going to become a stretched-out Friday for me!
That’s what happens when one flies east across the international dateline. Let’s see: 18 hrs in Japan on Friday + 9 hrs flying + 14 hrs in Seattle until Friday midnight. That’s a 41 hr day. Whoah.

Here is our All Nippon Airlines 787 bird sitting at the gate at Narita airport. It left well after the sun had sunk below the horizon (Friday in Japan at 6.15 pm), and then flew almost due east for about 9 hours ..
.. to meet the sun on the early side of the night we had left. Here we are starting the descent for Seattle airport, to arrive there at 10 am Friday morning Seattle time.

Friday afternoon/ at the airport

I am at Narita airport, waiting to board my flight.
I took a quick taxi to Tokyo Station (too much luggage to use the subway!), and then the Narita Express train from there.

From my walk this morning before leaving for the airport: one of the outposts of the Imperial Palace (old name: Edo Castle). The Palace is located in a large park-like area near Tokyo Station, and is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan (currently Emperor Akihito, age 85).

Thursday/ time’s up, time to go

Today was my last full day. I will head out to the airport after lunchtime tomorrow.
It was gloves-scarf-skull cap weather: no sun and only 6°C/ 42°F for a high. I went out to the very touristy surroundings at Asakusa Station (pagodas and shrines), and then made a stop at Omotesandō Station (glass and steel) as well.

Here comes the next train, this at Asakusa station. For once, there are no fencing panels, and no humans on the platform that spoil the clean lines of the picture :).
This 5-story pagoda near the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, is a 1973 reconstruction of the 942 original which was itself rebuilt in 1648. At 53 m/ 173 ft high, it is the second tallest pagoda in all of Japan.
On to newer constructions, though! This is the AO building in Aoyama, completed in 2008, and designed by renowned architectural firm Nihon Shikkei.
And how about the 6-story crystal glass tower nearby, showing off Italian luxury fashion house Prada’s offerings? Architects Herzog & de Meuron, constructed 2003.
Across the street, there’s a La Perla store on the corner (high-fashion lingerie, loungewear, bridal intimates & sleepwear), and an Anya Hindmarch store behind it (English fashion designer).
If you’re going to convince well-heeled people to part with lots of money for their threads, you’d better have some eye-catching store fronts, right? Tsumori Chisato (64) is a Japanese fashion designer, an ex-collaborator with famous Japanese designer Issey Miyake (80).
My last stop for the day was at Akasaka (not the same as Asakusa!). Nice vanishing edge on the SKI building (infotech office tower) on the left.

Wednesday/ day trip to Nagoya

My day trip to Nagoya went well, but man! there was an icy wind blowing in the city today. I was so glad I had packed my woolen skull cap.

Here’s the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (bullet train line) that runs from Tokyo to Nagoya, that I took. It continues its run from Nagoya on to Osaka. A more direct line to Nagoya will open in 2027, and be extended to Osaka by 2045*.
*Assuming Earth had not been utterly destroyed by humans, by then.

Here’s the Nozomi Super Express again. I’m about to step into the one on the right. Tokyo Station is its one terminal, so it sat still for 5 minutes to get cleaned by the cleaning crews. Then, and at all other stations, there is ONE MINUTE for passengers that need to disembark and for new ones to board. The train has 16 long cars, so if you are in the wrong place, or almost late, immediately board the car, right where you are. You can reach your correct car and assigned seat from inside.

 

This steel spiral and traffic circle is by the east exit of Nagoya station. The spiral tower behind it in the background, is the Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers, home to three vocational schools. Nagoya is a manufacturing and shipping hub, and Toyota City, home of the beloved Japanese cars, is not far away to its southwest.
This is by the exit from the Shiyakusho Station, on the circular Meijo Subway Line. It is the closest stop to the Nagoya Castle – the city’s main tourist attraction.
Here’s a little history of the castle and its adjacent palace.
And here it is, the castle itself (a 1959 reconstruction). It was bitterly cold, and 30 minutes from closing time, and a dozen or so of us took a few pictures. Those black birds are crows, as far as I could tell.

Tuesday/ along Meiji-Dori avenue

I spotted some unusual buildings along Meiji-Dori avenue today, while walking from Shibuya to the Harajuku station.
Some days I run myself ragged with too much walking! So for tomorrow, I plan to take the Nozomi Super Express to Nagoya. It’s 1h 40m in one direction.

The not-quite Art Deco building for the Pink Dragon store sells 1950s retro clothes, accessories and clocks. Down below is Cat Street Cafe, and a golden egg perched on a pillar .. but what that stands for, I am not sure!
Here is the swank new WeWork co-working space called The Iceberg, which opened in Aug 2018. They have offices around the world, also in Seattle.
An older apartment building near Harajuku station. I don’t know the name – I just liked the angled columns of bay windows.
A window display that shows Pepper the robot* coming to grips with his new Google Pixel 3 smartphone. (Does he ask: ‘OK Google, who is the smartest robot?’ ?).  *Manufactured by SoftBank Robotics.
The Tokyu Plaza shopping mall near Harajuku station has a faceted entrance covered with mirrors. It is only 3 pm, but the sun is already low. It sets at 4.40 pm.

