Making Origami

In the third grade, we spent a whole semester learning about Japan. In order to immerse us culturally, my teacher brought in Japanese exchange student who taught us how to make origami. They dazzled the class with the birds and various animals of the forest, which could be designed without the snips of a scissor. At the time I didn’t appreciate the kitsch behind origami. I was the kid in class, who just could not master the traditional paper Japanese art form.

I made a paper plane (easy way out) and called it origami. The class laughed. While our Japanese exchange students displayed a great deal of patience. At the end of the day, I didn’t master origami. However, It was my first big exposure to Japan. After origami, we learned about Nippon’s cultural life and contributions. At the end of our studies, we celebrated our journey into Nippon via text books by eating egg rolls, since sushi and Saki (we were also not twenty one) were not part of the cafeteria food scene.

Taking a last look at my textbook revealed Mt. Fugi with a rising sun it left a curious feeling. That semester was I would spend years daydreaming about Japan..  One night, Bryan and Yuki called from Japan. They wanted me to come visit. Although, I was on a budget at the time, I took the plunge anyways.

The trip in Tokyo and I was instantly mesmerized by everything. The loudness, the quirky fashion of Harajuku, Kyoto, the bullet trains, the temples, the colorful metro, food and spending time with wonderful friends gave me a collage of beautiful memories. After my first trip, I developed full wonder lust for Japan all over again, even after my passport was stamped.

Years later I would return. My visit was focused entirely on Tokyo. However something funny happened while roaming the streets of the Japanese capital. It started feeling like home. I had my favorite pastries shop at the Ginza metro stop. The route from Shibuya to Harajuku counted as the ideal place to take one of my famous power walks, since it had gorgeous window displays featuring street and high fashion. Also, I could maneuver the subway with familiarity like New York.

These days, I still love to immerse myself in Japanese culture. Origami is an art form I long to learn. I would love to fill my next apartment with cute origami creations made with bright colors. Like Japan, I plan on keeping life kitschy, interesting and exotic.

Saying Gay In Japanese

In Tokyo, everything is charming. Neon lights are a staple of the Japanese capital’s character. No other place does neon shine so brightly like Shinjuku. It’s a virtual Sci-fi film set equipped with a dash of quirk and wit. The lack of flying cars and Gucci wearing robots, reminds us that it’s not quite an episode of the  Jetsons yet.

The gays make up for the lack of robots. Shinjuku is home to Tokyo’s gay hangouts. On my comeback trip I was curious to see what gay life was like in Japan. Therefore, I wondered Shinjuku dark alleys and fluorescent colored streets searching for gayness.

As I made my voyage into gay-landia, something interesting happened. I saw nothing, but advertisements for gentleman clubs (aka women who entertain men). “Oh no, I accidentally ended up in straight-landia.” Men kept trying to persuade me to enter these dens of sin and flesh. However, I proudly proclaimed, “no, no I’m gay.” The men looked puzzled ” Aww gay, ni-chome.” and they pointed me west.

I walked toward the land of gay. Love hotels surrounded me. Couples (to have quick sex) have always utilized these bewildering institutions. In the grand tradition of all things Japanese, even love hotels looked cute and inviting.

There was a shop on the corner with Japanese gay magazines, which acted as my welcome to gay Tokyo. I felt just like Dorothy finding OZ. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an entourage of a lion, scarecrow and tin man. Of course, there was plenty of gay life for me back in New York, but understanding homosexuals abroad has kept me curious to explore the world.

Unlike New York gay bars, the ones in Tokyo were tiny. They could probably only seat about five people. I found a more Western style bar and made friends with two of the guys there. One was a bit more laid-back and he was just my type. Somewhere between, the where are you from question? And nice to meet you, I found out his very cute English friend was straight. “Fuck,” said my brain. He was there having a casual drink with his best gay buddy.

His accent was adorable and we had a good conversation. He asked me questions like ” Do you have a stoop?” “Is it true New Yorkers hang out on stoops?” Priceless, moments were a signature of that evening. We ended up bonding that night in a most bromance kind of way. We even had fun getting lost in the maze of metro lines at Shinjuku station together. As I said goodbye to him on the metro, the same thought kept persisting ” Of course, I fell for the one straight guy in all of gay Tokyo, whoops.”

