Friday, September 28, 2007

Sozzled on soju

The shrill ring of the phone went through my ear and rocked the core of my sleepy head. ‘Good morning, this is your wake up call,’ an automaton droned. The seemingly bleary alarm clock showed 10 after 7.
I stumbled out of bed and, wallop, it hit me hard. This was a hangover that only soju, the Korean national drink can induce. In one word: epic. My mouth was drier than a birdcage, my legs barely strong enough to allow me to walk and my head felt as if it was wrapped in cotton wool. Tsssssk, I tut tutted myself and made a mental note once again never to touch the stuff.
Where had I been? What had I been doing to suffer such pain? Total memory loss from about midway through last night’s dinner – not a good sign.
I shuffled meekly into the toilet, dispensed with the previous night’s barbeque, mused as to the incredible shredded state that kimchi brings to one’s ablutions, noted the familiar post-heavy-soju-night shaky hand and got up to brush my teeth. Big day, big day, I was saying to myself, annoyed that I was in such a state with so many interviews to carry out all over Seoul for the next 12 hours, and then I peered, eyes barely alert, into the mirror.
From deep within my muffled head alarm bells started to ring LOUD. Panic, horror, shock! What the hell was that on my face? Oh my God! A black eye! Nee na, nee na, nee na – alarms sounding off in my convoluted brain, urgently trying to rekindle any memory from the previous evening. Had I got into a punch up. Surely not, I figured, I am six foot six and it’d be darn difficult for a Korean to swing that high. Jesus, I thought, maybe I’d got into fisticuffs with my advertising colleague and friend, Victor. Soju does make you do strange things. But hold on, I reasoned, I don’t get into fights ever.
What on earth had happened? I desperately wanted for this elusive moment in time to return to me, but the power of soju had rendered my brain into a sieve. Another even more worrying thought entered my by now utterly bamboozled head: how, oh how, was I ever going to be able to conduct all these interviews with respectable captains of industry all day. I shaved, showered and dashed downstairs to find Victor and ask for some rational explanation for the dark swelling around my left eye.
Turns out I got up to leave from one of those minute stalls in the outdoor BBQ place we always go to and promptly the knees gave way and I crashed down to Earth with quite a thump. The interviews that day were horrendous.
Sadly, soju sorry sojourns have since reappeared though without such a serious unidentified drinking injury.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Beneath the tracks

Ch, chuk, ch, chuk, ch, chuk. Another train glides gently overhead. A plate of the meatiest tuna sashimi arrives at the crowded table, struggling for space amid the litre glasses of Sapporo, heavenly inch thick asparagus, and grilled fish of the day.

There are few places on Earth that derive such culinary pleasure as Andy Shin’s Hinomoto, which lies under an arch of the Yamanote line just outside Yurakucho station.

Yurakucho itself is full of brilliant, smoky shacks selling yakitori, sushi, dumplings and all sorts but the stand out is Andy’s joint.

I have lost count the number of times I have been there yet every time I always spend 15 minutes walking round the block under the rail line (pictured) finding the place. He never used to have a business card, just a box of matches by way of a calling card. Yet, the last time I visited Andy’s I picked up a brand new card and attach the details below. Call in advance as places disappear fast. It’s raucous, good value and as fresh produce as you can get.

Andy, with a bald pate, is a jovial Brit who married into a Japanese family that runs this atmospheric eatery and has since turned it into a massively popular, elbow-by-elbow establishment that for me is the greatest highlight in all of Tokyo. Oh yes, did I mention they also have Guinness on tap?!

Open 5pm-midnight

Address 2-4-4 Yurakucho, across from the Yurakucho Denki Building

Phone 03/3214-8021

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A run in with local government

He sat there near the bridge, red faced, wiry yet with a small potbelly. Sweat dripped from his brow, no doubt caused by the copious amounts of alcohol imbibed. Bottles were lobbed indiscriminately everywhere among the boulders of the shallow river. Plastic bags and wrappers from the prolonged picnic littered this otherwise pristine slice of Inner Mongolia.

He was the local CCP boss called Mr Ho and was surrounded by a number of slobbering deputies and a couple of SUVs. His demeanour and attitude immediately smelt as much as trouble as the potent baiju being necked down.

We were there to track down China’s last hunter gathering society, a somewhat fruitless task as, by and large, the Orochen people have been assimilated into the Han Chinese majority way of life. He was there to be a little Hitler.

Hunting might have been banned since 1993, but that hadn’t stopped Mr Ho and his acolytes wolfing down deer meat. With a wave of his hand he told us in no uncertain terms that we didn’t have a permit to be here so we had to leave right away or else. We bade him a hasty farewell and left him in the late afternoon sunshine surrounded appropriately by carcasses.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rainbow below

The other day I had a totally unique experience, one I would wager very few people get to see. Atop a mountain in the far north of Yunnan province, in a Tibetan autonomous zone at some 4,700 metres in altitude after a mad scramble on scree to the summit we paused to catch our breath. Air when you’re this high is in short supply. We hadn’t exactly gone too far, a handy cable car doing most of the legwork for us. At the top station of the cable car we had headed another few hundred metres to the top; a guard en route bribing us for 100 kwai for the ahem ‘insurance’ to get there. At the top the view is simply out of this world, overlooking the valley basin of what the Chinese now call Shangri-La, after the mythical creation alluded to in James Hilton’s 80-year-old Lost Horizon novel.

Behind us jagged peaks loomed in the cloudy distance and then swivelling a little left it hoved into the view, a most wondrous sight. There, some 700 odd metres BELOW us was a rainbow! All seven colours fanned out in the valley below, providing some colour to the overcast day. The euphoria created by the altitude accentuated dramatically.