Alright. Another day, another attempt at getting sorted in the squatters residence. The Portuguese volunteers are opening the clothing donation room for distribution and suggest we come help out at noon. Again, we arrive on time. Again, no one is around.
My alarm is going off. How can my alarm be going off? I just fell asleep 5 minutes ago.
Nope, I am mistaken. It really is 2:30 already. I fell asleep 3 hours ago. Why would anyone ever want to wake up at 2:30am? There’s no better reason than a good old fashioned market. A Tokyo Fish Market, to be exact. This place is famous for it’s early morning tuna auction, to which they only allow entry to 120 spectators. 60 for the first auction, 60 for the last. The first auction starts at 5:30, but rumour has it that you need to be there hours earlier if you plan on getting a seat.
So here we are. Getting ready to leave our hotel at 3am. Did I mention that I have to leave for the airport at 8:30? Yeah. That’s happening.
We take a 20 minute taxi to the famed fish market, where I can already see a couple of other tourists walking towards the market. STAY BACK, tourists! If there’s only 120 seats I refuse to be arrivals number 121 and 122. Best believe I’m racing out of this cab to get in line.
A total of four people get to the crosswalk before we manage to jump out of the car, where three officials are standing to direct pedestrian traffic to the tuna auction waiting area. We are lead into a room stuffed with more tourists, all wearing yellow vests. At a first glance, I figure there must be well over 60 people in front of us, but upon doing a quick count I find that it’s really only about 50, and we’re going to make it into the first auction! Sweet! About 10 more people are given yellow vests, before the blue ones start being handed out, signifying the second wave of auction goers. We’ve made it in time! Hooray!!
We’re directed to sit on the ground with everyone else, huddled as tightly together as possible to make room for more people. I don’t think it would kill them to provide some chairs…or a pillow…or really anything besides a 1,000 sq/ft hardwood floor for 120 people.
It’s 3:20. Now what? We shift around uncomfortably for 2 hours, that’s what.
Hallelujah, 5:25 is here! Us yellow-vests are herded out into the market, leaving the blue vests to fester in that tiny room for another half hour. See ya, suckers! We have previously been warned that any harm that may come to us in the market is our own fault. Now I understand why they have to do this. There are trucks and mini forklifts whizzing about all over the place and none care if they take out a nosey tourist or two. They might even kinda like it. They’re just trying to do their jobs…and now they’ve got a daily flood of photo-happy foreigners to watch out for. Probably not ideal.
I can’t be sure, but it looks like all 60 yellow vests make it to the tuna auctioning room in one piece. Which is a little unfortunate for me, because now we are crammed into an even smaller standing-only space in an aisle of the market room. There are approximately 8 zillion giant frozen tuna fish laying all over the floor to my left and right. Men with pick-axe/fish hook hybrid sticks walk around with flashlights, poking at the tuna, inspecting it for colour, and sometimes stabbing them a little with their sticks.
I’m looking to the left side, watching the tuna experts examine the huge fish, when a very loud voice holds a long monotone sound from across the room. Cow bells start ringing. Everyone whips around to the right, where an auction is about to begin!
The booming voice starts yelling out what I can only assume to be prices; throwing his hand up in the air like he just don’t care. Similar to English-spoken auctions, the auctioneer has a bizarre humming, quick and barely comprehensible way of yelling. Two or three men stand across from him, some very large tuna fish laying on the ground between them. The group of men stand casually, moving nothing but their hands in very understated gestures. I gather that these hand gestures represent bidding, but again, I can’t be sure.
Some dude wins though, because after much hum-yelling and hand gesturing a forklift rolls up to collect like 8 giant tuna. The auction champion hooking his pick axe into their mouths and hauling them up onto the forklift with the help of a pal. They look REALLY heavy, these crazy frozen fish.
We just catch the beginning of another auction before our time is up and we are pushed out into the busy, truck/forklift traffic hell that is the fish market. I do another great job of not dying, but there are a few close calls.
While sitting and waiting in the tiny pre-auction room, we had been chatting with some other tourists who knew of this supposedly incredible sushi place within the market. Apparently the wait times to get into this place, for sushi at SIX AM, can be over four hours. This famous chef’s son also has a restaurant in the market, with more reasonable wait times of over an hour.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Dad and I stop at the first sushi restaurant that we see. It’s still in the confines of the market, so we’re bound to get fresh fish no matter where we go. The idea of raw fish at 6am is a weird one, but when in
Rome Tokyo… do as the fish market people do.
We sit down at a bar where Dad’s sushi and my sashimi are prepared right in front of us. We’re also served a miso soup with mussels in it! I swear the sashimi is like the freshest most fabulous fish I’ve ever eaten. We even get a free gift when we leave! It’s something black in a jam jar… It has yet to be identified. I’m not like a sushi connoisseur or anything, but I can’t imagine how that 4 hour wait could be worth it. I’ll be in Korea by the time these people sit down to breakfast (is it lunch if you have to wait that long?).
