Sunday, May 13, 2007


Most of the meal services we do are relatively similar in content and style except that is for our Japanese routes. During my Business Class upgrade at training college almost half an hour was devoted solely to learning the intricacies of delivering and presenting meals on our Japanese flights. The food is of course different (sushi, rice, noodles, miso etc) as is the crockery (Tokkuri - the flask used to serve the sake, chopstick holders, beautifully coloured glazed square sushi plates, tiny pint soy sauce bottles with matchstick sized corks, green tea cups with matching wooden saucers etc). Then there are the details such as how to serve warm sake as opposed to cold sake, and how one must never plate only four pieces of sushi as this number is considered diabolic (because the pronounciation is the same as their word for death - shi). So with all these minute details and the possibility of sending grim reaper style messages from behind my trolley I was slightly nervous about doing everything correctly, but I needn't have been as it was a great flight and a treat working with all the beautiful traditional Japanese crockery.

The morning after arriving into Osaka I woke up, studied the train information then ventured out walking along the river in the warm sunshine towards the station. I bought my ticket and in just over half an hour I was pulling into Kyoto after a journey which took us at reasonable speed along the sides of endless apartments and (the further out we went) alongside empty fields of green. I was interested to see so many futons hung over (the majority of) the apartment balconies like horse saddles basking in the morning sunlight, waiting to be returned inside later that evening.

My only intention that day was to make my way to Kiyomizu temple which (from the pictures I had seen) looked to be one almighty temple, but as I had almost the whole day to explore I walked with little purpose and it took me first up to Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. It didn't take long before I started to feel relaxed and Zen like myself, looking at the impeccably kept lush gardens with flowing wave formations in white stones and bamboo water features. I was very careful to obey correct shoe etiquette in the various areas of the grounds. Some parts I had to swap my shoes for cute little red ones and in other parts it were plain brown versions (which were much more Crosby-like). One such custom which took me a few minutes to absorb was the one which applied to walking from one part of the grounds to the other, which was separated by a small driveway. To go through one gate to the next, one was required to exactly obey the order of written instructions so as to not disturb the Dragon Art...or so the English translation told me.

The rack of little red shoes, and the instructions for correct gate entrance

After the Kennin-ji Temple I began to walk up the streets towards the top of the hill where Kiyomizu sits. The walk there was almost as good as the destination itself. Along the way I met two beautiful Geisha girls who kindly let me take their photo and so obviously marvel at the opulence of their costume. I saw three cheeky boys each giving rickshaws rides to people through the narrow streets of Kyoto and I wished I knew what these boys were saying because each time they rushed past me their passengers were always giggling uncontrollably at what ever they were hearing.

Kiyomizu temple, perched on top of a mountain, was teeming with people most of which were school students. I couldn't believe how gloriously green and dense the mountainside backdrop was and at just how high up above the city the temple was. There was so much more to see besides the temple that I didn't even make my way inside! I watched young girls walk with their eyes shut laughing at themselves while trying to make their way (unharmed) from one 'fortune' rock to the next for good luck; people drinking cups of mountain fresh trickling water which is believed to be cleansing and purifying; and students getting their fortune read from a lucky-dip style container of numbered sticks, each digit holding a different outcome of their fate! While I was watching this and trying to work out what was going on, a group of three school girls came running around the corner and stopped right in front of me, smiling from ear to ear at me. They wished to practice their English on me and have their photo taken and I was only too happy to oblige, I think the interest was quite mutual! After writing my name and country in their autograph book we waved each other good bye and I walked back down the little streets stopping off for a bowl of noodles and then jumping back onto the train heading back towards downtown Osaka.

Monday, May 07, 2007

All Aboard the Steamboat

Yum! It had been quite some time since I enjoyed a delicious Chinese meal at the Cheung family household, which is nestled deep within the suburbia of my hometown (Brisbane), and on my recent visit home I was able to once again enjoy an afternoon of steamboat.

A few years ago I lived with my very dear friends Wah and Man (who are twins) for a little while when I first moved out of home, and some of my fondest memories are of the heavenly authentic Chinese meals which they would cook for me. It opened my eyes to what I had been missing out on, and most certainly this education would make for slower business with my previously favoured Chinese takeaway restaurant. Our kitchen was always perfumed with Chinese five spice chicken, bubbling buoyant dumplings or some kind of seafood steaming sensation on the stove.

It had been over a year since my last Cheung family meal and I couldn't get to that house fast enough! Man had the day off work and in typical fashion he had organised a large variety of ingredients to be sacrificed in our bubbling pot of liquid stock. His parents were both home this day and joined us at the table for the feast of beef, mushrooms, chicken, prawns, tofu, sauces and vegetables. Mrs Cheung's astute sense of humour and (certainly for me) her laugh kept us all entertained, it's indescribable but highly contagious and more than makes up for any language barriers. After watching Man single handedly finishing off every last morcel of food on the table and then rubbing his taut round belly we cleared away the evidence and during this process I couldn't help but marvel at the bulging contents of their fridge! On top of this Mrs Cheung had been busy earlier that day making dozens of wontons and their freezer was also positively crammed with many trays of the results.

Mumma Cheung helping with preparations. Look at that gas bottle! Steamboat is serious business

These dainty white stalks are a variety of mushroom! And check out that fridge....