I’ll always remember gay Shinjuku for it’s kitsch, weak well drinks, cute guys, gay magazines and funky lounge music. Tokyo with all its glamour, fashion & art remains a hub for gays from all over the world.

Robots And Kimonos

Japan has two obvious sides. Pop music, neon lights, skyscrapers, flashy music videos, outrageous fashion, quirky photo booths and experimental cuisine exemplify the nation’s funky side. While the more traditional land of Nippon (Nippon=Japanese for Japan) revolves around temples, Kabuki theatre, early mornings at the fish markets and cherry blossom trees painting Tokyo parks in hues of pink and white.

Nowhere is the culture clash more prevalent than in Tokyo’s fashion scene. One afternoon, I had lunch at the Chloe pop up cafe (to promote the opening of the Chloe store). As predicted, I was the only guy in the cafe. Ultra chic and modern Tokyo girls out for a coffee and croissant surrounded me.

The cafe was a white and very modern. It would fit in easily in New York’s hip Tribeca and Nolita neighborhoods. The girls were dressed very modern and well put together in western fashion. While the cafe revolved around a more laid back glamour, I saw traditional Japan that afternoon.

I stayed at the Hotel New Otani, which is a city with a city. It’s even has a traditional Japanese garden as it’s backyard. While getting lost trying to find my room (common occurrence), I stumbled upon old Japan. There were a group of older ladies dolled up and wearing kimonos.

They were enjoying an afternoon tea in most elegant surroundings. While the girls at the Chloe cafe were embracing a modern western perspective on style. These gals held on to old Japanese fashion trends, which are still revered today.

Later that night, I encountered a most interesting mix of women in the Ginza. I was strolling in the neon lights and glossy designer advertisements trying to find Tokyo station. There was the typical Ginza street scene, elegant women in long black trench coats and lovely boots. However, there was a bevy of Tokyo ladies in kimonos. The street scene painted the traditional meets modern more perfectly than any other street scene in Tokyo.

I usually prefer old everything, Tokyo is one of those exceptions. The opening of the film “Lost in Translation” shows the neon playground of Shinjuku. It’s neon signs and modern buildings are even more exciting to walk through. That’s Tokyo! It’s part futuristic cutting edge, but also temples and preserving the past. Japan is one of the places I love traveling to. I always daydream about it and feel very at home there.

Big In Tokyo

A group of old men playing chess while the quintessential folky earth mama sings about same sex attraction. The sweet scent of espresso is brewing filling the house with delight. This is the nostalgic coffee shop experience.

It’s a refuge from the workday without the hangover of a glass of wine. The coffee shop is also known the pub alternative where blueberry muffins, kitschy novels and cappuccinos populate the nerve of intellectual and social activity.

My twenties were spent hanging out in coffee shops. I love the coziness and the high level of creative activity. I’ve spent time in virtually every coffee house in Downtown Manhattan. My favorites are the Cake Shop (in the Lower East Side), the Bean (East Village) and Jack’s (West Village).

When I travel internationally, I typically have my coffee at 4 pm. My fondest memories are enjoying a coffee with my dad in Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires while being immersed in the bohemian environment. While in Madrid, we drank cafe con leche (a latte) with little pastries. However, the most grand coffee shop experience is in Tokyo.

The three things, I love the most are looking at city views, people watching and (here’s a shocker) drinking abnormally large quantities of coffee. The Tokyo coffee house experience offers all three. My favorite places to grab a cup of Joe vary. Le Cafe Doutor in the Ginza district is fancy schmancy.

It’s located in the heart of the most moneyed high fashion slice of Tokyo. It overlooks the main crossing, which is surrounded by opulence. It’s designer shops, grand department stores and chichi cafes. The white chocolate latte is my vice there. I felt quite fancy sipping coffee there. That same day, I visited another coffee shop with a view, Starbucks in Shibuya Crossing.

Shibuya Crossing is the busiest place one could ever visit. It’s Times Square x 100. I’ve walked Shibuya Crossing many times. However, I never bumped into anybody. It’s amazing. I wish more cities would adopt diagonal crossing. The Starbucks there overlooks that very busy crossing.