It’s time to head back to the hotel and get my life together. I still haven’t been on public transport where the attendants push people into the train car, so we try once more for the subway. It’s Friday morning…that’s rush hour right?!
Apparently not. The subway is empty. Lame.
Back at the hotel, I finish packing, and try to fit in a nap. I feel another small earthquake while I’m laying in bed. Feeling slightly terrified when the shaking lasts longer than 10 seconds and increases in intensity. Then it’s over, no big D. I fall asleep.
10 minutes later it’s time to get up and go. Solid nap.
Dad and I take our last selfie-of-the-day, and say goodbye before I get on a bus bound for the airport. As per usual when I’m traveling, I feel a mixture of happy and sad. Sad to be leaving Papa Lai and Japan, but simultaneously excited to move on to some place new.
I am back to the pov life of a backpacker. In order to save money, I booked the dumbest flight ever. I leave Tokyo at 12:25pm to arrive in Osaka at 1:30pm. Then I must wait from 1:30pm until 6:15pm to board my flight to Seoul. Because I’ve essentially been up since 2:30am, it’s a really long day. I’m too old for this stuff now.
I get to eat one last bowl of soba noodle soup before leaving Japan. I’m craving soba noodle soup, and make it my mission (to keep myself occupied during this boring layover) to find a noodle restaurant. I obviously do, but by the time I arrive at a suitable location, I’m a little hangry. Maybe I’m being crazy, but I swear every other patron of the restaurant is watching me eat. Like turning around in their chairs to look at me. Is there something wrong with my hair? Something on my face? I’m just eating noodles…
I’ll never know.
The girl a seat ahead of me loses her passport on my flight to Seoul. I’m kind of a bad person, but I think it’s funny. She’s so flustered, making the flight attendants flustered. All the crew members are on their hands and knees looking under peoples seats, and stepping up on the edge of other peoples seats (including mine) to access the overhead baggage compartment. This goes on for a solid 20 minutes before she finally finds it stuffed in one of her bags. SURPRISE! Everyone claps, she hugs the flight attendant, and they even make an announcement about it. It’s certainly provides me with a bit of entertainment.
Before they announce our landing, my left ear gives me some serious discomfort. I try to be a champ and just deal, but like I’m literally crying because it hurts so much. I grew up learning that if you keep swallowing the pain will all go away, but it’s totally not working. When a flight attendant walks by I politely ask him for a water and he just gives me sad eyes and says “noo, sorry”. I, in a bit of a panic because my ear feels like it’s got pop rocks in it, respond with “I CAN’T HAVE A WATER?”
“Noooo” he says, pointing to the Peach Deli food menu in my seat pocket, and pointing out that it costs ¥200 ($2).
“Ok!”, I say, “Yes that’s fine”, And he just shrugs and says “sorryyyyy”, then goes to walk away.
I stop him again, “are you going to bring the water?”
“Well it’s ¥200 then” he responds, smiling. This irks me beyond words. I understand it’s probably like a bit of a language/cultural barrier; He’s used to people paying up front, and I’m used to free water. Still dude, I need a water pronto. I give him the ¥200 and get a water within a matter of minutes. I drink it in big gulps until my ear spazzes out, and I’m feeling like my brain might quite literally be exploding. Then the pain is just…gone. I have no idea what’s wrong with me but I’m going to attribute it to the small head cold I’ve had for a couple days. Can sinuses explode?
For the next 30 minutes before we land, I feel like I will never fly Peach again. I hate Peach! With their dumb altitude changing and ¥200 water and stuff. Then, when we land, I breeze through customs, collect my bag, hear Gangnam style playing over the airport speakers, and remember that I’m in Korea. Saweeeeeet!
I take the subway to my hostel. So far, I find Seoul’s subway system to be much more comprehensive than Tokyo’s. Super straight forward from the airport at least!
The hostel seems good. I have to sleep on a top bunk. OOOOH backpacking how I have missed you!!!
We wake up late in the day and go across the street for breakfast. Everyone is off doing their own thing, some people are still asleep, and I think some of us are at a pool somewhere, but Ilona and I head over to the market. It’s only really a true market at night time and most of the shops are now closed, but we do find some cute jewelry. Ilona buys a thin silver bangle for each of the girls in our little travel group, for us to add to the random assortment of bands and bracelets on our wrists.
The whole group had decided last night that we wanted to meet up at Utopia (the bar down the street with a volleyball court) for an early dinner and then game of volleyball. We decided on 5pm, and when the 6 of us get there the boys are nowhere to be seen. We eat some food and have a drink by the water to wait for them but they never show up. The problem with having no cell phones and no consistent wifi.
