Hola, Ciudad de México

View from the hotel window

Instead of a short trip to Toronto for a spring break/visa run, there was a little voice inside me calling for an adventure in Mexico City. That voice enticed, ‘it’d be your first time in Latin America. Getting some culture shocks would do you some good.’ The first day in the city did just that.

Walking in the morning to get the first breakfast

I arrived at the hotel very late at night and got to explore the area in the morning, looking for breakfast. The street ambience reminded me a lot of Bangkok. That must be comfortable chaos for me. On the way back to the hotel, I got to a Metro station to see if I could get a Metro card—public transport cards have become souvenirs from cities I’ve been to. But there wasn’t any a ticket vending machine and they didn’t sell a card a ticket booth. I left the station and made another stop at a pharmacy to get sunscreen.

I had no concrete idea where I wanted to go first. There was a list but it wasn’t assigned to any specific day. So, I spent a chunk of time in the morning, planing the first couple of days. A day tour to Teotihuacan was booked for the next day. And I left the evening flexible for a Lucha Libre show but didn’t book a ticket online.

Ironically, the first thing I decided to do was to get a Thai massage in the historic centre area. It was a walking distance from the hotel. That walk allowed me to see more of the streets and how astonishing building facades were. 

The massage place was tricky to find, locating in an apartment building. A security guard told me it was on the second floor. I took a lift up there but couldn’t see any sign. So, I climbed to the top floor. A lady living there directed me back to the second floor and turn left hallway. All of that was in Spanish and hand language. I realised language would be a hurdle more than I thought.

Getting lost in an apartment building to find a Thai massage place

The place didn’t look any different from a typical Thai massage venture. Except, all the staff was Mexican. Before the session, I spotted the owner and greeted her in Thai.

Of course, I would not expect the massage to be the same as the original Thai massage. To some extent, the Mexican masseur got me relaxed. Besides, I needed that after months without it in Washington DC. 

But above all, it was the curiosity about this place that I drove me here. Luckily, after the session, I got a chance to have a little chat with the owner. It was astounding how she built this up. She had lived in Mexico City for over a decade and had been running this business for eight years.

Next on my list was a haircut. I took a Metro to Roma Nte to get to the barber. Again, there was no Metro card sold at the station either. I got a single ticket. It cost MX$5.00 for a trip, flat, no matter where the destination was. The ride was a few stations away and considered as my test run for the city’s public transportation. Later on, I gave up on trying to purchase a pre-paid card and just bought a single ticket each ride.

Walking around Roma

I read some reviews about this barber speaking English. Fortunately, a British who was with a client asked if I spoke any Spanish. And I confidently replied no. So, he helped me communicate with the barber, a young Mexican woman. He actually picked my Australian accent (I guess it’s still there) and we had a yarn across stools. She did a good job on my hair and he kept checking on me. 

After that, to kill sometime before the night’s show, I strolled this hip neighbourhood and took a rest with some margaritas at a bar. Apparently, it was also a record store and a microcinema. I didn’t get much of the details but was told there’d be an event in the evening. But I had to move on to Lucha Libre.

Lining up at Arena Mexica

I got to the final destination of the day, Arena México. There was a long line without a clear sign. I assumed that was it and just cued up with others. There was an American couple behind me who, like me, had no clue what was going on. Then it started to get frenzy. Apparently, the line was for picking up online tickets. Another box office opened up for purchasing tickets. I made myself there. I handed my credit card and the guy gave me two tickets. I told him I wanted only one. Clearly, it was lost in translation and he wasn’t happy. A lady next to me kindly translated for me. I just needed to sign the unused ticket and he refunded that with cash. Fair enough.

After a bag search (big cameras weren’t allowed), I entered the arena and completely missed an usher. Then I learned later how it worked with ushers. They lined up behind the checkpoint. When you showed your ticket to the first of the line, he’d led you to your seat. You’d give him some tips and he’d hand you a program. It was too late for me to get a program then.

Nonetheless, I found myself in a second-row seat. What a good spot! How it went would be the next post.

Before Lucha Libre started

The first day was overwhelming already. Spanish was a real challenge for me, obviously, but I got by and thought it. And there was a lot of help along the way. But that said something about the people and the city.

Lost Shoe Collection 2018

Shoes on the street were still my side fascination. Here are what I’ve documented in 2018. There were mostly in my neighbourhoods both in Washington DC and Bangkok: Mount Pleasant and Phra Khanong, respectively.

Slippers after Dark
Slippers after Dark

Past collections in 2017 and 2015

Drinking in Tokyo: Almost Like a Local

Selfie at the last pub in Tokyo (before blackout)

It was impossible for me not to drink while in Tokyo. The questions were: what to drink, where to go, and how smashed it could be. And I did so, almost like a local did or to the same level as I would in the home cities.