I know I could get Starbucks here, but none have the view of the Shibuya Starbucks. It’s a similar experience to Le Cafe Doutor only the crowds are funky. It’s more street fashion as opposed to haute couture.  I felt like a bird perched on a tree watching the millions of people watching below. It was simply amazing and my excuse for having Starbucks in Japan.

Unlike most cities in the world, Tokyo can offer the best coffee house experience anywhere you go. In Japan, the vending machine is big. New York wired me to have no patience. Therefore, standing in line can be a rather frustrating experience.

In Tokyo, I never had to worry about waiting in line. I could purchase a hot coffee from the vending machine, pick up a pack of cigarettes (back when I was a smoker and also from the vending machine) and have a quintessentially stress free experience. Afterwards, I would wonder around the city, put on some folky tunes and indulge in my own private coffee shop anywhere from a park to frenetically paced Shinjuku.

I love the quintessential coffee shop experience. It’s the pub alternative, where I’ve done everything from written huge thesis papers to job-hunt online. In Tokyo, the vending machine is queen and is my to go form of coffee on the run. Nothing beats the Tokyo coffee shops with grand views will always be my favorite places in the city.

Fashion Week

In Tokyo, fashion isn’t about a simple storefront. Gucci, Prada and Chanel have lavish tall buildings, which scream expensive and opulent. Sometimes, the buildings even project images of very svelte tall models working the catwalk.

The neighborhoods of Tokyo are identified by their style sense. Ginza screams expensive. Omotesando is home of ultra chic shops, where fashion shoots are as common as Starbucks coffee cups on the Upper West Side.  In Shinjuku, the power suit is the norm. Harajuku is home to eccentric fashion, which can be dubbed as cartoonish or even avant-garde. While Shibuya is also home to teenage tribes of fashionistas.

Tokyo like most couture frenzy capitals has fashion week. However, on the sidewalks of the Japanese capital with its marriage of glitz, sophistication and urban street edge, fashion week is a daily occurrence. It happens in the metro, bars, and cafes.

The Japanese are obsessed with a beautiful presentation. Everything from fruit to sweaters is presented with an extreme sense of perfection. Tokyo is one of my favorite fashion cities. However, I don’t particularly love shopping when I travel. On a trip to Paris, I did splurge for once.

Like the Japanese ideal of a beautiful presentation, Galeries Lafayette takes the notion to a whole new level. The legendary Parisian department store is a staple in France. I dragged my dad a former marine there. He was a wonderful sport about it.

We started our trip in the men’s store, which is separated by a bridge from the ladies’ shop. I browsed through the shirts and was approached by a very handsome Frenchmen. “Hello Lover” I thought to myself. He was so charming. Although, the shirts I was buying had a lovely presentation, the handsome salesman helped inspire my monetary contribution to the French economy.

Besides, the handsome salesman, Galeries Lafayette had a more stunning side to it. Crossing the bridge overlooking the traffic of the Boulevard Haussmann, we arrived in the women’s department. It had huge golden dome with balconies overlooking the makeup department.

If I were a lady or drag queen, this would too inspire me to blow major Euros. It looked like one were shopping inside the world’s most fancy opera house. Even my dad was very impressed by the department store’s interior. When I came home to the States, the shirts didn’t look as nice. However, I did enjoy my pictures of the legendary Paris department store.

Visiting Tokyo and Paris gave me a view of what inspires the pages of Vogue and other fashion mags from around the world. Both are cities, where designers either keep their fashion formal or give their line a distinctive edge. However, fashion week can happen everyday in places where clothes and self-expression are monumental.

The Pleasant Frontier

In New York, relaxation is an absolute joke. Who wants to take it easy? There’s tons of work to do, friends to meet, plays to write, operas to see, restaurants to try and books to read. New York is no French Rivera. However, for a few minutes a day that city transforms into St. Tropez.

From Bryant Park to Tompkins Square Park lies New York’s rendition of a five star resort, the park bench. For a brief moment in time, New Yorkers exhale from the daily grind. They sip on some coffee, read the Times and forget about the intense sounds of car horns and sirens.

I always enjoyed my park benches. Whenever, I wanted to drown out the world around me, I put on some music, took out a note pad and just doodled. Real world stresses went out the window for the few precious minutes. After a short holiday on the city’s many benches, the overwhelming feeling of relaxation permeated as I head to work.