We give up on waiting and walk down the road looking for travel offices, because we need to book a van or a bus to get to Vang Vieng tomorrow. Vang Vieng is another city in Laos where we’ve heard there is a fun river where we can go tubing. Apparently the party crowd that used to reside there has been cut down due to the closing of many bars and clubs (I think a purposeful attempt to wash out partying tourists, there are rumors that some people died while drunk tubing) but we know that if the group of us go, we’ll have fun even if it’s not busy. Tubing is tubing, with friends is even better. We don’t find any offices open that can help us book a vehicle for tomorrow at a good price, so we decide to wait until tomorrow to book it. We roam around the night market for a little while, but we’re all still really tired so we head back to the hotel. We plan on waking up early tomorrow morning (like 5am kind of early) to watch, and hopefully take part in, the giving of the alms, which is the ceremony with the monks getting food from people in town.
After breakfast we decide to use this day to get some things done. I haven’t done a laundry yet since we’ve arrived, Ilona needs to send a package of things home (which I was lucky enough to have Dolly do for me when I was in India), we have not decided on a way to get to Laos yet, and we have yet to book a place to stay in Koh Phangan for the Full Moon party, so most of our afternoon consists of those sorts of things. Not too exciting, sorry.
Someone that we met a couple days ago had told us that there is a market that only takes place on Sundays downtown Chiang Mai, so we decide to go visit that when we’re done with the boring stuff. The market is HUGE and we walk around for about 3 or 4 hours but I lose track of time because I’m having so much fun. I buy lots of small things like hair accessories and jewelry, because all the market clothes are a size like 00-2 and are “one size fits all”. Grr. Other than the small clothing, the markets in Thailand are awesome and this one doesn’t have any raw fish stalls (just fresh fruit and cooked meats) so it doesn’t smell! Bonus!
The market is lined by shops which are there full time and stay open late on Sundays to get business from the market go-ers. A lot of them are vintage clothing shops, which are fun to look at but the shoes are SO tiny.
We walk into a store (not a market stall but an actual, in the wall, store) that was similar to American apparel in the sense that it just had SO many different colours in a small variety of styles of clothing. I buy a pink t-shirt and while I’m paying, the store employees ask us if they can get a picture of me holding the shopping bag and of course I say yes. One of them runs to the back, which I assume he is doing to get a camera, but no, he comes back with two purple slushy texture “shots”. We ask what’s in them and he tells us it’s vodka, blueberries and raspberries. We pose with the shots and the bag for a picture, and then drink the shots. He comes back out with the blender full of slushy drink, and pours us two more. We drink them quickly say thank you, and get out of the store before they try to get us totally hammered with a mystery purple drink. In hind sight we should NEVER have drunk it at all because I do not know these people… But a) it was a legitimate store not a random market stall, and b) they were like the cutest and friendliest Asian people, who were just REALLY happy that I bought a shirt.
We walk home (slightly buzzed from the slushy shots) and go to sleep.
It’s 6:45am before our train pulls into the Chiang Mai station. This is a bad thing, because it means our 16 hour train ride has turned into an 18 hour train ride, but kinda a good thing because it means we are not going to be roaming around the city looking for a place to stay in the dark.
We wake up early, because neither of us are used to the time change yet. We hang out in our room and listened to the streets come alive outside our window. Some of the sounds are awful and disgusting like old men spitting on the street, some sounds are loud and obnoxious, like the constant honking of motorbikes, rickshaws, and cars. Pigeons also crowd our window and the hallway outside our room door, cooing all morning. I know that these sounds mean I am really here, and I love it.
Ilona and I go for breakfast on the rooftop patio of our hotel where I have a banana lassi and chai tea to drink, with a tomato and cheese omelette that has absolutely no tomatoes, and only a very small amount of a mystery cheese.
Ilona has already been here for a week without me, and tells me I need to buy a pair of comfy pants so we decide to go out into the market to find some. She has already bought 8 pairs of pants, and lets me wear a pair of hers to go shopping in. I put them on and I wonder why anyone has ever bothered to make any other style of pants at all. They are heaven.
The market is only one street away from our hotel so I am instantly overcome with the sights, smells and sounds of the market. It’s beautiful, in a really dirty and overwhelming way. Comfy pants are only about 150 rupees- which translates to about $2.75. I buy like 5 pairs in all different colours and patterns. The jewelry is another fabulous find in the market place. Of course the cheap stuff is the kind that will turn your hand green, but it’s so fun to shop for anyway that I can’t help myself. My best purchase was a silver coloured bracelet that links to a ring on my finger. Very cool.
After we have shopped for like, 3 hours and I have spent only $30 dollars, we go to a tourist travel agency nearby and plan our way to Agra, Jaipur, and Goa.
We then go to a rooftop bar in the main market area where we have dinner as the giant red sun sets on the city. It’s lovely. By about 8pm I am exhausted and want to sleep. Which I do, until about 3am when I wake up and cannot sleep anymore. Oh, jet-lag.