Thursday, March 29, 2012

shinkuju cheap eats

the people at this conference all turned boring and so i went by myself to shinjuku. it pretty much looks like roppongi and shibuya, lots of lights! do they ever turn them off? i thought there was a nuclear crisis not too long ago...
all of the lights...
 anyway, i found a neat arts store, a muji, lots of teeny bopper fashion stores with  craaaaazy preppy/slutty shoes, lots of bars and small places with tiny doors that are cluttered with curtains and foggy glass so you can't see inside- why? yso you can go in and then say, oh, this is italian food or a strip club or a benihana, sorry was looking for teriyaki? but then, a little out of the way this really dirty and cheap pork noodles place. i knew it was pork because there's a happy pig out front.
come eat pig!
the pig was far more friendly than any of the staff (all wearing yellow windbreakers) or customers...they had a menu with pictures, and some words in english, including a dish called "jew's ear?" uhhh, i just pointed to the ramen with spring onions and seaweed. by the time i got my soup everyone had left, they slurp it up mega-fast, pay and leave, especially the guys in suits. i sat at a long counter with lots of condiments all fogged up by the steam coming from the open kitchen.
no time for noodles must hurry!

want some brown stuff in your soup?
it set me back about 6€ and was worth it! a sort of opaque, porky broth with thin noodles and veggies and nori. and because my noodle picture didn't come out, here is a photo of my 7€ lunch!
love lunch!
tomorrow i go to hamakura so i'll have some pictures of something other than japanese food...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

eat eat eat lunch lunch lunch

i've stopped eating breakfast in order to make more room for lunch. lunch is so good! before lunch break at the conference, i sorta hang around the japanese people and see where they go and join them.
here was day 1 lunch. egg is raw (just like at breakfast, i found out). you break it into the little bowl and add soy sauce and then pour over rice. to my disappointment the rice isn't really hot enough to cook the egg, so it just becomes gooey rice. add seaweed (little black things) and pickles to mask out feeling of eating raw egg. drink miso soup from bowl (no spoon), make loud slurping noise. 
the grilled eel was what the polish girl ordered. price: about 8€.

the next day, i found out the lady i was following wasn't japanese, but thai and had no idea where to go or how to order. but we found breaded pork. japanese schnitzel! the waitress was super grumpy, but her schnitzel sauce was super tasty. price: 10€.
we also went to a sake bar one night after the conference, and i ordered octopus balls. they were gooey and covered in fish scales and let's just say they did not warrant a photo. blech.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


it was inevitable. to honour a family tradition, i must not leave tokyo before karaoke-ing. at least twice. so tonight was the conference after-party reception, and upon my urging, followed by...karaoke. must get one practice round before the real deal with the Fuji family saturday.
but as it turns out, all these japanese guys from the conference, with suits and fancy huge touch screen telephones arguing for 20 minutes couldn't agree on a karaoke place nearby, and i was the only person that recalled seeing one or two on my jetlagged dazy walk though rappongi.
there was lots of bowing when i offered to show them a place to go, and so 20 minutes later, here we were in some fancy lobby with crytal chandeliers, ordering a room on the 10th floor, overlooking the city. 
this place is fancier than my hotel

it started off nice enough, confident japanese balads and some madonna. it took a while to get a hang of all the electonics, and what to order "drink menu so crazy!" and we got maracas and tambourines to do it right. 

it was all pretty normal until i ordered japanese sweet potato whiskey shots and some guy took his shirt off...
and then we sang a duet...
practicing the shapiro rendition of "rawhide" for saturday
and then, as the only native speaker in the room who could read fast enough i was asked to do "american rap song very please!" and ended the evening screaming biyaaatch and singing about pimps and hos and drugs and thugs and thankfully no one understood but loved it all the same.  oyasuminasai!

Monday, March 26, 2012

oodles of noodles

so with a few hours to kill until i could pass out in my hotel bed, i wandered around the roppongi/midtown area. lots of shops, karaoke bars, and pet stores that sell monkeys (i want one!). i had a hankering for some noodles, and finally found one, thanks to bright colored pictures outside and a sign that said "it is smart to eat japanese noodles with moderate sound. you will see the enjoyment!" convinced me.
i went in to see men lined up at a counter, loudly slurping and not looking up from their bowls to see me. i went to site down the chef guy started saying something and pointing, and i thought he was asking me to slide the door shut better. so i did that, but then he wanted something else, so i though, do i grab a menu? no. it turned into a little game of hot and cold, i started to take off my coat, like, is that it? or do i need to remove my shoes (i had just gotten yelled at for wearing them in a fitting room). so what is it? 
oh, it's this crazy machine, i must use it to order. ummm
i'll have what he's having?
so, you put your money in, press a bunch of buttons and sit down. the people who came in after me were getting pretty antsy, and i felt their pain, just like the loser tourist who spends way too long buying a subway ticket,  soooo i just pacnicked, put in a 10,000 Yes (isn't that like a 100 dollar bill?) and pressed a bunch of buttons, took my change, gave the receipt to the chef guy and sat down. 
a few minutes later i had 2 delicious bowls in front of me. one with a very concentrated fishy miso and meat type stuff which was gross at first but then got way better, and the other, udon noodles with a soft boiled egg and nori (excellent choice!)
breakfast is served
the guy next to me was doing some pretty aggressive slurping, which i tried to copy but only ended up choking and coughing. so, no moderate noise from me but lots of deliciousness!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

