Thursday, September 6, 2007

Kobe's Chinatown

After finishing what I regarded as a sufficient amount of work to be on schedule for some up-coming deadlines, I decided to try to find the Chinatown in Kobe. I had heard this was the only real Chinatown around, although there are Chinese shops scattered here and there.

When I was in Vancouver, I had had a prescription for a Chinese herbal remedy filled at one of the many herbalists shops in the Chinatown near my place. The script had about 15 different components, the most conspicuous of which was large dried insects. A single dose required a paper lunch bag full of ingredients, took over an hour to prepare and tasted vile. Nevertheless, it quickly cured the eczema that I had had for years and which no dermatologist had been able to do anything about. Since I moved here, the eczema has started to come back - presumably, because it's a stress related condition - so I decided it was time to drink some more bug juice.

This would be my first time by myself on a train system other than the subway. There is a cluster of four or five train stations, run by various companies, in the Umeda area near me, and one of them, the Hanshin Umeda Station (阪神梅田駅), runs a train that stops right near the Kobe Chinatown. The largest three of these stations are actually on different corners of a giant intersection, but it's not simply a matter of walking across the street from one to another. They are connected by a maze of pedestrian overpasses and underground malls. Once I found the right station, getting the right train was easy. The train to Kobe was about 35 min and cost 310 円.

I was able to find the Chinatown by asking some girls for directions. They seemed to be immensely amused that I was looking for it.

When I got there, it was a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for something like the Chinatown in Vancouver, Toronto, or New York, with groceries, bakeries, meat shops and full herbalists. Instead, it's very commercialized and much closer to the Chinatown in San Fransisco. Mostly just tourists shops with trinkets, some tea-shops, booze shops, a few markets and a single herbalist.

When I handed her the brown wax paper on which the characters of the recipe had been scrawled, the pharmacist immediately started shaking her head. She put little circles by five of the ingredients and I managed to understand that she didn't have these ones. I asked where I could get them and she told me no where nearby. She asked to see my hand, tongue and if I had the eczema anywhere other than on my hand. She then went and got a box of prepared medication and explained that it had a large number of the ingredients in my script as well as a few others. I wonder if it has the bugs. I bought 7 days worth of the medication from her as she suggested, but she also insisted that I have one day's worth on the spot, free of charge. She also made me a photocopy of a page from a book in Japanese that discussed the medication I bought. It remains to be seen whether it will be as potent as the bug juice.

The whole transaction in the herbalist's was so time consuming and confusing that I managed to leave with neither my pen nor cellphone. When I came back, she was out on the street and started waiving them at me as soon as I came into view.

In the lower left of this picture you can see a small stand that serves Turkish ice cream. The ice cream has a thick, stringy texture and the guy who runs the shop constantly churns it with long steel poles that have little shovel-like ends. He makes a show of lifting up long ropes of the ice cream with the poles.

After I retrieved my cellphone, I decided to get some ice cream. The proprietor is a big white dude and he has a trick he likes to play with his customers. He puts about half a scoop of ice cream on the cone with the pole so that the cone sticks to the pole. Then he makes some funny noises and reaches the pole down to the customer, as though offering the cone. When the customer reaches up, he exclaims "Ah, ha!" and twirls the pole so that the cone flips away and the customer grabs at the air. He does this a few times with each customer.

I stood in front of the shop and watched him do this with two customers in a row, so when it was my turn and he stuck the pole out at me, I just chucked weakly and didn't bother to take my hands out of my pockets. Despite the fact that he saw me standing there in front of him the whole time, he was incredulous and tried to get me to grab at the cone three or four times. Eventually, he filled the cone and handed it to me, still clearly annoyed.

The ice cream was quite good - not at all too sweet and with a slight taste of yogurt.

1 comment:

Jackie-Rae said...

Did the formula have bugs in it this time?