My park bench retreat often followed me on holiday as well. I’d find quiet little corners in Tokyo away from the music videos on the big screens, people traffic and metro.

In London, I would typically take the tube up to Hampstead. On Hampstead high street, which resembles a hilly village with upmarket shops, I lounged on a favorite bench. I loved the calm and how enchanting the cold winds felt against my face. It was especially nice being away from busy tourist spots.

Holidays are typically expensive and require car/air travel. Finding a nice bench with book, newspaper and coffee has a momentary sense of escapism. It’s free relaxation without a yoga mat or passport needed.

Tokyo Tastebuds

Japan is the land of sushi, miso soup, teriyaki and delicious curry dishes. Tokyo is my favorite food city along with New York. My primary goal on the famous Tokyo journeys was to eat well. As an expensive city, Tokyo has high food standards and practices.

For a young American, my best food friend was the noodle house. Whether, I was lost in a maze of Pachinko machine parlors (equivalent of our arcades) in Shibuya or browsing the art museum at Roppongi Hills, the noodle house filled me up well and cheaply.

At the noodle bar, you go up to a machine, similar to a vending machine. There are different numbers with noodle bowl selection, pick the number, sit in the round circle of noodle enthusiasts and the waitress serves a magnificent circus of noodles, broth and fresh pork (depending on what meat you like). In Japan, it is socially acceptable to slurp and enjoy one’s soup.

The noodle house was my home away from home. However, I longed for a different taste for my palate. Tokyo has a wonderful food selection. They have traditional style French brasseries and American burgers. However, I opted for Italian. I was still living in New York on my last Tokyo trip. Therefore, the idea of going out for Italian seemed absurd.

However, I took the plunge. After taking the metro to Ueno, I walked into this fancy Italian restaurant located in a smart department store. I put my name on the list. I roamed around while I waited. Chopsticks are fine cutlery in Japan. They had a variety of chopsticks from practical to fancy. I went to check on my name.

I sat down, ordered and they brought over my Italian dinner. With all the Japanese food, I felt guilty eating Italian. Although, I had a tortellini dish, which is relative to noodles, the tastes were authentically Italian. Wow, I ate the whole dish. Tokyo can do Italian food very well.

After my unexpected voyage into Italian culinary land, I stuck to Japanese. However, it opened my mind to Tokyo’s worldliness. When I would walk in the metro station there were New York bagel shops, authentic French pastries and of course, the Japanese noodles. When in Tokyo, eat at noodle bars. It’s your wallet’s savior. Venture into the numerous cuisines the Japanese capital has to offer. It will be worth every yen.

The Curious Donut

I first encountered the decadent Spanish dish paella at the Renaissance fair. The infusion of seafood and meat complimented with Saffron rice livened up the dreary day. However, there was an unexpected visitor in my paella, an octopus. The tentacles stood out. I pushed it to the side of my paella, frightened to take a bite.

Years later, I was at a grocery store in small town Japan with my buddies Bryan and Yuki. They had samples of octopus along the seafood aisle. Bryan convinced me to try the exotic delicacy. To my surprise, the octopus tasted delicious. It was slightly rubbery, but the consistency worked. From then on, I grew to love calamari, a cousin to the octopus.

When I returned to Japan, I wandered the streets of Tokyo with curious buds. I was more open than ever to trying new foods. Tokyo’s food scene is all about perfection. The tastes mesh well and the food’s presentation is impeccable.

On the Tokyo subway, I met a group of ex-pats from England and Finland along with their Japanese friend. They invited me to spend new years at the Asakusa temple, the oldest in Tokyo. We strolled around the many food stalls and souvenirs and found a hard to find delicacy.

A man had a stall with muffin shaped tins. In the tins, he rolled the dough, using chopsticks. My friends encouraged me to try the curious creation. He served me a plastic container full of round dough, which resembled a donut. I took a bite and it had the consistency of octopus. Surprise, it was an octopus donut.

It tasted doughy and the octopus was flavorless. Soy sauce enhanced the flavor. Savory meets sweet was the primary theme of the snack. My octopus donut was piping hot, but tasty.

It was my last meal before ringing in new years at the temple. It was a truly magical evening of making new friends, trying out authentic Japanese food and celebrating the New Year at a historic location. If you ever get the opportunity indulge in an octopus donut, I say go for it.