i'm [back] in japan!

wow, has it been 30 years already since I walked the streets of Tokyo? well it doesn't feel like yesterday because quite a bit has changed...
were there always so many people with surgical masks? and how come no one has one with a cartoony print on it? boring white seems so not japanese.
the toilets have improved vastly, from scary black holes as i knew them, in which i would alaways manage to pee on my shoes and pants (i still don't know how to squat in those things), which are now futuristic contraptions with more options than my telephone. i appreciate the fake tinkling pee sound (press the music note button), or the animated flushing to drown out your more natural sounds. and heated! 
number 1 or number 2?  

anyway, i was unimpressed that my hosts who organized my flight and hotel didn't notice the 6 hour difference between my arrival and check-in time. so my first day in Tokyo was spent wandering in yesterday's underwear and zero sleep. 
in only a few hours i was delighted to find out that people still loudly slurp their soups, and hand you things with very deliberate finger gestures like they are hand models. lots of bowing. and, lots of no no no don't do that! oops. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

office space

so we are in our third government office space since the project started, because we are in a land rife with office space politics. because when you want an office, first you have to paint it, disinfect it, tile the floors, bring the bathrooms to an 18th century standard (the smell prevented me from getting close enough to the troph out back), kill lots of insects, install lots of air conditioners, electricity, a generator, and the final touch: internet.
and we've found that once there is internet, a higher government guy up will show up, come in and shake everyone's hand and congratulate you on your new setup, take a peek into the nice bathroom and then a week later you get an eviction notice, that the office of technical assistant to the partner of the associate of the mining minister or something is now taking over the office and you have to find a new one.
and so we are not only fixing up the national park system, we are nicely renovating offices all over kinshasa. 
most of our old items have made it the new space...except for the espresso machine. you see, a george cluny nespresso machine is as much a status symbol as a land rover. when you go to some high powered government guy's office the first thing he'll show you is the nespresso machine, and he'll say "oh, i'm out of those little capsule thingies, my secretary just went out to get them..." and, well, everyone knows that even if it had a power cord, you can't find any of those capsule thingies anywhere in kinshasa. you have to get someone to bring them to you from europe. and if you know someone in europe well enough so that when they come here they personally bring you nespresso capsules, well then you are obviously well connected.
another thing that happens when you go into a new office space is the little power struggle, you have to figure out whose turf you're on, and who to be nice to to in order to not find banana peels on your car, or who won't steal all your toilet paper and mouse pads and stuff.
in our case, we have the power, as we have the one and only key to the secret women's bathroom. people come to us.
meanwhile, the men's bathroom has been clearly labeled:

this here is da man's room!
so, as soon as the new people move in, the other people from the offices come and try and position themselves in the best way possible and shuffle for authority (which also puts them potentially in a position of getting a bonus..). so this morning a guy in a suit showed up and tried to tell us that he was the boss of the building, that we had to inform him of all his movements and we're like, but we talked to so and so, and so and so, so who are you? and he kept being really vague, and we finally asked a reputable source and well, it turns out he was the gardener, just wearing a suit. clever move, mr. jardinier...
p.s. this is the garden

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

the field team

to the river and no turning back...

giorgio armani on the right...
the only wildlife i goats! super cute!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

countdown to the journée internationale de la femme...