The first two nights of the four-night stay were mild. It started with some mainstream beer at the capsule hotel on the arrival. The following day, I got to taste the first craft beer of the trip in Tsukiji Market and more beer along the day. That was it. 

The last two nights, however,  were worth elaborated.

The Night Observing Locals

The drinking ramped up on the third night. I booked Shinjuku walking tour from Air BNB Experience. The guide showed us the area including where to drink. Of course, there wasn’t a shortage of it. I expressed I was into craft beer. He didn’t take us to one but after the tour, he directed me to a local brewery, Yona Yona Beer Works. Their beers were very impressive. I ordered more than I should have just because it nearly hit the end of happy hour. The cutest thing was a sheet of paper laid down to indicate what beers on it.

As the result, I was drunk already when wandered off. However, I went back to where the guide showed us—Omoide Yokocho—to get the feel of izakaya culture. This alley was my kind of scenery and atmosphere. But with the amount of beer prior consumed, I could only get one sake and some snacks on skewers and needed to catch the train back before it got too blurry to do so.  

But it didn’t end when got back to the hotel. After re-checking-in and changing in a robe, I order a potato soju at the bar. It was just after midnight and there were more people than any other time I was at the bar. I  could just assume they were stereotypical Japanese salarymen.

Last drink at the capsule hotel bar

The Night Drinking with Locals

That night cost me a bad hangover in the morning after but I managed to Sensoji Temple. It was a long walk and got back to the hotel late in the afternoon to decide how to spend the last night in town, searching for a pub within a walking distance.

I ended up in a local, 338 Counter: Ueno Music Cafe & Bar. There was no expectation but the place was the tiniest I’ve ever been to. It was on the second floor of a small building. The seats were only at the bar and could accommodate just less than ten people. When I entered the room, others had to squeeze to let me sit at the near end of the bar.

Full house at 338 Counter: Ueno Cafe & Bar

On the other hand, that intimacy translated into a cozy and friendly mood. The hospitality of the pub owner and other customers was incredible. Apparently, the night was exactly its three-month anniversary. The owner kept feeding us food which I had to turn him down because of the sushi (with sake) I had earlier.

The only lady in the house introduced me to Kirin Whiskey that I stuck with all night. She also drew each one of us a portrait and gave us as a gift. When other guys found out I was Thai, they told me they took a holiday in Thailand every year. There was even a framed photo of them, riding an elephant, in the pub. Later on, a new customer got in and handed his music to the owner to play. We made more space for him.

The night went on, the group of the guys left, and I was pretty pissed. The owner walked me down the building but I decided to get back up. There were only four of us left. We took a selfie and that was the last thing I remembered. I wasn’t sure if I could let myself get intoxicated like that if it wasn’t Tokyo.

Consequently, the next morning was a real challenge, getting to Haneda Airport in a peak hour with a terrible hangover. I made it on board though. It was a reasonable price to pay for an extraordinary night.

Sensoji Temple: The Last day Visit

Sensoji in symetry

It was the last full day in Tokyo and the last chance to go somewhere touristy like the first day in Tsukiji Market. I took a long walk from the capsule hotel in Ueno to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. And here were some photos I took there.

To my mind, this wasn’t a place I would be eager to visit. But I prefer somewhere with a walking range to explore the city street on foot and see what there would be something more about bicycles on the way. Totally worth it.

When done with the temple, I wandered around the area. Then, a thought sank in. That was about urban street walls. It showed how similar and different urban landscapes in the cities I have been to.

To be honest, I wasn’t so thrilled about the photos I took there. But in the end, the products from the walk before and after that mattered.

Tsukiji Market: the First Tokyo Exploration

In the back
In the back

It was a no brainer that the very first place I explored in Tokyo was Tsukiji Fish Market. It was to orient myself how to get around in the city. More than that, I was curious to see what would come out from this popular tourist attraction. And it turned out that it gave me the main direction to explore the city.

While the inner wholesale market relocated to the new Toyosu Market a few months earlier, shops and restaurant in the outer market were still open. I’d be more interested in Japanese street food than fish auction in the early morning anyway.

To be honest, the place didn’t awe me as I’d expect from any tourist-filled place since it had been showcased in many media outlets. However, some nuances shifted my perspective. Apart from obvious street food shops and their customers, rooted traditions and orders emerged. Knife shops, specific recycle bins, old and new carts, and especially, bicycles—the ecosystem of the market.

Moreover, it eventually set photography focus for rest of the trip. It was where I first notice something unique about the city. I was fascinated by the relationship between bicycles and the city. Since then, it became my trip’s main obsession.

Because of that, an urge to go deep into the market’s ecosystem was overshadowed by the bicycle theme. Therefore, this photo set turned out not to reach the bar I set for my own standard. Nonetheless, it was a blessing that this first Tokyo exploration shaped up my theme for the rest of the trip.

A freak who enjoys discovering and sharing a simple beauty of life even in a strange place

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