Playing Photographer

My father and I were driving through Palm Springs. Rather, than heading toward, the town’s main drag. We took an unexpected path. As we went up a side street, kitschy homes from the 50’s and 60’s welcomed us.

Heading to the foothill of the mountains was  glorious. The mountains of Palm Springs are a tall and magnificent sight. However, I’d never come that close. Stop, I exclaimed excitedly. The rocks were imposing hues of brown and black. I was inspired to take photos with my iphone.

As we continued our journey further up hill, the desert town was lush with green palm trees from the slight hill. I kept stopping the car to take photos. Capturing my life via the lens of a camera and mobile has been a significant part of my life’s story.

Abroad, I would walk the streets of Tokyo desperately wanting to have my picture taken in front of the many sights I dreamed of. The only two words, I know in Japanese are konishiwa and arrigato. At first, I was intimidated to walk up to perfect non-English speaking strangers to take my picture. Sometimes, I was shot down. However, most of the time they politely obliged.

I pointed to the camera and they took the photo. Arrigato, I proclaimed. Thanks to the kindness of Tokyoites, I have pictures in front of the Imperial Palace, the fashion frenzy of funky Harajuku and drinking coffee in Ginza.

Than there were the times, I didn’t want to stop people and just took the photos myself. In London, I photographed myself everywhere from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square. Therefore, I made an art form out of taking self-portraits.

My cameras have captured the grand avenues of Paris, the bohemian chic of Buenos Aires’ Palermo Soho neighborhood and even the austereness of Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid. However, there have been photographers who actually wanted to use me as a subject.

Now, I don’t have any male model like qualities, unless, I suck in my chubby cheeks and pucker up my lips. While walking around New York’s Washington Square Park, I was approached to pose for the New York Times style section. Wow, I was intrigued, although I didn’t love my outfit that day.  After taking the picture, I was told that if they were going to use my image, I would receive an email. Needless to say, I didn’t get an email, but I was very flattered nonetheless.

Photographers I admire include Mario Testino, Wegee and Annie Lebovitz. I especially love the desert photography of Ansell Adams. On my recent trip to Palm Springs, I didn’t plan on taking photos. However, the mountains, rock formations and white sands inspired me eyes. I didn’t want to leave without making a memory of my trip. Although, the desert is inspirational nothing tops grey skies and old buildings.

The Germ Capsule

Purell is a dear friend of mine. It keeps the germs away and makes me smile. No orange juice needed when I have the 99.9% germinator. However, there were those moments in life where I proclaimed “Oh shit, I left the Purell at my apartment.” Even after a careful survey of my messenger bag, no hand sanitizer to be found.

As an avid rider of the New York subway, my days without Purell were the equivalent of a Medieval soldier without his shield. On those days, there was always that one sick person, who happened to sneeze up a storm. Their favorite seat was always right next to mine, of course.

A couple days later, I made an art form of breathing out of one nostril. It inspired me to stock up on Purell and aggressively find a seat on the subway (as opposed to hanging on to a poll). Sometimes, there were the moments when I was the Loch Ness monster of the public transportation system.

In Tokyo, surgical masks are as common as black coats in New York. Everyone has them; they even come in a vast array of colors and styles. They use them for the obvious, to prevent germs spreading. However, I didn’t get the memo to bring a surgical mask to Japan. Hence, I became paranoid to sneeze. I would often times wet my lips, just so I wouldn’t sneeze in the middle of the metro.

All my memories of Tokyo take place in the winter, flu season. On one faithful metro ride to Ginza, my nose started to itch. I wet my lip and the sensation went to the back of my head. The itchy nostril feeling returned bringing its spew of menace into my throat. I was in the one train where everyone was sporting the surgical mask. The urge persisted I fought against it. However, troop sneeze-a-lot prevailed. I let a sneeze so loud; Godzilla would’ve run for cover.

I looked around and nobody cared. I am sure they were thinking “Purell, Purell where art thou?” Everyone was napping or playing on their mobile. Still, I didn’t catch on to the surgical mask trend.

These days, I drive a car. I feel like the boy in the bubble. It’s a relatively germ free place. However, I still miss my buses and subway, even if I am exposed to germs, the excitement of being in a big city makes up for a cough and sneeze later.

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