so thursday march 8 is international women's day.
in congo, that's a big deal, because it's kind of established that every other day of the entire year is man's day.
there's also mother's day, but then again, that's only if you have kids, and you have to be nice to your mom too, so it's never a days just for you.
so there's international women's day for all women. and it's is a big deal.
there are banners, there are signs, drunk women on the streets, and most importantly, there is a special fabric with a lady and the date on it. everyone will be wearing this fabrik on thursday.
so the ladies at the cafeteria (a little shack with a gravelly courtyard out front, run entirely by women who make you wait 90 minutes while they prepare rice and chicken) kept asing me if i had my dress planned yet and no, i didn't.
so we got down to business. they closed the door to the shack (only slightly angering the long line of customers ho have been waiting, probably more than an hour for their food) and started measuring me, talking about style, getting soooo excited and then...the price. it seemed to go up as soon as they saw how much cash i had in my purse, but it's ok, it was still only 20 bucks, including purchase of the fabrik (in the place where i got mugged, i'm not going back there), and sewing. all made to order.
so they are planning the typical african thing with the matching skirt and top and headgear and in my experience it's the kind of thing that looks cool when you wear it once in africa but then it's kind of tight and uncomfortable and never comes out of the closet. so, in about 15 seconds, with lots of hand motions i designed a sort of 50s marilyn monroe dress, because that's what came to mind.   
the next day i went to lunch and there it was, exactly what i ordered! though, in some crazy blue and brown and white african swirl because they thought it was nicer than the women's day print. ok. awesome. 
so we closed the door to the shack and amidst the flies and the food i stripped down and tried it on and it fit perfectly. i went out of the shack to see in better light and immediately the men, even guys all the way in the parking lot were whistling, woooooo congo style! she's white on the outside and congo on the inside!  

Monday, March 5, 2012

..after the bombs. lunch!

so after a rude awakening by nearby explosions, we sat inside for a while upon the recommendation of our respective embassies we watched the news, drank coffee and played a quick game of carcassone, now becoming an obsession in the apartment.

something's burning in brazza...

once it was declared safe, we decided to reward ourselves with the fabulous 34$ buffet at the cercle francais. it's a total ripoff, but good for the sheet variety. and it's the only place you can safely eat salad. there are plates of fried anchovies, pasta (a rare luxury), nicely cooked plantains, roasted vegetables, big cold bottles of Tembo...finally, some vegetables. especially after our dangerous escapade into the world of meat on tuesday -guitly as charged, it was my idea to order the 100$ 2kg meat platter, just for fun. it was mostly bloodsausage, which the germans in my group didn't mind at all..mmm lecker! but if i can offer a word of advice to the kinshasa tourist, you don't want to know what's inide congolese blood sausage.
anyway, at the end of the buffet was something for the cooker jules within us all, pate en croute! or, this version, a sortof giant goat sausage inside a loaf of whitebread, served with its mayonnaisey sauce. it doesn't have the adornments you might see on kitschnclassics, but hey, this is kinshasa, gotta make do with what you got.

and over here is a barbeque'd suckling pig, teeth and all.
soft, furry, crunchy eared pig.

which isn't just a pig, it's been deboned and stuffed with potates and pineapple, my little friend.

shouldn't you be gettin' pedaled?.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

explosions rock kinshasa

so last night, when we were on the balcony of our cheaply fabrikated chinese 5 story high rise, gazing out into the greenery (we have a little game, where we pretend we are in the caribbean, and make comments like, want to go to the beach and have a pina colada?) and then someone made the usual comment that "it's a good thing kinshasa isn't in a seismic zone." these buildings would crumble in a second.
the next morning, around 8 am, i was literally knocked from my bed by what felt like a truck ramming the building, or maybe an air conditioner falling from the roof. it happened a few more times and i went out of my room, like wtf guys is there a horse locked in the bathroom? but instead there was a giant mushroom cloud rising in the distance.
it thankfully does not appear to be close enough to our downtown, but everyone is out in the street, on the balconies. our shaky poorly installed windows rattled some more, and there was a moment when we all ran into the kitchen.
i made instant coffee and connected to the news. we heard a lot of windows broke in the centre of kinshasa, will which inevitably turn into open looting. a woman with a bleeding elbow, says she was closer downtown and basically fell over from the blast.  
if it weren't for the annoying visa process, i would have actually been in brazza right now to meet with a master's student i'm trying to help out there...anyway, we've been told to stay inside, and we will. though we're kinda out of food (lots of johnnie black label and champagne though).
i'm reading the book "the fortune teller told me" and it makes me think i should go see one now...  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

i spy with my little eye...

so on this trip there's been a lot a lot of inside freezing cold air conditioned office time, and not a lot of kinshasa. so, whenever a colleague has to run an errand or something i ask to come along, it's a good distraction, and just so crazy, just eye widening unbelievable can't stop looking kind of crazy. in fact, there are so many things to see that you just end up pointing out stuff to eachother, to enrich the experience.
and road trips, even short, are just the best.
it's non-stop stuff like:
-check out that car that only has three tires and emitting sparks!
-look, there's a chinese stoplight that isn't working and it's a total mess
-oh, and there's a chinese stoplight where every light is green at the same time, what a mess! 
-watch out, giant pile of garbage
that's actually a very small pile of garbage
-ohhh was that sludge pit a river or..(yes it's where we get our drinking water hahaha) 
-that guy is giving you the thumbs up, because he thinks the two white girls in the car are your wives, wave back!
couch for sale? or someone's patio?
-drunk driver, swerve!
-baby on the pavement! baby on the pavement, stop!
-that man over there is selling a bag of bricks, want to buy it?

they told me this is where i'm staying next time

-that woman has -er, had an ipad...
-there is a ton of pondu in that car. and a goat on top.

road trippin' with my goat and stuff

-that's the crazy lady with the knife we saw yesterday, lock your doors!