Sunday/ visited friends

I ran out to Saginomiya station on Sunday, to visit friends of ours from Seattle, that live here in Tokyo.
The transfer I had to make at Takadanobaba station was a little ugly*, but I was fine after asking the station attendant for directions.

*The Seibu-Shinjuku line is from a private operator, and not shown on my Tokyo Metro app.

It took three lines to get me where I wanted to be: the grey Hibiya line, the blue Tozai line, and the green Seibu-Shinjuku line.
Here comes the train, at Kayabacho station. Yes, the inside is a little rough, but I’m sure it will get fixed up when they install its platform fences.
When faced with a long complicated station name to remember, I just say to myself remember ‘Taka-something’. (Of course, the risk is that the line has other station names that also start with Taka- !
Billboard for a fancy new train that will start operating on the Marunouchi line, in February. The line carries about 1.35 million people every day. (That character in front of the train is Doraemon, the robotic cat from the 22nd century, from the manga series by Fujiko F. Fujio).

Saturday/ the Yurikamome line

This morning, I took the Yurikamome line’s train to the new Toyosu fish market from Yurakucho Station (not much to see there), and then went on to Shimbashi Station. The line offers plenty of great views of the waterfront and of Tokyo Bay.

The Yurikamome line was completed in 1995, and is Tokyo’s first fully automated transit system – controlled entirely by computers, with no drivers on board.  It looks like a monorail, but it is not: the trains run with rubber-tired wheels on an elevated concrete track guided by the side walls.

I had just stepped off the train at the Shijo-mae station close to the Toyosu fish market, and waited for the next one to arrive (to take a picture, of course). Note that there is no rail or rails on the track. The train runs on rubber wheels, controlled by computer.
The bidding for blue-fin tuna happens early (5 am to 6 am) at the market, so by late morning there was no action to be seen through the double-pane windows for visitors. This is a model of the largest tuna recorded (at the old Tsukiji fish market), 496 kg/ 1,094 lbs, in 1986. It just so happened that early today, a Japanese sushi tycoon paid a whopping US$ 3.1 million for a giant tuna at this market – by far the most ever. Let’s also just note that blue-fin tuna is an endangered species due to overfishing. Oy.
The upside down pyramids of Tokyo Big Sight, officially known as Tokyo International Exhibition Center. That’s a giant wood saw in the foreground.
The Yurikamome line runs under the Rainbow Bridge, a suspension bridge crossing northern Tokyo Bay. The railway line is encased in fencing, seen in the middle on the right of the picture.

Friday night

I am in the Marriott Courtyard Ginza this time, a better Courtyard than the one at Tokyo Station.
I’m going to stay a whole week! (Long story: I purchased the ticket back to Seattle a long time ago, and now it’s very, very expensive to change).
No matter: there are lots of interesting things to do and see in a great city such as Tokyo.

Happy New Year! These yummy rice crackers were my welcoming gift in the hotel room. (I already chewed up 2019).
The Higashi-Ginza station still does not have platform doors – which means I can still take a clear picture of the train as it arrives.
Call in an emergency if you see a person obviously impaired on the platform, says this poster. There was a fatal accident in August 2016 along the Tokyo Ginza subway line, in which a visually impaired man was struck by a train after falling from the platform. There are plans to install platform doors at all 882 train stations in the Tokyo metropolis before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
I hopped off the train when I saw it was the station near the National Diet Building (the ‘parliament’ where the House of Representatives and House of Councillors meet). To see anything more than this view at all, though, one has to sign up for a guided tour, like these people. The entire block of government buildings is fenced in and guarded by a heavy security presence. I stuck my camera lens through the barriers in the fence (with the approval of the guard!) to take this picture.
I’m happy to report the Christmas decorations are gone from the window displays and lamp posts in Ginza! The lamp posts now have Japanese flags on: nice.

Thursday morning/ at Hong Kong airport

I’m at Hong Kong airport.
I took a taxi from the hotel. I had just too much luggage to lug to Sai Ying Pun station & transfer to the Airport Express!
Besides, it’s nice to experience the serious infrastructure that gets one to the airport by car: first the Western Harbor Crossing (an immersed tube tunnel under Victoria harbor), then the Tsing Ma suspension bridge, followed by the Nam Wan Tunnel and another suspension bridge, the Kap Shui Mun bridge. And let’s not forget the entire Hong Kong airport was built on a man-made island.

Approaching the Nam Wan Tunnel. It is a twin-tube tunnel 1.2 km long (0.75 mi), with three lanes in each direction.
Here’s the departure hall in Terminal 1, as one steps into the airport after getting out of the taxi.

