Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hello Kyoto

In my last post, I mentioned the regional Hello Kitty merchandise sold in gift shops in Japan. Here's the piece I brought back from Japan: Kyoto Hello Kitty on a tin that was originally filled with chocolate crunch candy. (The candy has been absorbed into the American system.)

The art features several trademarks of Kyoto, such as the shop-lined street running up a steep hill toward a temple; the black pagoda; and the cherry blossoms that come every spring (or so the guide told us; we visited in the dead of winter).

An interesting (well, to me) cultural point: The tin phonetically spells out the words "Hello Kitty" (or, more specifically, "Haroo kiteii") in hiragana -- the sound alphabet used to spell out native words -- rather than katakana, the sound alphabet used for foreign words.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Domo Arigatto, Kitty Roboto

Hello Kitty is truly ubiquitous in Japan. During our 2004 trip there, every gift shop we visited carried HK merchandise, tailored to the particular region and its local folklore. Appropriately enough, HK's masters, Sanrio, celebrated HK's 30th birthday by licensing a robot of her. Further, a temp agency in Nagoya is renting out Robo-Kitty as a cybernetic receptionist for a fraction of the cost of her flesh-and-blood counterpart.

To hear her eerie, tinny, piping voice, click here ; click on the furthest square to the left in the bottom menu; and then click on the page where indicated.

If the robots are taking over, let them at least be kawaii.

Not Quite the FantastiCar

Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee's heroic effort to unload his 1991 Benz on Ebay has, alas, been foiled by the sinister hosts of Low Bidders. The auction ended early this morning at a measly $5,800.77 -- lower than the reserve. I'm surprised that high-roller collectors who would pay tens of thousands for a vintage Spider-Man or Fantastic Four comic book written by Lee aren't willing to cough up the Benjamins for a Mercedes owned by The Man himself.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Vegas and Ambiguous

I know it seems odd for someone who has spent an aggregate of 20 years in Southern California, but until this past weekend I had never visited Las Vegas. It's even odder considering that family members who live in Washington State have visited Sin City, and I've never gone. Part of it is that gambling is a habit that I never picked up (and I'm probably the better for it). But Amy is at a work-related event there this week; and I flew out with her and stayed there for the weekend.

I had a blast. Las Vegas is a spectacular desert mirage, a gloriously elegant cheeseball where all the world's arts and culture, its visual spectacle and audio enchantment, are all bent to the task of separating suckers from their bucks -- whether at the tables, in the bars, or in overpriced shops. Part of the charm is that Vegas has branched out into entertaining non-gamblers like me.

We spent the first night at the Stratosphere. On Saturday, we took in a couple of trademark Vegas cheap buffets (one at the Stratosphere, one at the Flamingo); headed up to the tower of the Stratosphere, and bought drinks at the highest Starbucks in the world; headed over to Star Trek: The Experience at the Hilton, which we enjoyed immensely (despite the cosmic price); and ended up at Caeser's Palace, where I sipped a martini in a lounge while a jazz duet played. On Sunday, after a continental breakfast (a must after all those buffets), we went over to the incredible Bellagio, a treat for the eye throughout.

Amy still has the digital camera in Vegas, so some photos I took with my cell phone are below.

A piece of Caeser's Palace. Posted by Picasa

Caeser's Palace -- or one part of it. Posted by Picasa

My cellphone camera can't do justice to this neon display at the Flamingo. It's actually mulitcolored. Posted by Picasa

Chillin' in the Galleria Bar at Caeser's Palace, near the lobby. Posted by Picasa

A shot from Caeser's Palace (where we stayed Saturday night) of the Stratosphere (where we stayed Friday night). Posted by Picasa

Somehow we managed to score a gigantic suite for our first night at Caeser's (before Amy moved to a room with her co-workers). Here's a shot of the bathroom. Posted by Picasa

Shot from our hotel room of the fountains at Caeser's Palace. Posted by Picasa

Food court at Caeser's Palace. Posted by Picasa

One of the casino ceilings at Caeser's Palace. Posted by Picasa

Since Elton John's "The Red Piano" tour is playing the Colliseum at Caeser's, the casino features this EJ gift shop. Posted by Picasa

Merchandise at the Elton John gift store included hot pants with the word "BITCH" stitched on the bum. Insert your own joke here. Posted by Picasa

From our hotel window: a courtyard at Caeser's Palace. Posted by Picasa

One of the ceiling domes at the Bellagio, with what appear to be cherry blossoms hanging from it. Posted by Picasa

At the Bellagio, a Chihuli basket in the window of a menswear store. Posted by Picasa

The entrance to the Fine Art Gallery at the Bellagio. This was one of the best parts of our trip. They had a fantastic display of Impressionist paintings from the Boston Museum, with lots of Renoirs and Monets, a Gauguin, and a generous sprinkling of Van Goghs. Posted by Picasa

The lobby of the Bellagio features an unbelievable Chihuli installation hanging from the ceiling, with 2,000 stylized glass flowers. This photo really doesn't do it justice. Posted by Picasa

The Bellagio solarium features gigantic flowers with glass petals. Here, they catch the sun. It's like something out of a '60's psychedelic movie. Posted by Picasa

The Bellagio solarium: Red tulips in a field of white ones. Posted by Picasa

Big pest problem at the Bellagio solarium. Posted by Picasa

Close-up of the red tulips in the solarium garden at the Bellagio. Posted by Picasa

The solarium at the Bellagio. Posted by Picasa

The interior of Cafe Bellagio, from our table. Posted by Picasa

The Solarium at Bellagio. Posted by Picasa

The Strip skyline (including the Eiffel Tower) as seen from the front of Caeser's. Posted by Picasa