-policeman, lock your doors!

i got room for one more jug!

Friday, March 2, 2012

the eggs: you just never know

so last time i thought i had settled the issue with the eggs. there are people who walk around with 15 layers of cardboard racks of eggs on their heads. i used to think, wow, they're super agile and steady to not let those eggs fall! but in kinshasa, it turns out they are mostly hard boiled. no big whoop.
so we were on the road the other day, on our way back from bombo lumene and i had skipped lunch because i opted for a swim, and so i was starving.
the two others congolese guys with us asked to stop at this little market, and they got out and started haggling over pondu, these huge bushes of greens that are really tasty. they were buying piles, i mean, piles so large they ended up filling the entire back of our truck. i like to make funny of the taxis with this stuff sticking out all the windows, but that was eventually us.
anyway, they were doing their thing and i scanned the market and woot! there's an egg lady! so i jump out and get some eggs. i hear our driver start to say something like "check that the eggs are....." but i was too far away.
i buy 2 eggs for 600FC (pricey!) and i say to the lady, who has 2 kids hanging on her back "these are cooked right?"
and she nodded and i added, "well OF COURSE they are cooked ! who would buy raw eggs in 30 degree heat from some lady on the side of the street, right?"
and this is an important point of this story - she gave me a napkin. albeit a tiny napkin, it was a napkin, in a bag, to indicate i would be eating this egg very soon.
so back in the car, i'm riding middle backseat (i lost the shootout) and i'm eager to chow down and this egg is hard to break. i fake trying to break it on the driver's head, but instead kinda smash it on the headrest of the front seat and ...
blubbbbbbb. this egg is not cooked!
boniface is so pissed because he JUST cleaned the car and there is raw egg everywhere.
so he's screaming at me, and i'm trying to hold it right so it doesn't spill, but the white is just dripping between my fingers and i'm yelling at the dude next to me, i don't know his name because he's just a hitchiker but dude, open the window! open the window! and he's some guy who has never ridden in a car i guess (less likely), or maybe all the cars he rides in have no windows (more likely) because he's just pushing on the window, thinking it will project outward, but instead i'm dripping egg on his pants so i turn to my left and the lady next to me is all NO WAY! and this isn't exactly the kind of place you can just stop on the side of the road, there's no shoulder, every other vehicle is a giant truck overloaded with piles of stuff and jugs and goats and they have no visibility, so finally i just fling it outside an open window, and it totally smears all over the outside of the car, attached to small string of egg white on my hands.
and then it was totally silent, like after a big traumatic experience, and we are all checking out clothes, gauging the damage, and boniface is just shaking his head, pursed lips.
so i pull out my tiny napkin, and all i could say was, hey guys, she gave me a napkin, you know.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

bushmeat: the show

so around the campfire at night there are a lot of stories from the bush. and i guess it gets pretty crazy out there, especially when you're these biologist guys, who clearly don't have great planning skills like me or the female park warden to estimate and carry the requisite amount of food or water. so you hear stories like, oh, remember that time we were dying of thirst on the sudanese border and we had to drink that mud? that kind of stuff.

and as it turns out, when you run out of food, or when rebels steal your supplies, you have to make do with the last resort...bushmeat. which is why whenever we're walking or driving, one of my colleagues will be like, oh, yeah, baboon, baboon is super tasty!
which made me imagine the next awesome tv show i want to pitch. it would be called "bushmeat," and it would feature my brother, following one of these disorganized african field teams. and the first half of the episode would be travel show stuff, meeting people in the villages, seeing how they cook and prepare stuff, and then my brother staying in a hut and nursing big bug wounds and sitting in the pirogue complaining about how hot it is and how sticky his pants are.  
and then would come the time when they would have to kill something, and that's when his butcher instincts would kick in, and he would cut the thing up, and season it with whatever is around, ok, maybe he's allowed to bring a bag of mixed salt or some maggi packets, but the rest is forest plants and whatever they can scrounge, and then he would make the tastiest meal ever.
and at the end they would show the recipe, and since it's not really pc to eat monkey meat, there would be a replacement, like, instead of antilope, try and replace it with pork or something. organic pork, actually, because bushmeat is totally organic. monkeys are herbivores you know. and that would be that.