Wednesday/ more Hong Kong

Here are more of my favorite pictures of this Hong Kong visit.
I am leaving for Tokyo in the morning, to stay over again for a few days. It is the final stop on way back home in Seattle.

I love this eye-catching mural. It is at the entrance of the World Trade Center shopping arcade in Causeway Bay.
Oh Deer X’Mas‘ indeed.  On the buses, in the stores, in open spaces: Christmas trees and decorations are still found everywhere in the city as of today. One even hears Christmas music in the stores. People! Christmas is O-V-E-R. Maybe I need to send an SOS message ahead to Japan: N.O. M.O.R.E. Christmas.
I love the little snacks that the Marks & Spencer food stores purvey around the city.
The view across from the Tsing Yi station’s promenade: phalanxes of forty-story apartment buildings. These apartments might be small, but are still OK, I guess. Newspapers still report on the plight of thousands of Hong Kong residents living in tiny subdivided housing units known as “coffin homes’.
These beautiful gleaming blue pillars at the Admiralty station on the blue Island Line (the line is blue on subway maps).
The Star Ferry runs across Victoria harbor between Hong Kong Island, and the Hong Kong mainland. This cute little sailor welcomes passengers as they board the ferry.
This was on New Years Day: a Lion Dance festival at the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. The yellow lion has two kids in that make it perform all kinds of moves.

Tuesday/ new trains, new stations

I have been to Hong Kong many times, and there is always a new construction project, or an extension of the subway rail network to check out.
The new high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and Guangzhou in mainland China opened in Sept 2018, after many years of delays.
Unfortunately my American passport is not much help to get me into the new train and across the border! Aargh.  I would need a confirmed itinerary/ formal invite for a visa, which takes FOUR business days. I will be gone by then – and it’s too much effort for a jolly ride, anyway.

Slide 1 of 4: This is the 615 m/ 0.38 mi walk from the Marriott top left, to the new-ish Sai Ying Pun station (opened in 2015). The 200 m/ 0.13 mi to the green bubble where the train stops, is an underground pedestrian tunnel.  Yes, it’s a little walk to get there, but once there, there are 93 destination stations on 11 lines to choose from .. for only for a few dollars!
Slide 2 of 4: The entrance & exit B3 to Sai Ying Pun station. There are several others scattered around the station. The apartment tower was built along with the station entrance.
Slide 3 of 4. (Successfully took a picture without dropping my new phone into the abyss). It takes three escalators (or the elevator) to get to the bottom of the pedestrian tunnel that goes to the train station. There is also a spiral staircase winding around the escalators: a means to get into or out of the station during a local power failure.
Slide 4 of 4. The pedestrian tunnel that goes to the train station.
Here is the cavernous inside of the departure lounge at the brand new Hong Kong West Kowloon station, the terminus of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link. Those pillars are just enormous, and the roof with its skylights is at least 6 storeys up.
I did not have access to the platform to check out the train, but here is a photo from Wikipedia. This is train G6581, getting ready to leave Guangzhou South, bound for Hong Kong West Kowloon, on the first day of running on the Hong Kong section in September. These trains are built in China.
Mickey Mouse in the arrivals hall of the Hong Kong West Kowloon station, beckoning to travelers to visit Hong Kong Disneyland. I think he looks very cute, and is doing a great job.
Hey! And above ground, the 110-year old tram system on Hong Kong Island is still going strong. Fares are now HKD 2.60 (33 cents US), up from HKD 2.00 (26 cents) ten years ago. Got to pay the bills, right? This was on New Years Eve, with the trams on a modified schedule. All these were heading out in quick succession to pick up people that wanted to travel to the city center.
This pedestrian subway tunnel under Salisbury Road by Victoria harbor was nicely remodeled as well. Pressing the camera shutter makes for instant abstract art!

Here comes 2019.. Happy New Year!

It’s just about 2019 here in Hong Kong.
Cheers! Happy New Year!

By 9 pm, the Hong Kong Police Dept. were out in full force in the small square of streets called Lan Kwai Fong in the Central District (party central for expats and locals alike). The surrounding streets were closed for traffic.

Also: the Yung Kee Restaurant nearby had posted a sign by the entrance ‘Our Signature Charcoal Cooked Goose Has Been Sold Out’. (Aw. Out of goose on New Year’s Eve. And I guess wait staff could no longer announce ‘Your goose is cooked, sir!’, as they put the goose on the table).

The scene in Lan Kwai Fong at about 9 pm. (No, I was not going to hang out there until midnight! Leaving that to the younger ones). HAPPY NEW YEAR 2019, says the letters on the pub named Ciao Chow.
Giant paintings of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Catherine Hepburn, and Charlie Chaplin on the Hotel Madera nearby are festive for any night, and especially for New Year’s Eve.
This is a Mad Hatter’s party a few blocks away. (I see some people have cheated: they have no hats!).