Last year, rather than attending my traditional KFC christmas party and New Year’s Eve public drunkenness at the local temple, I met up with a few old friends from around the world, for 2 weeks of fun and adventures in Vietnam.

Technically the longest vacation I have had in… many many years1. Our (very) haphazardly planned trip to Vietnam surpassed most expectations and turned out surprisingly well, in light of the low number of missing body parts upon return.

 

A full recount would be way too tedious, so a few (badly outdated) Cliff notes instead:

  1. assuming we conveniently exclude month-long bouts of fun between jobs []

So, it would appear that I may have brought back a small caffeine problem from my Vietnam vacation.

Along with over a kilo of that sweet magical bean powder one uses to produce that delicious sirupy black nectar of the gods they call coffee over there.

Which in the grand scheme of things could have been way, way, worse. Given the region’s history, an opium addiction was not completely out of the question.

Still, I feel I may actually need to sleep at some point.

Earlier today, French artist Joann Sfar1 published a short series of drawings on the Terrorist attacks that took place in Paris. Because they sum up my feelings much better than any tricolour lighting or Twitter hashtag ever will, I took the liberty to embed them here with my own humble attempt at an English translation:

  1. I warmly recommend his series of graphic novels: The Rabbi’s Cat []

ken-sama

A perk of being a long-term resident in a country that is currently sitting atop most lists for “cool vacay destinations in the world”, is being asked on a weekly daily basis:

“So… What are your Tokyo/Kyoto/Japan tips and recommendations?”

To which I politely smile and internally try to decide whether the person asking is mentally diminished or just hailing from an Internet-free country. Because all I hear is “Could you google Lonely Planet’s Top 10 List of Things to Do in Tokyo for me?”…

Since there is clearly no useful or interesting answer to that question, and since it is a lot easier to be negative than positive1, I instead decided to compile a near-exhaustive list of places and things that you should stay away from, when you visit Tokyo.

You will notice an important overlap with aforementioned “Top 10 Tokyo whatever” lists commonly found elsewhere, and there’s a good reason for that: these are mostly places that were interesting/special at some point long ago or fit well-enough in the trite “Japan-be-crazy-yo” narrative, to make them ideal candidates for lazy tourist guides and other lists catering to the lowest-common denominator.

Rule of thumb: if you are the sort of tourist who loved their visit to London’s Piccadilly Circus, Paris’ Champs Élysées, NYC’s Times Square or SF’s Fisherman’s Wharf, this list of don’ts is emphatically not for you. In fact, you can even use it as a blueprint for your dream Tokyo visit. For everyone else, here you go:

Maid Cafés

aka Maido Cafés

Last cool/interesting: Never

Who goes there: 20% Japanese (otaku on the spectrum and/or sex-offence-on-minors-under-the-age-of-consent waiting to happen), 80% tourists that heard these things were super popular and cool in Japan.

Selling points: Bland overpriced biscuits served by pimply high-school students to awkward shut-ins and clueless tourists in a hastily-refurbished Akihabara apartment. Basically like Applebees, with more pedophilia and shittier food.

Harajuku’s Takeshita Dori

Last cool/interesting: 2004? 2001?… Whenever the dozen Japanese girls who used to buy their cosplay outfit there graduated from high-school.

Who goes there: 99% foreign tourists (about half Western tourists, convinced that the other Chinese/East-Asian half are authentic locals). 1% Nigerian guys pretending to be from Chicago to sell you authentic American hip-hop streetwear.

Selling points: Foreign otaku cosplay-freaks. Foreign tourists busy photographing authentic Tokyo cosplay-freaks who were seated a row behind them on the flight in. Souvenir shops for tourists. McDonald’s. Starbuck’s. Shops that sell wacky t-shirts that read “Stupid gaijin” or “Looking for Japanese girlfriend” in Japanese. Zero actual Japanese people cosplaying.

  1. Exhibit A: over ten years of writing on this very blog. []

Paris, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Canal de l’Ourq,  À Vélo au Bord de l’Eau, Bordeaux, Château Soulac, Château Carbonneau, Saint-Émilion, Endless Vineyards, French Wine, Belgian Beer, Happy Hour, Late Hours, Lunch in Babylone, Dinner in Odéon, Walking, Biking, Wedding, Jazzing, Jamming. Seine, Sex & Sun.

Seeing how I am about 5 Summer trips behind on that ongoing life-cataloguing project of mine, I am just giving up and posting my Europe pics with a bunch of random keywords in lieu of proper commentary.

Many fun random memories in what was supposed to be a very low-key wedding run to the south of France, including the wedding itself: much sunnier than the last one I attended there, filled with delicious wine and awesome friends I do not see often enough (most of which have been purposely excluded from the photo selection to protect the guilty).

Rest of the trip, as these things tend to be, mainly consisted in one long uninterrupted string of drinks and food, consumed at or around an eclectic array of Parisian locales. Among the more momentous episodes, perhaps: Pierre and I celebrating my last night on the continent by making our Happy Hour a tad earlier and happier than reasonable: hostess at Costes restaurant was duly unimpressed by our Arthur Miller/S Thomson duo act, indirectly leading to our sitting on a corner of Odéon, half-an-hour later, at one of the most coveted tables in the Parisian foodie world, serendipitously left empty by some last-minute cancellation a minute before we stumbled our way in. Bacchus was indeed smiling on us that night.

Unfortunately for this page’s needs, I mostly held to my general rule of not photographing the food people put in front of me: you’ll have to take my word when I say it was some of the best food I ever had, on the tail end of an already impressive week culinary-wise.

Airlines tend to be like banks: name any one of them in large-enough company and there is bound to be at least a few people with personal horror stories and imprecations never to use their service. Hard to tell apart the inevitable statistical occurence from true patterns of bad customer service.

Last week, however, I finally understood why all my US friends heaped so much scorn on United Airlines. And why I’ll be joining in on the chorus of “never again”, next time their name comes up in discussions: