OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…5
Continuing “Hey, Viv!”, I say, as we’re all being shuttled onto the bus which will take us to our hotel, “Toss me one of those miniatures, if you please. Yeah. Of course, Vodka’ll do. It’s bloody dusty round these parts.” Viv chuckles and asks if anyone else wants anything. He’s a consummate scrounger and somehow sweet-talked a demure and pulchritudinous female Air China cabin attendant out of her phone number, Email address, and a case of 100 airline liquor miniatures. That he looks like a marginally graying version of Robert Mitchum in his heyday and speaks fluent Dutch, French, and Italian might explain his success. I mean, a guy with four ex-wives can’t be all wrong, right? He’s a definite outlier in this crowd. We could be characterized as a batch of aging natural geoscientists who collectively, sans Viv, add up to an approximate eight on the “Looker” scale. Besides the years, the mileage, the climatic, and industrial ravages, it’s a good thing we all have expansive personalities, as most of us are dreadful enough to make a buzzard barf. But, save for Viv, no one presently here is on the make. Oh, sure; we’ll all sweet talk some fair nubile into a free drink or a double when we really ordered a regular drink, but we’re all married, most terminally, that is, over 35 years and counting. The odd thing is that save and except for Viv, none of us married folk had ever been divorced. That is strange, considering that the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, and we are often called to be apart from kith and kin for prolonged periods. However, we are always faithful and committed to our marital units and those vows we spoke all those many long decades ago. But, hey, we’re all seriously male and not anywhere near dead; and there’s no penalty for just looking, right? Continuing. We’re all loaded on a pre-war, not certain which war, by the way, bus which stank of fish, kimchee, and diesel fuel. We really don’t care even a tiny, iotic amount. It’s free transport, we’re tired of traveling, and not keen on walking any further than we absolutely have to. Viv has been passing out boozy little liquor miniatures, and I’ve been handing out cigars since I bought a metric shitload back in Dubai Duty-Free and somehow got them all through customs. We didn’t light up, as there was neither a driver nor handler present. So, we figured we’d all just wait on the cigars, and concentrate on having a little ground-level “Welcome to Best Korea” party until the powers that be got their collective shit together and provided drivers, herders, and handlers. We sat there for 15 long minutes. Being the international ambassadors of amity and insobriety, we started making noises like “Hey! Where’s our fucking driver?” and “I am Doctor Academician! Of All State Russian Geological Survey! How dare you make me wait? ” Suddenly, a couple of characters in ill-fitting gray suits and fake Rays Bans are outside the bus having a collective meltdown. Somehow, someone fucked up and put us on a ‘regular’ bus and not the ‘VIP’ bus. In other words, we got to see what the locals really got to ride around Pyongyang on instead of our supposed to be impressed by the bus that wasn’t there; but was now just arriving. A spanking new purple-and-chrome Mercedes long-haul bus shows up. It even has our group name emblazoned above the placard that normally tells where the bus is headed or who it is for: “’국제 석유 지질 과학 연합’ [Gugje Seog-yu Jijil Gwahag Yeonhab] or ‘International Union of Petroleum Geological Sciences’”. We are brusquely ordered off our present bus and into the opulent, obviously bespoke, bright yellow faux-leather interior Mercedes-Benz Tourismo RH M. It’s so new and so obviously a ploy to get us to think that all things here are so new and opulent, it even smells of that new car, ah, bus, aroma. “Well, we’ll take care of that soon enough”, I muse, as the bus is equipped with ashtrays and we’re going on the scenic route to our hotel, which is only 25 or so kilometers from the airport. However, it was announced that it’ll take us about 2 hours to get to our hotel since we need to see the city in its best light and get a feeling for the town if we should ever find ourselves lost and alone. We all know what’s going on. They’re getting our rooms ‘ready’ for our arrival and need some extra time to make sure everything’s all wired in and transmitting properly. “Guys”, I muse to our new handlers, “I’ve been to the Soviet Union, pre-wall fall. I stayed in places where I was definitely among the first westerners ever to grace their porticos. We’re a busload of natural scientists, of eight different nationalities, covering the economic spectrum from staunch capitalism to sociable socialism to hard-core communism. You even think for a second we’re going to spill any beans about anything you’d find interesting or useful? Think again.” In fact, it would become a running joke between us all to see what sort of fake bombshells we could drop into the normal conversation what would give the listener’s the greatest case of the jibblies. But for now, our bags were all loaded into the cargo compartment of this very, very nice, I must admit, mode of conveyance. Our handlers: ‘Yuk’, ‘No’, ‘Man’, and ‘Kong’, are all seated upfront and please with their latest tally of bodies. We have a couple of shady fellow travelers with the knock-off Ray-Bans and shiny gray suits that just appeared out of the woodwork in the back, seated by the loo, watching over all of us, and we’re going on a fucking city tour, whether we like it or not. We’re all present and accounted for. Let’s keep our camera in our bags for the time being as the drinking and smoking lights had just been lit as the bus fired up its new German-engineered and machined precision diesel engine. The bus rumbled to life and after a moment or two of checking that all dials, gauges, and indicators were where they were supposed to be; without so much as a cursory glance, we pulled out into traffic. Except there was none. Not another bus, pushbike, tap-tap, scooter, car, truck, hover-board, or motorcycle in sight. Nothing. Seems we were a big deal. They shut down the main drag so we wouldn’t be encumbered by such proletariat things like traffic jams or people-things cluttering the roadway, clambering for a look at the Western scientific cadre. So, away we whizzed, sans traffic and into the very belly of the beast, and onward; eventually, towards our hotel. Our handlers were very kind to point out passing scenes of interest. “Look, look! There’s the Potong River. Notice all the lovely birds, ‘eh what? See the Norwegian Blue? Beautiful plumage!” “See here, look. Here’s the Taedong River. Many forms of fish in the river. Maybe we’ll see some fishermen. If you like, we can stop, and ask them about today’s catch.” We all declined, as we were certain that the fish the ‘random fisherman’ we’d talk to was flown in fresh from elsewhere earlier in the day. Besides, we were comfortable. We had our drinks, our cigars, and we were leaving the driving to someone else. After being driven around the city and seeing all the wonderful monuments, like the faux Arch of Triumph, which looks exactly unlike its namesake Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile in Paris. The Arch of Reunification, a monument to the goal of a reunified Korea, which, by necessity, is unfinished. Then there’s the Tomb of King Tongmyŏng, where people are lining up, just dying’ to get in. Finally, we all called for our hotel, the Yanggakdo, after yet another mausoleum, the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun. Arches or tombs. Such a stunning array of monuments and places of less than moderate interest. We were interested in Mirae Scientists street (Future Scientists street). It is a street in a newly developed area in Pyongyang to house scientific institutions of the Kim Chaek University of Technology and its employees. But we were told that it was too late, there was not much there to see, we needed to express written permission to visit, and we’d be going there tomorrow or next week. We wheel into the parking lot of the Yanggakdo Hotel and are immediately unimpressed by the pseudo-Baroque concrete fiasco that appears to stand, wobbly, before us. It’s a page right out of the Soviet Construction-For-The-Masses Handbook. A cold, gray concrete edifice with multitudes of seemingly little, tiny windows. A perfect metaphor for our travels thus far; look at the expansiveness of Best Korean wonders, through this pinhole. However, we judged too soon. We were told to go inside and check-in, whilst our luggage would be de-bussed for us and handled by the expertly efficient hotel staff. The lobby was opulent, tastefully laid out in earth tones of facades of veneers of marble, granite, some garnet-mica schist, if my hand lens doesn’t lie, some Prepaleozoic anatectic migmatite, displaying intricate and intense plication, xenoliths, and graphic delineation of minerals by segregation through melting points. There was a gigantic well-appointed and well kept up aquarium, complete with snuffling sharks and nuclear-submarine sized groupers. Very handsome indeed. Impressions increasing slightly. Then we see that there’s a bloody casino on the bottom floor of the hotel, several bars interspersed throughout the hotel, and karaoke, of which I’m not terribly fond, but some of my European counterparts almost swooned at the prospect. There are a large pool and weight rooms/gymnasia, saunas and places to relax outside of one’s room, but still under the watchful eye of the thousands of ill-concealed video cameras at every turn. “Covert surveillance” may be a thing in Best Korea, but it’s a practice still leaves a lot to be desired. The Eastern Siberian Russians back before the wall fell were more covert with their obvious button audio microphones woven into the fabric covering the headboard of your Intourist bed than the Best Koreans here. Their cameras were ‘disguised’ as flower arrangements, overhead lights, and speakers inexplicably placed into things like standing ashtrays, refuse bins, and randomly placed holes in the wall. The floors were all covered with exquisite what looked to be hand-woven rugs of most vibrant crimson and gold; the usual Communistic colors. Always with some sort of floral pattern or pattern that’s supposed to be reflective of nature, as I was told. Evidently, for workers to remember what nature was as they don’t get out much with 14 to 16 hours workdays here in the Worker’s Paradise. Enough of the travelogue; we all wander up to the front desk, and each with their own passport in hand, request our reserved rooms. We supposed that we would all have rooms on different floors as the reservations were made, expired, re-made, juggled, rebooked, allowed to expire, re-jiggered, and finally formalized a scant week before we left the UK. Nope. No such luck. We were all on the 39th floor. The place boasts 47 floors, of which, the top floor is a revolving restaurant. Evidently, food tastes better when you’re rotating. However, it won’t spin unless you first buy a drink. We had that thing whirling like a NASA centrifuge after its discovery the second night. Yeah, all 12 of us are bivouacked on the 39th floor. A floor with approximately 30 rooms. I guess we could have played “Room Roulette” and see who got which room and who’s luggage. Or we could switch every day or two to drive our handlers nuts. Or, we could just take our assigned rooms, which were conveniently located one empty room apart. Meaning, no one had adjoining rooms. Why? Fuck if I know. We didn’t spend much time in our rooms, and that time was either sleeping or showering. We’d all meet at the bar, casino, restaurant, karaoke, bowling alley (all three lanes) or actual meeting rooms every once in a while when we thought we should get together and compare notes. It was the most inexplicable situation. Plus, we spent an inordinate amount of time waiting on the fucking elevators to take us to our room. These elevators, and if you think you’re going to get a batch of aging senior scientists to schlep it up 39 floor’s worth of stairs, think again; are the slowest elevators in the civilized world. And that was the consensus of scientists representing not only Europe and North America, but Russia as well. 15-25 minutes added to each journey, up or down; stopping on every floor, except 5, on the way down.. Jesus Q. Fuck, dudes. If you can’t construct a bleedin’ elevator that works better than those at the Sozvezdie Medveditsy Guest House in Lesosibirsk, Eastern Siberia; then I suggest you seriously rethink your plans for world domination and new world order. Grako and Erwin once, while waiting for the fucking elevator, figured out that we were earning some US$25 each just to wait for the lift to arrive and take us to our rooms. Every day. Sometimes several times per day. With that, we all agreed to toss our “waiting time” funds into a kitty and on our last day of captivity here, blow it all in the hotel casino. Whatever became of that would be donated to the Koreans we thought most deserving of our largesse. Would it be our handlers? How about the Korean Scientists we’d be meeting? The affable and most accommodating concierge? Or that plucky little Korean charwoman who was always on our floor and kept everything spotless, right down to our freshly laundered and pressed field clothes and newly polished field boots; done without our requesting or knowledge? Only time would tell. It could be a fortune or it could be bupkiss. Just like our expectations of the Heavenly Kingdom where we were currently sequestered. As it was, with our official protestations, they kept only photocopies of our passports as we roundly refused and threatened a full-scale karaoke battle right here in the lobby if they didn’t relinquish our passports immediately. I had broken out my nastiest cigar and was primed to offend. With that, we all had our keys and trooped over to the elevators for our first, of many, inexplicable waits. We made many uncharitable and potentially nasty remarks about the Anti-Western posters that made up some of the wall décor. Once we finally made it to our floor, we all fanned out to find our rooms. Viv found his first and was quite pleased to report to the rest of us that there was a “Welcome” basket in his room. We all hoped that we would be receiving one a well. I was in room 3914; which I considered a close call, but later only wondered as there was no 3913. Upon entering, I saw it was 1980s Hotel 6 opulent, but with an excellent over-city view. True it was late, dark, and the city was only somewhat lit up; I was looking forward to the view of the town in full daylight. The room had a ‘king’ bed; that is if the king in question was Tutankhamen, the stubby, Egyptian boy king. The bed had no mattress pad and no box spring but it was hard enough for my liking. Many of my compatriots didn’t agree and complained bitterly. They eventually received thin mattress pads for all their kvetching. There was an ancient Japanese color television, which only had 2 English language channels - Al Jazeera and the BBC, which was on a dated news loop. Watching the local channel is amusing though; the ads for ‘personal enhancements’ were hilarious, even without understanding a word of the language. There were a couple of chairs and a low table, built-in dresser drawers for our clothes, a rusty and probably unusable room safe with corroded batteries, a small table built out of the wall that would serve as my travel office, and would-you-believe, a rotary telephone; how’s that for nostalgia? There was an old-model radio built into the nightstand next to the bed. I was very surprised to find it not only received AM, FM but shortwave as well. I had brought along a pair of Bose headphones and during some rainy down days, spent many fun-filled, and I mean that sincerely, hours DXing from the comfort of my ‘enormous’ king bed. Beyond that, the room was very nondescript. Like any other of the millions of rooms in hotels around the world that unlike here, aren’t claiming a 5-star rating. I mean, it was clean, if not a little long in the tooth. But didn’t smell too terrible, even after I took care of that with my Camacho offerings. It was utilitarian, everything worked, even the water pressure, which surprisingly could strip off layers of one’s skin if you weren’t careful. The bathroom, though no Jacuzzi, had a large enough bathtub for the occasional soaking period. Western accouterments in the bathroom were also welcome additions. My knees can’t handle the traditional squat-holes any longer. There were an electric teapot and several brands of tea, but no coffee. A quick “Gee! I sure wish I had some coffee!” to the four walls and damned if 30 minutes later, a porter didn’t arrive to replenish my tea and courtesy in-room coffee… There was a small Japanese brand in-room refrigerator which I thought might house a mini-bar. Oh, no! It was actually a complimentary larder stocked with all sorts of Best Korean goodies. Multiple cans of Taedonggang beer. Several bottles of Pyongyang Soju, in various flavors ranging anywhere from 16.8 to 53 percent alcohol by volume. My fridge was skewed towards the right-hand side of the bell curve; the more heavy-duty boozy side. Evidently, my reputation had preceded me again. There was a selection of German-style wheat beers from the Taedonggang Brewery and the more familiar ales, steam beers, and lagers. There were some imported beers like Heineken, Bavaria, Pils, a couple of Japanese brands: Asahi and Kirin, and something called ‘Hello Beer’ from Singapore. There were also ‘sampler’ bottles of Apricot Pit wine, and a couple of high-alcohol fruity liquors made from constituents such as apple or pear, and mushrooms. There were also special medicinal liquors like ‘Rason’s Seal Penis Liquor’. That is going home with me unopened. There were a couple of bottles of local sake, called Chonju. Finally, there was a couple ‘samplers’ of homemade alcohol known as Makkoli. Plus there was something called ‘Corn Grotto’, which for the life of me, looks and tastes much like a very passable Kentucky Sippin’ Bourbon. I put our concierge on instant danger money the very next day. He’s yet to source me more than a fifth of the stuff so far. I found that there is a popular drink here which mirrors the Yorsch of Mother Russia. Beer and soju can be mixed to create *somaek’; a foamy, frothy, funky drink of many flavors, depending on the soju chosen. Is ethnoimbibology at thing? The science of how different cultures drink and the effects of drinking culture on different societies. If not, now I have another Ph.D. to pursue after I endow a chair at some likely Asian university. Anyways, in everyone’s room was a “welcome” basket, just chock full of Best Korean goodies. Postcards, stamps, ads for coin sets, stamp proofs and other goodies that could be purchased at the hotel. There was a field notebook, which I thought was a very nice addition, newspapers, cookies, crackers, biscuits, candies, fruit drinks, and some fresh fruit; although tamarind chewies and durian chips aren’t on my list of personal favorites. There were a couple of tour books, just chock full of staged photos. These were very nice as well, as so far, we haven’t had much time for shopping outside of government stores or smaller family-run shops in town or out in the boonies. A few of us were hungry and decided to see what the hotel had to offer room service-wise. Bupkiss. But, they did have a selection of restaurants. There is a Chinese restaurant, a European restaurant, and a Korean restaurant on site but they all serve the same food...a Best Korean attempt at western food. And it was weird being the only ones in the restaurant even though it was fully staffed. We grazed lightly and decided to do some late-night perambulations around our hotel. Our handlers admonished us to stay within the confines of the hotel, or see them if it was absolutely necessary to go walkabout. In the hotel, we were on our own. We found that there were tunnels in the hotel’s basement. The basement tunnels were a real bonus. There’s a bar with pool tables, a karaoke room, bowling, and a massage parlor, where I was beaten and pummeled into submission by tiny, diminutive, little Korean lassies fully 1/5th my size. It was wonderful. There was a hairdresser’s, who were completely befuddled by my shoulder-length silver-gray locks and full gray Grizzly Adams beard. They did provide a lovely shampoo/cranial massage though for the equivalent of US$2. There were a couple of shops selling Chinese goods rather than local stuff, which was sort of disappointing, a cold noodle bar, and another casino. No shops selling Korean Communist propaganda posters, as I wanted to augment my Soviet-era collection. Perhaps I’ll find something in-country later on. We were shocked to find that the casino had WiFi that was uncensored and we were able to access; after a fee of liquor miniatures and a cigar or two. We were supposed to have access to the global internet, not local intranet, from the universities that we would be visiting. However, all of that was under the heavily squinting eyes of handlers and guys in shiny suits wearing fake Ray-Bans. I still had my secret satellite internet lash-up available, but that was iffy, a pain in the ass to set up, and ridiculously expensive. However, it did work on the 39th floor and the times I used it instead of wandering down to the tunnels, no one appeared to be the wiser. Thus far. So typically, we’d just head to the basement casino with our laptops, iPads, and phones. Bam! Robert’s your Sister’s Husband, we could connect more-or-less free with the outside world; hence how you are reading this now. Herro! “Yes, I’d sure like another beer. This time a porter, if you please.” The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. Or the more they put into locks, the easier they are to pick. Besides, we were told we’d have access to unfettered and free internet. OK, so we just found it for ourselves. Whaddya expect? We’re scientists, motherfucker, back off. Ahem. Back to reality. The breakfast buffet the next morning had a wide choice of Asian and Western food, although the choices seemed to be the same every day. The main event was to beat the Chinese tourists to the egg station every morning. Breakfast always included fried eggs, a limited selection of pork, kippered fish, potatoes, rice, fruit, and a very Titanium-dioxide-white white bread After a while, I took to going to the small market behind the lobby, buying some imported Chinese or Japanese nibbly bits and heading to the tunnels for a few breakfast beers before the long hard day’s work. It took almost a week, but I gained the trust of some of the workers in the tunnels and they showed me the on-site microbrewery at the hotel. It produced very passable, and very, very cheap beers of several varieties. Liquid bread. Beer. Is there nothing it can’t do? After breakfast our first day at the hotel, we were told to meet in the Conference Room “Il-sung” as we were going to have a ‘Welcome foreign imperialist scientists’ introduction and indoctrination. Besides our handlers and the shiny-suit squad, there were several Korean folks we didn’t recognize. These were students, scientists, and scholars from the Kim Chaek University of Technology, Kim Il-sung University, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology; all hailing from Pyongyang, and the University of Geology from North Hwanghae Province. “Oh, marvelous”, Erlen remarked, “It’s going to be a bloody Chautauqua. We’ll be here all day.” “Well”, I replied, “It could be worse. We could be on a bus headed off on another unscheduled road trip.” As we found our seats, our Korean counterparts were busily setting up portable screens, like the ones your grandfather had for showing his 2.1 Googleplex worth of travel slides every Christmas or Thanksgiving get-together. They had a couple of ancient Chinese brand laptops that could have doubled for body armor, they were so thick and heavy. While they fiddled with running cords for the overhead projectors and 16mm film projector; yes, it was going to be movie time as well, the hotel’s restaurant folks wheeled in carts laden with scones, cupcakes, and other sweet sorts of bakery. Another cart was wheeled in with pump-pots of hot water, tea, and coffee. Usual scientific meeting fare. There was one final cart that made the day bearable. It held a pony keg of hotel micro-brewed beer on ice, with several dozen frosty mugs available for all who wanted to partake. There were instantly 12 mugs that were spoken for. I grabbed a cold beer and wandered around the conference room, sipping beer, chewing on an unlit cigar, and just trying to be pleasant to our hosts and their scientific guests. I was surprised when one North Korean professor, who spoke amazingly British-tinged English, offered me a light for my cigar. “Is smoking allowed here?” I asked. “Allowed?” he laughed heartily, “My good man, it’s practically a prerequisite.” “Here then”, I said, offering him a nice, unctuous Camacho, “Try one of mine.” Dr. P'ung Kwang-Seon of the North Korean University of Geology became my instant and lifelong friend at that moment. We had a very nice chat, much to the chagrin of the gray suit cadre, who could hear what we were talking about, but probably didn’t understand anything beyond every 8th word. After a while, we were asked to take our seats, after refreshing our drinks, and introduced to the group of Korean geoscientists we’d be interacting with during our stay here in Best Korea. I tried to record every name, but between the students, other scholars, and professors from the various universities, I decided I’d ask for a list of participants once the day had worn on. After all, they had all our names, references, and resumes if the thick folio they kept referring to was any indication. There were a couple of hours of introductions, as every one of the Korean geoscientists there introduced themselves, mostly through translators, told of their personal area of specialty, and their latest work. Most were what would be considered geoscientists, but oddly enough, not one that you would consider a petroleum geoscientist, however tangentially. There were geomorphologists, structural geologists, petrologists, mineralogists, marine geologists, engineering geologists, and seismologists. However, there were no stratigraphers, sedimentologists, paleontologists, or geochemists. We were all geoscientists, but apart from the obvious Korean:English disparity, it was as if we spoke different scientific languages as well. That would be our first hurdle to overcome. They had no oil industry here; none whatsoever, therefore why one would bother with the geosciences that fed directly into petroleum? That, in and of itself, would make it difficult to explore for oil in the country. Couple that with the fact that they’re so insular, think their version of ‘science’ is the best, at least that’s the official line, and think all other’s ‘science’ is capitalistic, substandard, and inferior doesn’t bode well for your country discovering anything either oily or gassy. We were having another conclave around the beer keg, ack, err…a ‘coffee break’ and I mentioned this fact to my scientific colleagues. “Guys”, I need input here, “We’re going to get precisely nowhere if they won’t even acknowledge that they have major problems from the start.” Ivan replies, “Very true. I’ve seen this before back home. You get a group so entrenched in their own little corner of science, they can’t even accept or acknowledge that others exist. Not only exist but actually know more about a certain problem than do you.” Dax joins the fray, “Sure, that’s very true, but who’s going to tell them this unfortunate fact? They could take that as a personal, national, and global insult. Imagine you’re at an international conference and a bunch of foreigners walk in just to tell you you’ve been doing it all wrong for the last 75 years.” I add, “Remember, though. These characters are scientists as well. I think it’ll be a good measure of seeing what sort of science and scientist we’re dealing with here. If they are truly researchers, they’ll listen to and evaluate what we say as for veracity and accuracy. If they’re just a bunch of Commie goons; no offense, Comrade Academician Ivan, they’ll get all pissed off, kick us out, and we get to go home and enjoy our triple Force Majeure pay.” Ivan walks over and deliberately steps on the toes of my newly polished field boots. “In Soviet Russia, field boots walk on YOU.” He laughs in his heavily inflected, and scary, Soviet-era speech… “Yes, I agree”, Joon adds, “But who is going to address this issue with our hosts? Perhaps one of our Russian comrades, as they are, or were, more politically aligned with our Korean friends and perhaps best understand the issue?” Ack speaks up, grinning maniacally, “No, I disagree. We should have the one person here who so encapsulates the ideologies and political leanings that they love to hate here so much. You know; the quiet, diminutive, and soft-spoken North American…” Dax recoils, “Oh, no! I’m not going out in front of this mob of ornery Orientals…” I smile wanly and tell Dax to cool out. “Relax, Dax. They’re talking about me.” “Oh, yes”, a collective group of voices replies, “Yes. Let out fearless Team Leader break the bad news to our Eastern Colleagues. That way we can gauge their reactions to being bounced around scientifically by a member of the Evil Capitalist Cartel.” “OK”, I reply, “I’ll do it. But be forewarned, my fine feathered fiends. I get stuck on a topic that’s not precisely my bailiwick, I’m going to throw your ass to the wolves. Remember, we’re all in this together.” Whoops, and catcalls were reduced to mumbles and ‘Aw, fucks.’. Chautauqua resumption was called and I asked for the floor. It was a bit off the agenda, but since they’ve been chewing the air for the last several hours, they understood it would be appropriate for us to at least try and get a word in edgewise. I downed my beer, and grabbed a fresh one as what I was going to say was going to be harsh, cut-and-dried, and rather pointed. But delivered in a pleasant manner. I hoped. This all had to be filtered through a series of translators, one for general conversational Korean and another for the more technical and scientific transliterations. I realized I was going to be up here for a while. So, I brought a cigar. One way or another, I was going to deliver our pronouncements and hell, I may as well be comfortable while doing it. . “Greetings and felicitations, my Eastern Colleagues. Let me first say how nice it is to be here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as part of the ….” I’m going to fast-forward through all the flowery bullshit and introductory happiness; I’ll going to just cut to the guts of the matter. “…Now, you do know why there has been virtually no oil, gas nor any other hydrocarbon related deposit discovered here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?” I asked by way of a rhetorical question. I sipped my beer and lit my cigar. In for a chon, in for a won. I let the buzzing subside on the side of our eastern counterparts. “Because, and please do not take this as insulting or derogatory, but as a statement of irrefutable fact, no one with the proper training nor experience has been looking. You’re historically guilty of applying the science incorrectly and letting dogma and politics guide your search, instead of the scientific method and the facts. Geology, like all natural science, is just as truth based on the facts for a capitalist as it is for a communist. Reality is not influenced by your beliefs, be they scientific or political, secular or spiritual, ‘trusted’ rather than ‘thought’; any more than by your wish that it wouldn’t rain today during a raging thunderstorm.” Little Boy over Hiroshima was dropped with less effect. Our Democratic People's Republic of Korea colleagues erupted into a chaotic mixture of stuttering, internecine yelling, accusations, and sputtering. Calling for decorum, I figured that since I was this far gone, I may as well push the plunger all the way to the bottom. “Gentlemen, I do not denigrate the science of geology as taught and practiced here in Best Korea.” I actually said that, sort of a slip of the tongue. Continuing, “However, one would not fish for Bluefin tuna from a rowboat in a pond with a fly rod. One does not hunt bear in the city with a slingshot. Just as one doesn’t search for oil and gas with mining engineers, geomorphologists, and seismologists.” I let that sink in and after the translation, they calmed a bit and wanted to hear the rest of what I had to say. I could sense a couple was less than thrilled with what I had to say, but forging onward… “One fishes for Bluefin tuna in the deep ocean with huge rods, reels and a specialist boat captained by someone with deep experience in hunting the elusive fish. One hunts bear in the proper environment, the taiga or forest, with the proper tools and guided by one with the education, learnedness, and experience to know how to make the hunt come out successful.” Hit them with some analogies they can relate to and digest. Now, go for the carotid. “Just like one does not hunt oil and gas without stratigraphers, sedimentologists, geophysicists, petrophysicists, and other oil and gas experts who have the education, experience, and knowledge to know where to look. Knowing which environment looks most conductive to hide your quarry, if you’ll pardon the pun, and how best to find them, the guys who know how to corral and de-risk them once you find them, and the engineers and technologists who know how to bring them to the surface so they can be utilized.” They had stopped being irritated and were listening in rapt attention. “My colleagues and I have spent the last few days going over, in detail the geology of your country. There is nothing we can see that would preclude the development, entrapment, and preservation of economic quantities of oil and gas. Ture, the geology is quite complex as is the structural history of the entire peninsula. That’s one other thing you will have to accept. Geology doesn’t give the tiniest shit about political boundaries. One must look at the big picture, and that doesn’t stop at some man-made borders. Ignore that fact at your peril, because if you continue to view the geology here as not existing across political boundaries, you are preadapting yourself for failure.” Drs. Ivan, Volna, and Morse make certain that everyone sees the ex-Soviets agreeing with the bushy-bearded, cigar-chomping American capitalist. “So,” I said, hoping to bring this little spit-balling session to a fortuitous close, “If we can have an agreement; scientific agreement, on these points, then I am certain we can find a way forward with not only this discussion but the program we can devise for the best Korean (notice phase shift?) geologists to take the project forward both scientifically soundly and economically successful.” My North Korean counterpart gets up from his seat in the conference room, goes to the keg, taps a couple of beers and walks up to the podium where I was standing. “Thank you, Dr. Rocknocker, for saying what needed to be said”, he spoke in perfect English as he handed me a beer. I grinned and gratefully accepted the beer. “Why, Dr. Chang Kwang-Su”, I said, as that was his name, “You old fraud. You do speak English; and very well, I must add.” “Yes, almost all of us do”, he relayed, “But, as you said, we are most reserved. We were more or less under orders of the ‘most illustrious’, to play coy, and act as if we spoke no English.” “I see.” I said, “I’ve worked in several FSU countries as well as Russia and saw that there as well. I guess old habits die hard.” “That they do, Doctor.”, he replied, “But, we must now tell you the truth. We knew exactly what you said is true, and we agree. We are not as totally insulated from the outside world as some suspect.” “Well, I was going on what your superiors related to us. Like the police that had all their toilets stolen, I had nothing else to go on.” I replied. “Ah, ha! Quite!”, he chuckled, “We had long suspected that we were lacking in certain areas of scholarship. What you said cements that fact as it was an independent conclusion. We can now present that to our superiors with the caveat that unless we bolster work and training in these areas, the hunt of hydrocarbon resources here will be for naught.” “I am relieved”, I said, truthfully. “I was slightly concerned that some might take umbrage to being told their science is not up to specifications. I tried to be the bearer of that bad news but deliver it gently. Here, I find you need that to use that as a truncheon to smack one’s boss upside the head and tell him that an upgrade is required. And fast.” “Ah, so”, he replies, “We are in total agreement. Now that is out of the way, we would appreciate it if you’d help in designing a course of study for up and coming local geoscientists. Then, we can go forward with a great plan to search for oil and gas here in…Korea. Correct?” “Absolutely”, I remarked, “You’ve got over 400 man-years of science and exploration expertise here in this room alone. Let’s shoot for the moon, so to speak. Let’s get you up to speed on scientific journals and articles that are available out there in all of academia and industry. Let’s get you communicating on a global basis. Let’s prove that you can talk science with global scientists and still not have it affect your political or nationalistic aspirations one little bit. Let’s see if we can drag you, figuratively speaking, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.” “Doctor”, Dr. Chang remarked, “You are the embodiment of what we were always told what Americans are. Brash, loud, confident, and evil. Except for evil, you are American as we were led to believe.” “Hey, I take that as a compliment”, I exclaim. “You think that’s bad, I’ve got a bunch of earnest Europeans, raucous Russians, and a couple of cagey Canadians on my side as well. Before we’re finished here, we’ll have you ordering hachee, dining on Caldo Verde, snacking on salmiakki, drinking Russkaya vodka with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, eating poutine, and rooting for the Packers.” “Doctor, I don’t know what half of that means, but I hope it comes to pass. It sounds most fascinating.” Dr. Chang chuckles. The rest of the day was spent with various groups crystallizing and breaking off from the main crowd; then reforming as different groups. This was good, as it showed an interest across not only national borders but across ideologies and scientific specialties. Most everyone here spoke English with some degree of fluency, so the translators were called in only occasionally. I made certain they were included in everything that transpired that day. I want everyone to feel ‘part of the team’. How better to show the classlessness of Western science to include everyone in on both sides of every discussion and activity? To be continued…
Summary of the Persona 5 Royal info from the trailer and website (includes P5 Spoilers!)
Finally, some info! I'll divide this into details from the trailer and details from the site (there's a lot of the latter), with a few bits of speculation thrown in (I'll make it clear which details are confirmed and which are just mine though): The trailer (in roughly the order of appearance):
It starts with the Goro tries to kill Joker scene, but Joker has a flashback/ vision partway through to a frozen in time street, where he hears a girl's voice through a static television (the new girl, Kasumi's)? This could just be a clever edit for the sake of the trailer, but I think there will be a new ending and this will play into it (more on that later).
Edit 5: According to u/Monsieur_Valjean, her dialogue is "私が夢を奪ったんです" (Watashi ga yume wo ubattan desu), which translates to either:
(If spoken informally:) I stole/took away my dream.
(If spoken informally:) I took away your dream.
Edit 7: The trailer has been translated and the translation used is "I took away all their dreams." (*5)
The latter could either be benevolent (since she pulled Joker away from his confrontation with Akechi), or something more sinister. (*3)
Joker's grappling hook from Smash is now in the game (or rather, it made an early appearance in Smash) and has changed the Palaces to suit it. For example there's now a new puzzle involving kicking a giant Kamoshida statue in the mouth to open a door (perhaps the statue and door in the gym?) Okumura's Palace also has a point where you use the hook on a moving platform to reach a new area.
Incidentally, this probably means the rope you use to get into Madarame's Palace will be replaced with said grappling hook, or maybe entering his Palace will be changed entirely?
Edit 5: Many of you have pointed out that Joker always had the grappling hook, but he only used it in menu transitions. Thank you, all!
Edit 19: Assuming this trailer is also for newcomers to P5, showing off the first dungeon in the game makes sense - there's not much to spoil, but why Okumura's Palace - and why just a single scene? Note that the scene shows Joker being carried somewhere by a small platform through space. Is this a sign that the infamous airlock puzzle has been cut, with the team using grappling hooks to traverse those areas instead?
Edit 12: There's a cutscene with Joker seeing Kasumi outside and the two greeting each other. I didn't think it was worth mentioning before, but this does confirm that the two have some rapport before she's roped into the Phantom Thieves business/ when they're away from the other Thieves. But Morgana's poking out of Joker's bag when he smiles at her and makes no effort to hide himself - does this mean she already knows about him (and thus the Metaverse and Joker's double life)? Or does she simply think Joker smuggles his cat to school? At least she doesn't consider him a threat like everyone else!
This could either be because he helped her out (more on this soon) or because she simply doesn't believe/ care about the rumours surrounding him (like Shiho)...but maybe it's because she knows more about his situation (and Shido and/ or his Metaverse dealings) than she lets on?
There is a new location in the game (more on this later), home to a variety of hangout locations including a darts board and aquarium.
Edit 15: Thanks to MysticDistance, we see that the train transition now includes a backdrop of Shibuya through the train's windows! What an awesome little detail to add!
There's now a counsellor working at the school, though there's more info on him on the site so I'll address him there.
Edit 13: We see a silhouette on the TV screen from the start of the trailer, and Joker seems to recognise it. While it's of course hard to judge the identity of a silhouette, it does have a slim figure and a rounded head, much like the hair of our new Thief...
Edit 17: Here's a better shot at the figure. While Kasumi's uniform gives her the appearance of having broad shoulders, the silhouette doesn't look too much like her. While there's still a chance it is her, here's my speculation from that post:
Those shoulders look too broad to be Kasumi's (and doesn't seem to have long hair or a ponytail), but they have hair so can't be Shido. But those are definitely seams on the edges of the shoulders...it's Takuto, isn't it? Maybe Kasumi talks first and Takuto hijacks the message and/ or kidnaps or attacks her while she's delivering it? Maybe they're the same person under different personas personalities? Atlus has done weirder stuff!
Unison Attacks from P4G make a return! Think of these as mini-AOAs featuring pairs of Phantom Thieves. The examples in this trailer are Haru/ Morgana and Ryuji/ Makoto.
New story events! There appears to be a sports-day event that Makoto is overseeing. Joker also steps in to save Kasumi from a creep - presumably on his way back from the aforementioned event since he's still in his sports clothes.
Edit 18: There's a new option in cutscenes like this. While "Skip" is still mapped to Options, Square is now "Auto-Advance" and the Log has been moved to L3. This'll be really useful for those cutscenes that auto-advanced by default despite being unvoiced in the core game, those always bugged me (especially since you couldn't predict when they'd occur so going to the menu between cutscenes was always a waste of time).
We see Kasumi in the Metaverse, followed by more scenes of the new location, Kichijoji, where we can hang out with the full PT group at once instead of hanging out one at a time (at least in the darts/ pool area). Kasumi isn't here though, which suggests she joins the group last (or that she is simply unavailable at this point of the story).
Edit 16: Note that Makoto has just thrown a dart right before we see Joker do the same. Is this part of a cutscene (story or otherwise) or does this mean we'll get to compete here against the other Thieves; maybe even as sub-teams?
We see Kasumi in action, scoring a Critical Hit to boot! She wields a rapier and...I can't tell if it's a pistol or a sawn-off shotgun, but I can tell that it is fan-cy!
Edit 2: Thank you, u/Enzo-Unversed for pointing out that Kasumi isn't using a rapier. I did some further research and it looks like she uses an estoc, which is a narrow blade used for thrusting as she does in the trailer. The example on Wikipedia has a curved hilt while Kasumi's has a straight hilt, but I don't know if that means anything for estoc-kind.
Edit 2: u/AvatarWanderful identifies her gun as a lever-action rifle. I initially thought it was a hunting rifle before seeing its length, but that fits the description! And I still think the engraving is really neat!
We get some scenes of the Thieves in a new crumbling place in the Metaverse, interrupted by a scene of Kasumi dancing in front of a crowd hard enough to work up a sweat (more on this later)*, ending with Joker falling off of whatever he's holding on into what appears to be a floating staircase. This looks an awful lot like the stairs in the background of the Velvet Room in PQ to me and, coupled with the blue hue to everything, makes me think the new Palace will be related to the ol' VR in some way. Maybe we change Igo Yaldabaoth's heart directly?
* Edit 18: Could this be how we first see Kasumi? It uses a lot of dynamic camera angles and plays up the mystery of who she is, so perhaps this is her first appearance and we later meet her "for real" after the sports day incident mentioned above. Also, if she's already showing her skills and drawing a crowd, does this mean Kamoshida has his sights set on her this time around? We know how he gets when someone threatens his volleyball team, and he's no stranger to blackmailing female students. He may still be messing with Ann, but why not Kasumi as well? What's an extra year in difference to him?
Edit 20: A small detail, but this may mean we can buy equipment for Goro now, as well as access The Hero with a Bow, the book on Robin Hood we would have gotten from the library when he joined but was removed from the final release. This is in addition to Kasumi's equipment and book of course, unless she's the one to miss out this time. Which would be suspicious now that we know why Goro didn't get a book or weapons! (Also, it'll be interesting to see how their weapons are categorised, since both use swords.)
Edit 16: As many have noted the trailer bares a striking resemblance to Into The Spider-Verse's intro, with the various logos and box art "glitching" into alternate versions as they appear - could this be another hint that the characters enter into separate "dream" worlds at some point in the game? Maybe even multiple times?
Edit 5: Again from u/Monsieur_Valjean, the text below the shot of Joker at the top of the page ends with "arata na kyoteki," meaning "new powerful/ultimate/grand enemy," which again hints at a new villain and thus new Palace to beat.
From the opening "reel" of screenshots:
The box art: Goro looks much more sinister here than he did on the base cover, which makes me wonder if his betrayal is more...upfront this time around.
There's an event with Ren, Kasumi and Goro at a french cafe. This could be part of one or both of their Confidants, which makes me wonder when this happens - after all, Goro's only part of the team for a month and this makes you wonder when Kasumi joins. (*1)
Edit 15: Thanks to a translation by MysticDistance, we know that Akechi's line is "Say, Kasumi-san, what's your opinion on things regarding the Phantom Thieves?" Isn't this exactly what he asked her in the teaser trailer?
Edit 18: Given what happens later on, this question couldn't work in the later stages of the game due to how the story progresses (and would be utterly impossible due to Goro's situation near the end, whether he survives this time around or not). And because Kasumi's answer was important enough to be the basis of the teaser and seems important to her character, I don't think it's something wed be able to miss. In other words, I believe this to be a fixed event in the story. (It may also confirm that she isn't a founding member of the Thieves, though she may also be lying to throw Akechi off...in which case it'd be interesting if she's telling the truth about her lack of faith in the Thieves while being one herself, especially with her leader and possible love interest right beside her!)
Edit 15: Thanks to the same tweet as above, we know Kamoshida is saying "You're too slow, Mishima! You simpleminded fool!" Which seems to confirm Mishima is his new lackey in this boss and that he'll speak directly to his minions. Also note the "warped" text box: does this change affect all Shadows, Bosses or just in-combat dialogue? And if the latter, will there also be UI changes for when your own allies comment on the battle or when you issue commands?
Edit 6: u/FrozenKlondyke suggests this could be her student ID and that this is when she and Joker first meet (properly, at least) since she's introducing herself as a first-year here (you can see the 1 in her speech bubble too).
Edit 15: As pointed out in this tweet chain, it's a nice bit of characterisation that Joker is still willing to help out a girl being harassed despite what happened the last time he tried. D'aww...
Edit 1: The site also describes her as being key to the plot, so chances are she is indeed the voice from the start of the trailer and it does indeed tie into a new ending.
As u/icecreamsnow pointed out here, her being a gymnast may be why her cosplayer did a ribbon dance at the end of today's concert.
Edit 10: On both days, her cosplayer ends with a nervous look on her face before looking around and smiling. She did the exact same thing twice, so could this be a hint towards Kasumi's own personality? Is she shy despite her talent, and will we see this after her dance from the trailer?
Edit 3: In addition to being an epic shot of Kasumi in action (her black outfit goes really well with her red hair and eyes!) This shot also shows a new location in the Casino Palace. I'm confident in saying it's the Casino Palace because of the dice and enemy design, but this looks to be some sort of storage room? Almost like the backstage of a performance hall!
Edit 14: Also, there being enemies behind her - in Shadow forms at that - leads me to believe this is a cutscene. Note that her pose is different from when she performed a Critical Attack in the trailer; her gun is on her shoulder instead of her firing yet and her feet are in a different position. It's an amazing pose all the same, of course! And it really highlights the frills on her sleeves\~
Edit 19: But this begs the question: why is she the focus of a cutscene at this point, and such an action-packed cutscene at that? Could this be how she makes her appearance, already having her Persona and Thief outfit? It'd support the evidence that she's one of the last members to join the team and the suggestions that she has her own motives for joining the Thieves if she can already fight and hold her own in the Metaverse before meeting them. It'd double as a nice parallel to Haru and Akechi, who also join partway through a dungeon and are already capable of fighting respectively. Also, her fighting "guards" in the middle or end of the Casino for her debut would also parallel Joker fighting multiple guards in a cutscene in the prologue/ end of the Casino as his debut. Of course, this in turn means the shot of Kasumi in a blue room would have to come from the end of the game OR as a flashback to whenever she got her Persona and whatever event shaped who she is today.
Edit 20: Following from the above paragraph, she does seem awfully confident with her rifle to just sling it over her shoulder single-handed like that. Granted, every Thief is an instant expert with their weapons, but something about this seems especially proficient. Maybe it's just the leathe epicness of the scene and her outfit.
Edit 20: Regardless of if this is Kasumi's introduction and whether she's an adversary or if this is just a cool moment for her in a cutscene, let's go back to the reasoning of this being some sort of storage room - why are we here? In the core game we had to "un-cheat" in the Casino's games. Could this be related to one of those? If so, will there be a reworking of the two games we directly interfere with (i.e. the first two), or will we get to fix the second two games this time around - for example, are we currently on our way to/ back from fixing the lights from the Dark Room challenge? And all of this hinges on: are those games still in the Palace? Or have they been removed/ replaced completely, and this room is something completely unrelated to them or tied to (fixing) a new game?
Edit 18: I couldn't find this information for myself on the site or magazine, but a lot of people have talked about this so it's highly likely I just missed it. Anyway, this tweet (again from Mystic) elaborates on her bio, adding that she's also a transfer student (this part I still have doubts about) and despite joining the Thieves has her own motives (more on this later on and in my follow up post). The second tweet also states that she "holds Ren in high regard" despite her opinion of the Thieves. Perhaps this is why her Thief outfit is so similar to his; without even seeing Joker her psyche was affected by Ren's ideologies enough that her image of rebellion changed match his? Or is she fond of him because they were already similar despite their ideologies?
Takuto is a new Confidant and comes in as a counsellor for students after Kamoshida's confession. As the trailer shows, there are voiced scenes for him interacting with Ann without Joker needing to be around, so I assume he works similarly to the confessional in the base game. He has the Consultant Arcana which doesn't exist in the standard or Thoth set, but the number is 1, meaning he's a renamed Magus (like how Hunger from P4G was a renamed Lust). This makes sense, since the Magician (the basis for the Magus Arcana) is meant to be the Fool's guide/ first ally on his journey to the World.
Edit 3: Persona Central's translation states that the new boy speaks in a familiar way and uses the first person pronoun "wagahai," which I think is what Morgana uses (any help from Japanese speakers will be greatly appreciated)!
And now Lady Ann and I will finally... happy cat noises
Edit 5.5: On the topic of the mysterious boy, note that he wears a black jacket (like Morgana's fur), white trousers (like the pads of his feet) and wears a yellow necklace (like Morgana's scarf). It has to be him! The only question now is whether the change happens as part of the story or as a result of completing his Confidant, and thus if his Confidant is optional now.
In any case, this confirms a "Golden" ending where Joker doesn't need to turn himself in to ensure Shido gets punished. Maybe this involves the "vision" at the start of the trailer and getting Goro to confess on his behalf instead? Or maybe the Yaldabaoth situation is handled differently in such a way that gives Sae the evidence she needs to convict him (assuming the bonus dungeon is in fact the Velvet Room)? Edit 1: But this also begs the question: what will we do in those three months? Will the Metaverse survive the final boss this time around, or will the last three months be purely for social stats and Confidants? Will at least Mementos survive, so we can complete Confidants, or will they be re-written (by default or after the end of the game) so that Mementos won't be necessary for them? Section 3: This details the additions to the overworld and Metaverse. School Life
The aquarium is confirmed to be a date spot (which is why we only see Joker with one other person there as opposed to a larger group at the darts/ pool place). There's also another amusement park here where he's seen with the twins, which also confirms...
Edit 18: MysticDistance pointed out that this selfie is taken from the buffet the founding members of the Thieves attend after dealing with Kamoshida. The table and outfits match and everyone's even sitting in the same positions they are in that scene, so I'm strongly inclined to agree!
Some enemies will now appear with a purple aura (similar to those that go berserk) and will be stronger than ordinary ones. They appear as soon as the first Palace it seems, which is an interesting way to keep new and old players on their toes.
Edit 3: Persona Central's translation states that the red light is part of the alarms going off, though what this means is still a mystery.
Edit 8: Since Goro seems to be sticking around, the alarm could be him joining as a fellow resident of the Room. Maybe even Kasumi (too), as suggested by some of you!
Edit 27: Remember how everyone gets limited access to the Wild Card because the P3 and P4 Heroes are in close proximity in PQ? What if everyone gets the Wild Card here for the same reason, wouldn't that be an amazing late-game boost for everyone, add a ton more complexity and nuance to team-building and give you a way to keep your favourite characters on your team? And what if having Kasumi around (Wild Card or not) means Joker and Goro keep their full potential instead of losing it like in PQ? What if having Kasumi around gives the three of them (or even the whole team) even more benefits, like a new evolution to their base Personas? I keep forgetting to add this one...
P.S. It'd also be interesting to spend the new semester in the Velvet Room with the door unlocked too. Maybe we'll be able to explore it and see the dungeons where everyone else gets imprisoned - if not even more? (Speaking of, while Goro may be arrested and feel like he deserves it to boot, will Kasumi? She's a mysterious one after all!)
There are new Network functionalities added, though what they are isn't explained. You can warp immediately to the hideout though, I'm looking forward to that! (Even if it isn't available in this particular screenshot...) Edit 18: Is the option unavailable because there's no Palace to infiltrate? If so, what about Mementos? Or is the Metaverse unavailable for story reasons (as it sometimes was in the core game)? But why so early on - is the reason related to the new story? By the way, I think it's safe to assume the Circle and X options will be swapped in the Western release - Japan often uses Circle for "Yes" and X for "No" in menus and worldwide releases almost always swap these around (e.g. in the base Persona 5 as well as in other games like Nier:Automata).
Shoji Meguro and Lyn have done new work for the game, with the latter also singing new opening, ending and battle songs. Maybe we'll get a battle theme on the level of Rivers in the Desert!
The game will be PS4 Pro enabled, meaning better graphics on that system. Also, the game is PS4 exclusive. Hopefully P5S will throw a bone to our Switch brethren!
--- Edit 1: Thanks to the screenshot in this thread (thank you, u/ZuskatoIsR3D) we can see Kasumi's stats in relation to everyone else's. Her numbers are lower than the other three, though this could just mean she recently joined the group and needs to catch up, but her SP is less than half her HP. This could mean either:
She's a melee/ gun-fighter. The latter would be interesting since we don't have one of those in the base roster (save Haru, but she's also the Psy character of the group so chances are you'll specialise her in one or the other field).
She's P4G!Naoto levels of OP and the low SP count is to mitigate that.
She's badly optimised OR that this is simply an early build of the game :P
The next batch on information will come on May 9th. However, there's also a talk show tomorrow with Joker's VA that was supposed to give P5R info, which makes me think tomorrow will just have a recap of today's stuff (along with info of an upgrade deal for existing owners, I hope). Persona 5 Royal releases on Halloween in Japan and 2020 in the West (the English trailer also confirms the Western name drops the "The" in the Japanese title as many suspected, following P4G's example). 'til then, enjoy! I hope you found this useful! Edit 4: Theories (marked with "(*X)" above):
It's possible that the meeting between Kasumi, Ren and Akechi is where we hear the dialogue from last month's trailer ("What do you think of the Phantom Thieves?") After all, them meeting at all means she isn't restricted to only meeting him at the TV station, and this gives her more time to form an opinion on how they work - at least until finding her way into the metaverse and seeing what they do and why.
u/TheReaperCreeper had a much better suggestion than me: what if Akechi is the one who turns himself in for Ren's sake? As another user of the Metaverse he can also answer questions about it to get Shido sentenced, while also paying for his own crimes. Better still, he could claim to be the leader of the Thieves to keep the law off everyone else's backs, thus getting to redeem himself while also being punished for the things he did. Thanks, Reaper!
I was going to say Kasumi may only be important because she was in the right place at the right time, but this certainly hints at a more supernatural cause if true.
u/hypercombofinish suggested Kasumi's Persona could be Dorothée, and since her outfit shares so many similarities to Joker's I think this is highly likely. For those who don't know, Dorothée is the lead character of the novel The Secret Tomb, the only Arsène Lupin book in which Arsène himself doesn't appear. Instead the plot is about Dorothée solving one of his "four fabulous secrets". This could be highly fitting for someone initially disagrees with the Thieves before becoming one herself and would also tie her into Joker's "mythology" the same way Marie and her backstory tied into Izanagi's (and thus Yu) - assuming Kasumi is the Aeon Arcana and not a Fool or Jester or something completely different, of course.
The trailer as a whole has a small narrative running about Kasumi trying to dissuade the Thieves from their work, while Morgana tells her they won't be swayed by the danger or not getting results. This provides some early insight into her character, but maybe she eventually goes off the deep end and tries to control everything as a way of keeping everyone safe? Morgana telling her that "granting everyone's dreams is bad" and her saying she "took everyone's dreams" is also quite interesting. Maybe Wakaba and human!Morgana are just illusions? I plan on making a full post about the translated trailer tomorrow, but this is just something to sleep on until then.
--- (Just search for "Edit X" to see what each change entailed. Check the time stamp to see if I added anything you missed or want to correct!) Edit 1: Just added a few tweaks based on stuff I've seen elsewhere on the sub and stuff I forgot to add the first time. P.S. ...am I the only one who thinks Kasumi looks better in her school uniform? Anyone? Maybe because I like clothed people and the pose shows her off better? Edit 2: Amended the descriptions of Kasumi's weapons. Edit 3: Added a detail I overlooked the first time and clarifications from Persona Central's article. (Edit made at 16:53 UTC.) Edit 4: Added translations for the new boy and a theory section, 17:31 UTC. Edit 5: Added more translations, a correction about Joker's grappling hook and a new theory! 21:47 UTC. Edit 5.5: Added a quick note I forgot to under the "mysterious boy's" section. 21:54 UTC. Edit 6: Another edit, another translation! 22:22 UTC. Edit 7: Added information from the translated trailer and u/quitethewaysaway's observation. 22:50 UTC. Edit 7.5: Edited theory 5, 22:53 UTC. 25th April Edit 8: I wrote another post about the translated trailer and added some new speculation there including possible Gnostic influences! Also I added a possible explanation for the alarms ringing in the Velvet Room. 9:40 (am) UTC. Edit 9: This has nothing to do with Persona 5 Royal, but I wrote a post for P5S too! It's nowhere near as detailed as this one (since we have nowhere near as much info), but I hope you find it worth reading nonetheless! 14:39 UTC. Edit 10: Added a shower thought inspired by Kasumi's cosplayer. 16:19 UTC. Edit 11: Added a detail about Futaba's AOA that I noticed on rewatching the trailer. 18:14 UTC. Edit 12: Finally managed to snag a picture of the above, and also added a scene from the trailer I didn't think worth mentioning before but have since changed my mind on. 21:13 UTC. 27th April Edit 13: Added a new observations from the trailer. 08:35 UTC (am). Edit 14: Added more info about a screenshot. 13:05 UTC. Edit 15: Added some info from Twitter. I wish I knew of MysticDistance's work sooner! 13:54 UTC. Edit 16: Added some observations from the trailer. 20:15 UTC. Edit 17: Added a screenshot of the mystery figure on the TV screen. 20:47 UTC. 28th April Edit 18: Added more details from Twitter, some speculation and a feature about the cutscenes I keep forgetting to add! 10:09 UTC. Edit 19: Added speculation about when Kasumi joins the Thieves as well as a theory on Okumura's Palace. 14:05 UTC. Edit 20: Added some speculation and further observations. 16:52 UTC. UPDATES: This post is now too long to add to, so further updates will be added in the comments (along with text from here to show where the new details fit in. Edit 21: Can be found here. 22:17 UTC. (Edit 21.5: Added a link to the magazine article and boldened the links to the trailer and site. 22:25 UTC). 29th April Edit 22: Can be found here and contains some further speculation! 19:13 UTC. Edit 23: Can be found here and details Kasumi's animations and possible symbolism of her stats/ potential playstyle. 19:36 UTC. Edit 24: More speculation! 20:03 UTC. Edit 25! 21:32 UTC. 30th April Edit 26! 20:12 UTC. (Edit 26.5: Added the above date and italicised it and the 29th for better clarity. 21:13 UTC.) Edit 27: Added something I've been forgetting to add ever since adding the speculation of Goro (and Kasumi) joining Joker as "inmates," followed by some shower thoughts! 21:48 UTC. Edit 28! A big one if I say so myself, about Kasumi's theorised code name, "Swan". Now I really hope we were right! 22:06 UTC. 4th May Edit 29, 30 and 31: I was able to cover a lot over the past few days, including an analysis of Kasumi's character and name so far and translations for everything on the trailer and website! 16:49 UTC. Edit 32: A new thought and an old thought. 23:00 UTC. 5th May Edit 33: A thought regarding the narrative impact of the similarities between Kasumi and Joker's outfits. 10:01 UTC. Edit 34: Wrote an analysis of the main song, Colors Flying High, and added some suggestions for the origins and implications of Kasumi's powers! 15:14 UTC. 6th May Edit 35: More theories based on suggestions from the comments! 14:16 UTC. Edit 36: New theories from the comments and something I keep forgetting to mention. 14:43 UTC. Edit 37+ listed here!
Last Updated: Feb 24 Map: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1L-UaowXGzmHHw35AOuZwiDn_iiUODm09&usp=sharing I put together a map of confirmed public parking near the Dome, as well as some information on pricing (though I cannot guarantee these prices, parking companies are really bad about publishing event prices). The map is color coded, with surface lots in blue, garages in purple, free parking (see below) in green, confirmed tailgates in black, and lots to avoid in red. The map also has 18 Metrolink Park & Ride Lots, all of which are free, and my top picks are in yellow (see below). Be sure to leave your comments about, getting to and from the Dome, parking, tailgating, or anything of the sort, and well be sure to add it to the map and the thread. Would love to try and get some accurate parking prices to save BattleHawks fans some green, and find out where everyone is going to be tailgating. Gates at the Dome will open 90 minutes before kickoff. Check the BattleHawks bag policy: https://www.xfl.com/tickets/xfl-clear-bag-policy Official BattleHawks Pre-Paid Parking link: https://www.stlouisparking.com/parking-reservations/ Tailgating Facebook Groups Last time I asked, this lot is SOLD OUT It looks like there's one group in particular that has organized a big tailgate. STL BattleHawks Tailgate will be having a tailgate before each home game, hosted by Missouri Bar and Grill. The tailgate will take place in the lot at Convention and N. Tucker. Their page makes it sound like they are selling 'Season Passes' to the lot for $70, and any remaining ones for $20 a game, call the bar to purchase one: 314-202-8791. The whole 'hosted by Missouri Bar and Grill' is a bit unorthodox but sounds fun, they say they'll have shots girls, a 50/50 raffle, and a brunch buffet before the tailgate. I have my pass for the home opener. Set up is very nice, all grilling is okay, there's a guy bringing kegs, it should be a fun time. If it's anything like a Chiefs tailgate, you should be able to trade a few beers or a few bucks for a brat. Official Pre-Game Tailgate Party at Ballpark Village and in Baer Plaza "Join us for a tailgate party in the Ballpark Village located right outside St. Louis Cardinals Stadium. The tailgate party begins 3 hours before kick-off and includes fun for the whole family, including drink specials, music, and convenient access to the St. Louis BattleHawks pro shop for all of your gameday gear. You must have a valid game ticket to attend." The BattleHawks will have an official Pre-Game event at Ballpark Village, starting 3 hours before kickoff and ending 1 hour before kickoff. This is a ticketed event, BPV is selling tickets for $20, which comes with drink specials, a nacho bar, parking at BPV, and a shuttle ride to and from the game. The BattleHawks site implies that you can get into this event with a normal BattleHawks ticket, but it's not very clear if this is the case. This is a +21 event during the ticketed event, but actually watching the game at BPV is all ages. Parking at BPV, without a ticket for this event, is free for 3 hours with a validation. It also looks like the team is hosting some sort of events in Baer Plaza, which is next to the Dome, between Broadway and 4th Street. I can't seem to find any info on this besides a single tweet. Taking Metrolink to the Dome Using the Metrolink to get to the game is a good option for anyone who doesn't want to struggle with parking downtown, and the ensuing traffic after the game. The Convention Center Metrolink station is only 800 feet from the closest entrance to the Dome, with escalators and elevators. The Metrolink may be a smidge crowded, especially immediately after the game, but this it the absolute safest time to use it (though I will argue crime on the Metrolink is a bit exaggerated). Be sure to double-check which train you are getting on, as the Red & Blue lines overlap Downtown, and getting on the right train the first time instead of transferring at Forest Park is definitely preferable. Tickets are $2.50 each way, be sure to validate your ticket when you get to the platform. The map has 18 Park & Ride lots at Metrolink stations, all of which are free, and I've highlighted 3 stations in yellow as the most useful.
Brentwood I-64: From 40, exit at Brentwood Blvd and go straight towards Hanley Rd, turn right on Hanley, and make the very next right. From 170, exit at Eager Rd and turn left on Eager, then turn right when you pass over the Metrolink station. Take an Eastbound train towards Fairview Heights, and get off at Convention Center. On the way back be sure enter the Convention Center station on the north side of Washington Ave, and take the Westbound Blue Line Train towards Shrewsbury I-44.
Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44: From 44, exit at Murdoch Ave and go straight towards towards Murdoch Ave, turn left on Murdoch, turn right on Lansdowne Ave, and immediately turn left into the lot. Take an Eastbound train towards Fairview Heights, and get off at Convention Center. On the way back be sure enter the Convention Center station on the north side of Washington Ave, and take the Westbound Blue Line Train towards Shrewsbury I-44.
North Hanley: From 70, exit at Hanley Rd and turn right on Hanley, make the very next left, and then turn left again. Take an Eastbound train towards Shiloh-Scott, and get off at Convention Center. On the way back be sure enter the Convention Center station on the north side of Washington Ave, and take the Westbound Red Line Train towards Lambert Airport.
Parking for Free at the Casino Probably the best option for parking at the Dome is to park at Lumiere Casino, as Trop Advantage Cardholders can park here for free, even for events. Getting a Trop Advantage Card is very simple, just go into the casino, go to the customer service desk, and ask to get a rewards card. Take this opportunity to confirm with the staff about the parking validation situation. Last time I parked here I was told I simply had to show the attendant my card, no need to validate anything inside the casino, but this may have changed. Worst case scenario, you may have to use your card at a slot machine once to get your parking validated. To get to the Dome, there is a tunnel that takes you from inside the Casino to the other side of 44. From the tunnel exit to the closest entrance to the Dome is less than 300 feet, perfect for cold or wet game days. I can't confirm this, but I've heard that in the Rams days, the parking attendant did not seem to mind people tailgating the surface lot, but this policy may have changed since then. Lots to Avoid
The parking lot for the HoteLumiere on 1st St is for hotel guests only, not for casino parking. Don't park here, you'll get towed.
I've also come across the idea of organizing a formalized Team Fan Club, similar to ones organized in Europe for their Soccer teams. The main purpose of this club would be to lease a parking lot for game-day and use the space for tailgating. Club members would pay an annual fee, which would secure the lease on the parking lot, and in exchange would have free use of the parking lot on game-days. Any extra spots could be sold day of game. An added benefit would be the 'Private Property' nature of the parking lot, which would legally allow us to properly tailgate, with legal drinking and grilling. There are a few properties near the Dome that could likely be leased at a reasonable cost.
Fall of Cleveland 5 - Uni the Unicorn pt2 (2/2) by Giant Neckbeard
Link to part 1 You're a Dirty-Grey Earth Fluffy with an even dirtier Black mane and tail, walking as fast as you can to the north, part of a massive Herd that stretches as far back as you can see and beyond. Back when you were part of your Original Herd, you were called Dirt, because no matter what you did or how many times you jumped in the Water Holes, your Fluff seemed to attract dirt all on it's own. Now you're just 'Fwuffie', like everyone else. Across the highway is another, equally massive Herd, full of Meanie Fluffies who say that Uni loves them more. You'd go over and give them owies, but the Desert Fluffies know that Biggest Meanest Monsters come roaring down the highway frequently, so it's best to conserve your strength for the day when the Meanie Herd is being incredibly Mean. As a Desert Fluffy, you know the surrounding regions quite well, but you've never had an adventure like this before Follow the Black Hard Thing that Hoomins call the 'Highway', always follow it, never leave to follow down the smaller Black Hard Things, because they do not go 'North'. Find the Water Holes and have to stop Fluffies from pushing each other in. Have to force them to wait for their turn, and then have to make those who have had their fill of water keep moving. And with so many Fluffies, thousands of them, it's hard to make them stop fighting. The last water-hole, there was barely any water for the last few Fluffies, just very dirty water that they cried over, but drank anyways, because they were so hot and thirsty. These Cee-Tee Fluffies are real pains in your Poopie Place. They never work together like your Herd used to. And there's barely enough food for everyone now. Have to beat the Fluffies who try to eat everything, they are supposed to only have a mouthful of something and move on, so those behind them can eat too. You have had to beat a lot of Fluffies to get them to understand that if they eat all the nummies, then their friends behind them will have none. Then you had to keep driving them on when they tried to turn back and 'Gif Sowwy Huggies!' to their 'Fwiends'. Have to stay on your side of the road too, as there's a Mean Herd just as big on the other side, eating all the shrubs and grass and shouting that they love Uni more than you do. Want to fight the Mean Herd to prove you love Uni the most, but can't, Fluffies need to keep moving and go 'North' as fast as they can, and if you waste time fighting, then Uni might pick somebody else as her One True Special Friend. Fluffies whimper, some cry about being hot, about their hooves hurting, about wanting nummies, but nobody stops. Uni is waiting, at a magical place... Fluffies walk till it's too hot, then try to find shade to wait out the hottest part of the day. Some of the Herd's Cee-Tee Stallions say they have been walking for many turnings of the Sun, from a place full of Hoomins and Fluffies and Grass and Water, and it makes your head spin that they would abandon such a paradise. There's nothing out here but the blistering hot sun, the cruel, burning sand and small shrubs and patches of hard, bitter grass. And Snake-Munsta and Bug-Munstas and... well, there's a lot of Munstas. Until She came along, you despaired of ever finding a way out of this hellhole. Uni... just remembering her makes your heart swell with longing, and you find the strength to push onwards just a little bit more. "Too wamm!" A Stallion near the front of the Herd shouts. He's right, the Sun is climbing so high it's nearly overhead Fluffies walk down into the bad-lands, and here is where you and you can help these 'Cee-Tee' Fluffies find shelter. It's hard, there's more Fluffies than you can count, stretching back farther than you can see, but you try. Fluffy Mammas and Foals get the best shade, because they are the most vulnerable, then Mares, then Stallions. Everyone is so hot, fluff is bad when Fluffies get this hot, so everyone pants through their mouths to try and make the 'Wamm Bad Feww' to leave their bodies. Fluffies are warned about the Bug-Munstas and the Snake-Munstas, but some don't understand, or are too mean, and push into the rocks, looking for shelter. Hear them scream as the Munstas sting them. Fluffies flop about, howling and pooping and shrieking as the Bad Bites make them spit boo-boo juices and turn ugly colors. Fluffies cram in under shrubs, behind tall rocks, anywhere there is shade, and pant, flicking their tails and twitching their ears to try and make the Fly-Not-Friends who plague them go away. On the other side of the road, the Other Fluffies are shouting in dismay, apparently several of their Herd tried to take shelter behind a Prickly Green Plant, and got bad owies from the thin needles that cover it. Good. Don't like that Herd that is leading that mob of Cee-Tee Fluffies. Made it impossible for you to be with Uni. Were naughty, so Uni's Hoomins pulled you all away. You sigh and close your eyes, remembering how soft her fluff felt against your body, as the sun climbs higher into the sky, and the shade the Fluffies hide under shrinks "Yuu weft dem awone! Wun away to chase Uni! Why yuu weave yuu Hewd to chase Uni! Bad Fwuffies! Hewds wuv yuu, an' yuu wun away!" Whimper and try to forget the memory of Uni being so very angry with you. It's not your fault! She just... you think of Uni, and then your Mares, but there's just no comparison at all. Your Mares were small and scrawny and dirty, their ears ragged, their fluff full of dust and burrs. Touching Uni was like... you don't know the words to describe it. It was like every good thing you ever wanted, and so many good things you never knew existed, all at once. Soft, clean, warm, pretty, good feels, nice smells You sigh and try to block out the sounds of Fluffy Ponies complaining loudly, pushing and shoving each other as the shade shrinks and shrinks, forcing the hot, unhappy Fluffies ever closer together. But Uni is going 'North'. And you will follow her to the ends of the Land, you said so. You promised. ********************************************************************* Well. Las Vegas...certainly more than you ever expected. Spent a week and a half here, doing 'adverts' for various businesses that think appealing to Fluffy Pony Owners is a sound business decision. Uni's getting the work out of her life here. Fluffies are brought out to meet her by their owners, get hugs, and 'help' with the adverts. Done everything from garages trying to sell fuel and repairs to specialty stores selling 'all natural' Fluffy Chow and even a Fluffy Pimp. Seriously? Don't think that one is going to see air-time. The three mares were quite beautiful and were wearing makeup, with ribbons tied through their manes. "How much yuu chawge?" They asked you, scowling at 'Uni'. That was surprising. Uni was designed to be adorable by Fluffy Pony standards, until you twigged that they saw Uni as a 'rival' for business. Only reason they weren't attacking was your size, otherwise you're sure that 'Uni' would have been showered with 'Sowwy Poopies!' Regardless, you're a professional, do the shoot, then BUG THE HELL OUTTA THERE. Prosti-Fluffies shouting at Pip and Eddy they can 'haf one on da howse!' Nononononono.... Second-to-last Advert Shoot is in a Casino. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Well at least there'll be AC. Feel like a steamed dumpling at this stage. Whoever came up with the concept of a Latex Suit never worked in a desert, you're sure. 'Uni' is given some chips, 'plays' some of the games and 'wins' bowls of Spaghetti. Big, heaped bowls of Spaghetti. Oh God. ********************************************************************* Set six weeks later Be Natasha Goodaluv, again, and watch with bemusement as Eddy and Pip go out to meet the Fluffy Ponies and the Cows. Some wit decided to stuff a Feral herd with Bovine Hormones, and started to bottle Fluffy Pony Milk. Without the addition of specific foods, the milk has a tendency to have a very starchy taste, but with all the sweet, well-watered grass and high-sucrose fodder the Farmer feeds them, the milk is almost sickeningly sugary. Had a glass, can barely stand still. No wonder the little fluff-balls are so hyperactive if this is what they grow up on. Sammy has bought twelve bottles of the damn stuff. Swears it'll be better for everyone than the redbull they're going through. Might be healthier, but for fuck's sake, you feel like you're vibrating right now from the sugar-high. Oh God, the Mares in the fields have finally noticed Eddy and Pip are 'Stallions'. This ought to be good. Eddy is 'interviewing' the Mares, while Pip is having a natter with the Farmer who originally came up with the concept of Bottled Fluffy Milk, a scattering of Fillies and young Mares following in his wake and giggling loudly. In the fields outside the "Dairy Farmers of America" buildings, taking a well-earned break from the Uni-Suit as the madness starts. "Yuu big Fwuffy! Yuu haf Hewd?" The 'Smarty Friend' of this all-female Herd asks loudly, grinning at Eddy. Well, leering, but still... "Eddy haf Hewd wit' Wittle Brudda Pip and Wittle Sistah Uni." Eddy rumbles at the Mares, who all squeak and squeal in delight. Seriously, did they have to build the suit so Eddy sounded like that? You understand the marketing pitch, to make Eddy sound as big and authoritative as possible to make him popular with Earth Fluffy Ponies, but this is just ridiculous. "Wan join mah Hewd?" The Smarty Mare shouts eagerly, tail lifted into the air and waving back and forth. If you were closer, you'd bet you could smell the hormones flooding off her right now. Combination of a lack of males, rich food, constant hormone injections to make her produce milk all the time, and that has to be one ripe little Fluffy out there trying to be sexy as all hell. "For the record, if you two fuckers pop the suit's boner out there, I WILL beat you to death with your own fucking limbs." You hear the Director mutter into his head-set, and stifle the urge to giggle. "An yuu is nice Hoomin who gif miwk to Fwuffies at home?" Pip squeaks to the Farmer, who grins and nods, obviously only just resisting the urge to burst out laughing. Yes, the whole situation is absurd, just deal with it. "Aaaaah, yep, I started bottling Fluffy Ponies milk a few years ago when they wandered onto my property, thought there might be a market." The aging, balding man snorts and grins as he watches 'Eddy' desperately trying to outrun the Mares, who had all latched on to his belly fluff, squirming and wriggling. "WOOOOOOO!" You hear one Mare squeal in delight. Shit. SWAG has been launched... Director is making choking noises, and you swear you can hear the coffee mug in his hands cracking as his knuckles turn white. "Oh my God... well, uh, focusing on the milk again..." The Farmer makes an half-muffled snort of laughter as Pip and he walk away from the train-wreck of Eddy and the Mares. "The milk is bottled and treated on my farm, filled with all the good things Fluffy Ponies need, and then sold all over the country. There's Fluffy Milk for Foals, Fluffy Milk for Adults, Fluffy Milk for the Elderly Fluffies. Hell, I even pasteurize some for people too." "Yaaaaay! Nice Hoomin get Fwuffie Miwk fo' evewy Fwuffie an' dere Mummies an' Daddies!" Pip 'cheers', dancing from hoof to hoof, his wings flapping 'eagerly'. The Mares who followed pip also start dancing, delighted. "Yuu is Guud Fwuffies who make Miwk fo' otha Fwuffies!" Pip tells them, 'smiling' at them. "Yuu is wunnerful! Yuu is Best Fwuffies!" Mare cling to Pip's fluff and shout they love him, that they think he's 'wunnerful' too. Eddy has fallen over with much cursing, sending Fluffy Ponies flying. They rushed over to ask if he was okay, then saw the SWAG just lying there. Fluffy Mares all crowd around, rubbing their back-ends on the exposed shaft, giggling and cooing, even as their Smarty Friend tries to back into the damn thing. "Nnnnnngh! So Big! Fwuffy gun' haf Best Speshaw Huggies!" She shouts loudly, grinding back as hard as she can, her face contorting hilariously as she tries to push all 2 feet of flanged latex horse wang into her tiny body. That does it. Everyone bursts into laughter or starts wolf-whistling. "Oh for the love of... FROM THE TOP!" The Director yells, rubbing at his temples. Time till Spaghetti Land in Cleveland, Ohi opens ... 6 weeks ********************************************************************* 4 Weeks till Spaghetti Land in Cleveland, Ohio opens. Kansas City. By All The Gods, so many adverts. Uni's getting more mileage than you thought possible. Much as you hate to admit it, the suit is incredible to hold up under this constant 'abuse' without the mechanisms failing. Doing a shoot at the St. Louis Arch, with the other two Suits. Redo of the 'Journey' song. Seems that Fluffies absolutely adore it. Apparently Las Vegas has had a surge of customers, with Fluffies in tow, and made a killing. Customers can either take their winnings or have free all-you-can-eat buffets for themselves and their Fluffy Ponies for a week. Naturally, people try to take the money, but the Fluffy ponies break down into tears, and the owners either boot the Fluffy, try to make it understand or give in to the guilt. The other thing that's surprising is there's close to a million Fluffy ponies following in your wake. Jesus enfing Christ. There's so many of them following the Freeway from Hollywood to Cleveland that satellites can pick them up. They're only just reaching Las Vegas now, according to the News Reports, a sprawling two-part Herd that shambles on morning and night, leaving a trail of weak or dead Fluffy Ponies in their wake. "We fowwowin' Uni!" One Fluffy Pony said on National Television, making the entire cast spit their coffee out in horror. "We fowwow Uni fow'evah! We wuv Uni!... I wuv Uni mowst dou...." Cue the Feral Fluffies going into a screaming free-for-all as the Stallions jumped on the Smarty Friend, shouting that they themselves 'wuved' Uni more than anyone! Any complaints to the show get funneled down the line to the your Mystery Asshole Boss. Hope the bastard's ears are melting off from the enraged Fluffy Pony Owners whose babies have run away to follow their Idol. And there's scores of abusers out there attacking the herds, but apparently there were so many that a couple of flat-bed trucks actually went out of control when their wheels locked up with Fluff, and tipped over, crushing their inhabitants, who got 'Owie-Fixin'-Hugs' to make it all better. And promptly suffocated under thousands of Fluffies trying to fix their 'boo-boos'. Karma at work, ladies and gentlemen. You thought to yourself as you watched the police pry the Fluffy ponies off the corpses. Las Vegas City Council apparently decided that it was a fantastic attention-getter, and has 'helped' the Fluffy Ponies by diverting them down the main 'strip' of road leading through town and blocking off the alleyways and side-streets. Show-Girls are holding signs saying "Uni went that way!" instead of working the tables, or under them. Lying bastards. They're just eager to see the Ferals leave, and possibly make their own Feral Fluffy Pony population disappear in the process. Fuck you can only imagine what the Ferals have had to go through ..... ********************************************************************* You hold up your son to the sky... and weep bitter, bitter tears. The tears wash down into your dirty fluff, leaving two clean trails on your cheeks as the foal remains cold and stiff, despite your attempts to warm it with the morning sun. The mare you had befriended on the way died, leaving you to look after the last of the babies you had given her one night when you couldn't stand the Hot-Naughty-Feels pulsing through you. Brandy died because the Mean Herd snuck across the road and ate all the nummies, marching all night long while your herd slept. Your herd kept following their side of the road, too afraid of the Munstas to cross the highway, too determined to stop and seek food further from the highway's edge. Three days without food, and barely any water, and eventually she was too weak to move. Babies had been without milk for two days when the first, your daughter Gust, fell off her Mother's back and wouldn't get up. You and Brandy cried over her body so much, then left the Herd to take her and put her under a bush, where she could rest. You both knew she was dead, but it made it easier to go on if you pretended she was just sleeping. Then your son Brambles began to fall ill, and you tried everything you could think of to make him better. Hugs, half-chewed grass, some sweet berries you found and brought back for him to suck on, nothing worked. Bandy kept on telling you she was sorry, she was a "Bad Fwuffy Mumma". Told her she was the "Best Fwuffy Mumma evah, it not her fault if Meanie Hewd steaw nummies." Brandy didn't move the next day, still and cold even with you hugging her through the night, your son snuggled between you both, wheezing in his sleep. Now, he's dead. He's dead. HE'S DEAD. You feel so hollow and empty inside as you bring his body down, staring at it and fighting the urge to break down and will yourself to join your family in death. You made a promise, not just to Uni, but to your mare and your babies that they would see Uni once again. Your heart breaks, being a Fluffy Daddy was so... so fulfilling! It made every day wonderful to be alive, to know your babies were waiting for you to play with them, teach them to be good Fluffies. You told them about Uni, the biggest, most beautiful (after their mumma) and most magical unicorn Fluffy who was leading Fluffies to a magical place. Fluffies who joined you from the Cee-Tees said it was 'Sketti Wand', a place of endless Spaghetti, where Fluffies could play all day with nice hoomins who loved them, ride on toys made just for Fluffies, even find homes for themselves with the nice hoomins. How the babies' eyes lit up when they heard that, how your mare sighed happily, all their hunger and pain forgotten for a few blissful moments. Now... you have but one child left. A small, pale brown fillie with a shockingly bright-red mane and tail. Brandy the Second. She's the only one that has managed to hold on to life, the only one that didn't fall sick from the lack of nummies, even though you can feel her ribs clearly when you give her huggies. She's sitting there, dry-eyed and staring at her brother, her face inscrutable. "Baybeh... we aww dat weft of famiwy." You whisper to her, placing your boy reverently down under a bush, tears still falling from your eyes. "Fwuffie know. Fwuffie miss Mumma, miss Sissy, Miss Brudda." She whispers back, closing her eyes and sighing, sounding so much older than her single week of life could possibly suggest. "Buh we goin', Daddy? We goin' to see Uni, yes?" Sigh and sob and laugh all at the same time, and let her climb up onto your back. "Yes, Baybeh, we gon' see Uni. Daddy pwomise, an' Mumma wan' hew baybehs see Uni too, pway with Uni and eats wots of Sketti." You whisper to her as you shuffle off to rejoin the Herd, leaving your son to 'Sleep' alongside his mother under a prickly bush that will keep the Munstas from hurting them further. As evening falls, you are all but falling over from weariness, but your daughter has had some nummies, where a nice hoomin had pulled up in a Fast Box Munsta and was distributing water and sweet nummies to the Fluffies. "You keep going, you brave little things." She said, her face all wrinkled, smiling down at you as she handed out buttered peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches, which the herd dutifully broke down into bite-sized pieces, ate their share, and shuffled on after hugging the nice hoomin's ankles. There's a lot of nice hoomins coming out now, saying they love Fluffy Ponies, want to see them make it to Sketti Wand. Without them, you'd be dead by now, you're sure. Some have Fluffies living with them in their Moving Safe Places, who cheer at you as well, saying they are going on ahead, and will be waiting for you at 'Sketti Wand'. It's later that evening when you find the first of the Mean Herd, broken and bleeding, screaming about "Bad hoomins who gif huwties!" They are quickly given Biggest Owies, and their bodies are rolled away from the road so that the Foals don't see them. They are evil fluffies who stole your nummies, and want to be special friends with Uni. You once wanted to be like that. To make Uni your Special Friend, and yours alone. Brandy changed that. Brandy filled your heart in ways that Uni never did. You still love Uni, but Brandy will always live in your heart. You want to find Uni still, but so that she can teach your daughter to be a Good Fluffy too. TO BE CONCLUDED.....
Here is how to make the most of a one-week Mediterranean cruise and see as much of Europe that one can possibly manage in one week. I planned our cruise to minimize any unpleasant surprises and yet leave room to be spontaneous and adventurous. This article is not about cruise ships and you do not have to be a fan of cruises as my trip was mostly on land other than the overnight cruising. I felt that at the age of 57, I had delayed Europe long enough and with my busy business schedule, the cruise was the only way to get a snapshot of three countries and six cities in 10 days total, plus two days for flying from and to Canada. My wife does not like cruises, and I was left to travel with Lucas, our seventeen-year-old! In August 2018, Lucas and I flew to Barcelona, Spain, the embarking port for the Norwegian, Epic cruise ship. It was our very first time on a cruise and our very first time to Europe except for England. I do not recommend August or July for this trip as it is high season for local tourism, and it is too hot to walk the cities (well too hot for me). However, if you have kids in school, then you understand that it must be summer, unless you choose to go without them. Our ship would mostly cruise at nighttime giving us a full day from 7 am to 6 pm in most cities. That was perfect for me because there is only so much staring at water I can enjoy, and spending time in a tiny casino or eating non-stop are not my kind of pastime. If you are a cruise fan, then Norwegian Epic is great. They have about 10 wonderful restaurants, a superbly well-organized huge buffet with great selection of international food, a nice water park on the upper deck, and even a youth club with games, music, and dance to keep your teens entertained. Every evening after our long city walk, Lucas and I enjoyed a nice meal after our shower and then watched a show or a musical performance before we hit the sack in our comfortable balcony room. I do not like closed spaces and a balcony room was well worth the small difference in price, even though we did not have much time to be on the balcony. Epic was also completely renovated in 2015, which meant it was clean and up to date on amenities. Always check the year the ship was build or was renovated before committing to a cruise. Our cruise had stops in these cities: 1- Barcelona, Spain - embarking a. visit Gothic centre, La Rambla, La Sagrada Familia church, Park Güell, 2- Naples,Italy a. Rented a car and drove to Sorrento (an hour drive) 3- Rome, Italy a. Took the train to the city centre and then the city tour-bus to Vatican City, San Angelo Castle, Piazza di Spagna – drove past Colosseum 4- Florence and Pisa tower, Italy – walking tour, site seeing 5- Cannes and Nice,France – walking tour, site seeing 6- Mallorca (Majorca), Spain - took a taxi to Palma Nova beach, swam and chilled What to pack? We traveled very light with one carryon and a backpack. The backpack was for our extra stuff and NOT for touring the city. I do not recommend walking with a backpack, even less in the summer. Other than the usual travel items, here are some essentials I had to buy. 1- Light and cool walking shoes that were comfortable for walking and cool for summer. I bought a pair of nice leather sandals with good support and solid straps for walking. Also packed a pair of dress shoes for evening dinner on the ship and exercise shoes that I never used! 2- Summer shirts. I ordered some European collared Linen shirts. They look nice, are cool, and comfortable. www.bensherman.com has a good selection of those if you live in Canada or USA. Pack lots of tees for less formal places. 3- A couple of dress pants (linen and or khaki) for the evening restaurant and shows and dress shorts for long walks. 4- Beach sandal and swimming trunk for the Beach in Mallorca which I ended up buying in Cannes 5- Your credit card, Euro currency, and travel documents of course. Leave them in the safety box in your room and only take what you need for the day. Barcelona, Spain: We arrived Barcelona three days ahead of schedule to experience one city for more than just a day. We stayed at the Boutique Hotel Violeta (http://violetaboutique.com/home/) in the centre of the city and only three blocks from the Plaza Catalunya. It was the best and most centric location in my opinion. I loved the hotel. Violeta was a small hotel that reminded me of my apartment in Buenos Aires. The hotel is in a residential apartment building where they had turned two floors into hotel rooms. The Gothic architecture offered us a giant completely renovated room with a very high ceiling. We had two queen size beds in our room, a sitting area and plenty of open space. The reception was extremely helpful with information, and being small, made check-in a breeze. Violeta Boutique also included a European coffee and pastry breakfast but if you wanted an American breakfast, there was a small cafe next door on the street level and plenty of other options within a three-block radius. Our three days in Barcelona coincided with the Fiesta de Gracia (thanksgiving!) which was a 20-minute bus ride from Plaza Catalunya. I had bought a 10-ride Metro-Bus pass (Credit card size) from the Metro (subway, underground) station at Catalunya. Fiesta de Gracia was in the Garcia neighborhood where all the streets were colourfully decorated by the residents and live bands played all night on the streets and restaurants had set outdoor patios. The music was free, the food was reasonably priced, and people were jolly. It was my second favourite part of our time in Barcelona and we went there two evenings. Barcelona Gothic city From the airport, we took a bus straight to Plaza Catalunya (Plaça de Catalunya) in 20 minutes and then walked three blocks to our hotel. I had the hotel directions Googled (searched) in advance. I am fluent in Spanish (the Argentine version) so taking public transit was natural for me. Although Barcelona is a destination for international tourism and most people in the industry seem to speak English. I bought a SIM card for my phone (which was unlocked in advance) at the airport for €30 from Vodafone (https://www.vodafone.com/) that gave me 10 Gig of mobile data covering most of Europe for up to a month. It did not include coverage on the cruise ship. La Rambla and the old Gothic city in Barcelona were 10 to 15-minute walk from our hotel or Plaza Catalunya. You want to spend half a day walking this area, watching the beautiful shops, the narrow streets of Gothic centre and try a street café or restaurant. La Sagrada Familia is a must see for its architecture alone. We took a bus there, but you must purchase tickets in advance if you plan to go inside on a specific day and skip the long lineup. This is another half-day venture unless you want to tour the outside which is fascinating enough. I found it amazing to see how much craft and detail was offered to decorate the exterior of the building. It is no wonder that the new extension brings a modern and plain contrast that just does not quite match the elegance and masterful craftsmanship of the old. https://preview.redd.it/vtg8evyjdv851.jpg?width=3024&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=777149d10c02a875134f6fab5d5ae73072cbf3b7 Park Guell is another 20-minute bus ride to the higher altitudes of Barcelona. It is a beautiful park with some very interesting structures left behind. It was a good half-day break from the city to relax and enjoy the nature. You can also see the entire city from the top. Restaurant can be pricey in the touristy Plaça de Catalunya area. I managed to venture a couple of blocks off the main streets and find some local small restaurants. We had a great satisfying meal at a fantastic price and mingled with the residents. I even found a little Italian owned pizza place! Of course, we also tried the more refined tapas restaurants. After all, we were tourists. Naples, Italy: The longest leg of our cruise was from Barcelona to Naples which took a full day at sea. That was perfect because it provided us the opportunity to navigate the ship and the amenities, learn the evening programs, browse the list of restaurants, and to start our reservations. I did not think that Naples had enough to interest me for the whole day and I hungered to see the Amalfi coast. Amalfi coast was too far for a day trip, so I decided that Sorrento and maybe Positano would be close enough. I rented a car from Hertz in advance which was a five-minute walk from the port. The car cost me about $150 Canadian, tax included! Luckily, I still remembered how to drive standard transmission (stick-shift). We made it to Sorrento on the scenic highway with no problem. Traffic did slow at some points giving the driver (me) an opportunity to enjoy the scenery. About 10 minutes before arriving, atop the hills on the narrow road that took us to Sorrento, I found a little space to park the car and breath-in the fresh view of Sorrento waterfront. We could see the sail boats floating on the Mediterranean blue water, and the colourful little houses built on the slope of the hill from the top all the way to the sea. The buildings were in so many colours as if the quaint Sorrento were architected by Michelangelo to be lived by DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. Sorrento from the road top Sorrento was so beautiful that we spent the entire day there. We parked the car in an underground parking across to Gran Hotel Europa Palace (www.europapalace.com) on the hilltop. We must have spend about 45 minutes roaming the exterior of the hotel, admiring the architecture and the impressive iron gate, and then spending time on the back patio taking a closer look at the colourful buildings on the hill rolling down to the water. There were stone walking paths from the houses to the water where a giant deck with seats and shades turned the sea into a giant public pool. Sorrento Hotel The ladies in reception were extremely helpful offering us information and allowing me to charge my mobile since I had forgotten my charger! According to one of them, the German war maps were still on the lobby walks behind the giant paintings at this fortress (now hotel). I wanted to go down to the waterfront for lunch. So, the nice lady called her friend, the owner of a restaurant on the waterfront, and they sent us a car at no charge and after lunch they drove us back. The ride to the water was through narrow winding streets of Sorrento. After lunch we took a walk along the harbour and watched the sail boats rock on calm waters. I would like to spend a week or more in Southern Italy some day. I forgot to mention that my cousin lives in Naples working on his PhD. He was our translator for the day. This was our first encounter in forty years (that is a sad tale that should not ruin this travel story). On the way back, we sat in a very nice café in Naples and had an amazing coffee and pastry before heading back to our ship. Italian pastry is the best, with my apology to mom and all the Persians. Sorrento harbour Rome, Italy: The port for Rome is in Civitavecchia, an hour drive from Rome. A tour purchased from the cruise would have been around $300 CDN per person. I like to think that I am adventurous and enjoy experimenting the local ways as much as I can. However, I understand that you may think that I am just cheap. I am fine with that. My son (Lucas) and I took a five-minute bus ride to the train station and paid €10 each to take the fast train to Rome. I love trains a lot more than buses. We could have ventured Rome with local transit; however, our time was limited and we could not afford any time asking for directions. If I recall accurately, the daily hop-on-hop-off city tour was about €20 per person. To visit Rome and only spend one day should be a crime but a snapshot to calm my itching curiosity was the deal I had taken. I would say that Rome and Vatican City would require at least a week. There are many ancient Basilicas other than St. Peter’s each offering a unique history and that alone is well worth a week for me. The bus passed by the Colosseum, check mark. We were heading to the Vatican City knowing well that we may not make it inside. After all, Vatical city is a day by itself. The bus dropped us a few blocks away in front of San Angelo Castle also known as Mausoleum of Hadrianhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castel_Sant%27Angelo. The castle was a tall cylinder-like giant stone building walled all around like a fortress. I thought we would take a quick tour of the place at €15 (it was free for minors “Lucas”). We ended up spending over two hours admiring the decorated walls and ceilings with painting that were full of stories, and the museum items there were placed in its numerous rooms. We climbed many rocky stairs all the way to the top of this tallest structure in Rome, ventured the narrow hallways and took some pictures on the roof. San Angelo Castle The entrance to Vatican City was a ten-minute walk. Before crossing the bridge over Tiber (Tevere) we sat on the patio of a river-side food booth to have a snack. We walked to Vatican City and spent an hour in St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) observing the architecture, the elegantly attired Guards, the crowd lining up and the shops that lure the tourist. We took the tour bus back to Piazza di Espagna. This was the cleanest, most modern, and prettiest part of the city that our eyes had seen in the past few hours. The bus left us on the upper escalation of the Piazza where I took some pictures before descending the steep long set of steps into the centre of the shops and restaurants. We walked for about an hour window shopping and then found a restaurant patio in a pedestrian intersection. It was a touristy area but still reasonably priced. We certainly could give ourselves this one treat before heading back to the train station for our hour and twenty-minute ride back. Piazza di Espagna Total cost of our Rome venture including transportation, admissions, and food (for two) was €150. Lunch was the biggest expense. ** Picture Florence and Pisa, Italy: Another restaurant and show evening aboard the Norwegian Epic, and we arrived in Florence (port of Livorno) early morning. Getting to Florence by public transit was too complicated. A car ride from port of Livorno to Florence was about 90 minutes and to Pisa around 30 minutes. I was lucky to find a private mini-van taxi (a brand new eight-seater Mercedes) that needed two more passengers to get going. At €50 per person to take us to Florence and then Pisa and back, it was a great deal. This deal could have been booked online in advance for €40. A lesson learned here. The other people sharing our ride were a family of four from Montreal, and a mother-son pair from Los Angles. Everyone was very reserved and quiet. Lucas and I sat in the front with the driver and I spend the entire trip learning from our friendly driver. Florence is beautiful and quaint. However, I thought I had enough architecture in Rome and did not feel like lining up for an hour to see another church. We took a walking tour of Florence and had a meal at small sandwich joint run by two very funny and entertaining ladies. They offered a great selection of artisanal sandwiches, but almost two years later now, I cannot remember what I ate. Pisa was another little town walled all around. I can imagine the great length the leaders had to go to protect people from attacks and we so often take our freedom for granted. Of course, we must protect ourselves from partisan politics and corporate lawyers, but that is easily manageable. At this point of the trip, I had enough sight seeing. I would have been good with a video of Pisa on YouTube. Here is a picture of the magnificent but defected marble structure. Florence Residents sunbathing in Florence Pisa Canes and Nice, France: Canes, France was physically the most beautiful city on this trip, in my opinion. It was manicured clean and peaceful. Canes did not have a port for the cruise ships, hence we had to anchor in the sea and take the emergency boats to the shore. The emergency boats were giant, and each held about 200 people. We had a short time here and we were tired. I should have taken a tour bus, but my sense of adventure (or cheapness) had us walking up the steep and narrow winding street and then back down to the city centre for a bite. I found a small sandwich shop to share a ham and cheese baguette and a couple of drinks with Lucas. In my broken French, I asked the young lady behind the counter if she could cut the baguette in half for us and she gave me a stern “Non”. I am not certain whether that was a lack of courtesy or I had crossed some religious or cultural boundaries. It was simple enough to split the baguette with me hand. We should have continued our tour of the city and stayed in Canes as I had advised our friends from Quebec. However, a sudden urge came over me to take the train to Nice. We did, and Nice’s downtown and beach area were beautiful to walk; however, the injustice I did to my own principals of travelling is unforgivable. The whole day was just too rushed and consuming. Canes, City Market Mallorca (Majorca) Spain: The trip from Canes to Mallorca was the second longest leg of the cruise. We arrived Mallorca around 1 pm giving us roughly five hours on the Island. After seven days of walking the cities in the heat of August, even the young Lucas was exhausted. The port in Mallorca was not walking distance to any interesting place and Lucas wished to spend the day at a beach. Great idea, I thought. I Googled the most scenic beaches nearby and Palma Nova was the second choice but the only feasible option due to our limited time. We had a brief line up for a taxi right at the port. There was a family of five from Peru from our cruise in front of us in the lineup and they could not all fit into one taxi. I invited the grandpa of the family to come with us since they were heading to the same beach. Grandpa was a good companion and an opportunity for me to learn about Peru. We agreed on a time for going back together and then split to our ventures. Palma Nova was perfect to spend a day. The beach had the right amount of crowd and was decorated by some rocky hills on one side for us to take a walk in between swims. The water was perfectly tempered, calm, and clear blue. There were no high rises nor big tourist hotels on this beach and plenty of restaurants and shops. For lunch we crossed the street on the beach to a patio and I shared a nice pizza and drinks for €12. We paid €15 for the bamboo umbrella and two chairs to have our spot on the beach and about €35 total for the taxi ride back and forth. That brings our total to €62 for a beautiful relaxing day in Majorca. Palma Nova beach, Mallorca I would like to spend a week in Mallorca. There are many scenic quaint towns and beautiful beaches to enjoy. If you are interested to know more, you can search for Palma, Sóller, Valldemossa, and Pollença. All these are on the west side of the island and within an hour drive from Palma. I would stay in Palma and make day trips to each of these towns. If you are a tennis fan, then you will probably add Rafael Nadal’s academy (https://www.rafanadalacademy.com/en) to the list, which is about an hour drive east of Palma. Palma Nova beach, Majorca Our last night on the cruise was concluded by a beautiful three course meal and listening to a live band on the middle deck’s lobby. There was a talented singer among the passengers and a few great dancers on board who joined the performance. It was a great way to end the cruise. We arrived Barcelona early morning, well rested, with a fresh shower and a full tummy. We found a taxi and headed straight to the airport to catch our noon flight back to Toronto without rush. I suppose my project management trainings mixed with my entrepreneurial nature, made a perfect schedule for the trip. You can check out www.pmi.org if you are interested in formalizing your skills for time and budget management.
Addicted to Addiction Unemployed, 29 years old, laying in the back seat of a borrowed car littered with fast food bags and cups in the parking lot of a casino you hit your ATM withdrawal limit for three days in a row, most everyone thinks you are working to become successful because that is what you told them, and you are staring at a pack of cigarettes you just bought. You are faced with the realization that you are not a bad person. To you, you’re the hero. But the reality is that you are addicted to addiction. Whether it be physical with cigarettes, food, or pain or mental with gambling, video games, or lying, you love the feeling of feeling addicted. It’s freeing in the most binding sense. If you are reading this, I’m sorry. This is mainly a letter to myself to deal with something that I’m not even sure is a real illness, but if you want to wire transfer me some money to sit at the Let It Ride table, I wouldn’t oppose it. I can’t. Honestly, I’m not sure if I want to. I made up this little world in my head where money doesn’t matter, and it’s not the current world my body lives in. It is a struggle between the outside and inside world that manifests itself into being hedonistic in whatever pleasure seeking situation comes out with no regard for my mental or physical well being. I prefer the world in my head. I don’t think I’m taking a big leap to say that everyone has their own little world. It’s a blessing and a curse that we all have as humans. We can think beyond what is in front of us, and it sucks. It causes unneeded levels of stress, social anxiety, and destructive tendencies. However, it’s not all bad. It gives you a sense of being free in the most binding way possible. To be completely entranced by the end of a cigarette, or the kill streaks awarded after a good run of game play, or the chiming of the bells alerting you that you just won a whopping $.80 on your $10 bet, gives you the feeling that in that moment, you are winning. And sometimes that is all it takes to be able to keep moving on in life. To feel like you are worth having around, and, even worse, an actual credit to the society that so many of our kin have worked towards to make it better and freeing. But fear not because that free-ness is a curse. With the ability to live free and have a minuscule fraction of the responsibility the founders of our modern day society, we are able to use that beautiful, bitch of a brain we all have. You ever wonder why it seems that some of the dumbest people you know are the happiest? I doubt the point I was trying to make at the beginning of this article made it to the end. Probably because as I was writing this I was addicted to the writing. It didn’t matter of the sentence structures made sense, or if the thoughts flowed. No, the only thing that mattered was the feeling I had from putting words onto this Google Doc. I became addicted to it, but that moment has passed. So. Onward to find my new addiction! I hear that there is a Sushi Buffet down the street. Keep me in your prayers.
Trip Report: Honeymoon to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Seoul (875k pt spend)
My wife and I just returned from our honeymoon to Japan and Korea. We booked all travel accommodations using points to book a luxury vacation to Japan and Korea! Overall, we used a total of 875,000 points. I would have loved to make it a "million point vacation", but I couldn't find a way to spend our AA or MR points to add extra value :). Since this is the AwardTravel subreddit, most of this trip report will focus on the travel accommodations booked with points, but I'll still include a short description of other activities we enjoyed since I know there's a lot of other travelers looking for an opportunity to visit Japan and Korea.
The Flight - Korean Air First Class
Our travel began with a first-class flight on Korean Air leaving from IAD. Normally, KAL first-class passengers would be allowed access to the AirFrance/KLM lounge. Unfortunately, this lounge is currently closed for renovation so we were instead directed to the Virgin Atlantic lounge (although it looks like AirFrance and KLM passengers get to use the Etihad lounge). This lounge was nothing exciting. We were there for breakfast, and although they did have some hot options, the food was pretty bad. I tried a small bite of everything, but the only food there that I enjoyed was an apple. On the bright side, they did have cold beer, wine, and a small selection of hard liquor as well as a nice view of the tarmac and plenty of comfortable seating. This was our first time travelling anything other than coach/economy, so both of us were very excited to see if first class was everything it's chocked up to be. Compared to every other flight I've had, this flight was unbelievably enjoyable. I was worried that 14 hours of flight time would be uncomfortable regardless of which class we were flying, but by the end of the flight I was disappointed we had to deplane. Korean Air uses the Boeing 777-300ER for the IAD-ICN flight, which features the new-ish Kosmo Suites 2.0. These first-class suites are huge. They have plenty of storage compartments, a USB charging port in the in-flight entertainment console, and an international-compatible AC outlet on the floor. As most reviews of Korean Air flights say, the in-flight entertainment is pretty lacking. Luckily I had the first 7 seasons of Game of Thrones downloaded to my laptop which I happily watched with the noise-cancelling Bose headphones they provide. I think what I was most surprised with was how many flight attendants they seemed to have devoted completely to first-class guests. It seemed like they had 1 flight attendant for every two passengers, but maybe some of them sneaked away to serve business/coach when I wasn't looking. Regardless, I was very impressed with how briskly I was tended to each time I pressed the call button. The food service was great considering we were eating 40,000 ft in the sky. As soon as we left the ground, our flight attendant showed us the drink menu and took both meal orders ("dinner" as the first meal, and "lunch" as the second). Nether my wife nor I drink, but my uncultured palette thought the champagne tasted great. The meal service started with an amuse bouche of cream-cheese stuffed tomato and mushroom, followed by a serving of caviar with traditional accompaniments. For my first meal I chose Korean Air's famous Bibimbap served with soup, banchan, and a side of bulgogi. For how simple this meal looks, it was excellent - especially the bulgogi. For dessert, they served very good fresh fruit, cheese, and crackers followed by an unremarkable chocolate pound cake. After watching a few more episodes of Game of Thrones, my flight attendant asked if I would like my bed made. She grabbed a mattress topper and a nice comfy blanket, fully reclined my seat, and made my bed into what felt like a normal twin-size bed. I changed into the pajamas they provided and slept very well for a few hours. As a midnight snack I decided to try a bowl of spicy ramen, which lived up to its namsake of "spicy" by being a little too hot for my enjoyment. Luckily they also had cookies and milk on the menu, which I was very delighted to hear from the flight attendant when she said "I'm sorry, it will take about 8 minutes for me to bake them fresh for you". No worries - I have never been disappointed to wait for freshly baked cookies, and they certainly did not disappoint this time. After sleeping for a few more hours, my wife woke me up to let me know I only had a couple more hours until we landed. For lunch, they offered a nice "build your own salad" station with a blend of greens, veggies, and anchovy. It was nice to have something crisp and refreshing since I was feeling groggy after waking up. For my second meal I chose the Chilean Sea Bass with veggies. I really enjoyed it, but my wife wasn't too impressed. For dessert they served fruit and cheese again. Upon landing, we weren't able to enjoy any of the lounges at the ICN airport since we only had 45 minutes to catch our connecting flight. After spending about 10 minutes looking for a lounge with a shower, we decided that we didn't have time and proceeded to our gate. The ~2.5 hour flight from ICN to NRT was on an Airbus A300-330. The first-class seating on this flight actually looked identical to the business class. The seats were still lie-flat, but it was about two-thirds the size. Again, I got the Bibimbap for my meal, even though it didn't come with the side of bulgogi this time. The flight was over before I knew it, and again the customer service we received was excellent.
Tokyo - Ritz Carlton
After getting our bags and going through customs and immigration, I had to figure out how to get to our first destination: The Ritz Carlton Tokyo. There's normally a "limousine bus" that leaves from the Narita airport that stops at our hotel, but because we weren't ready to depart from the airport until about 9:30pm there were no more buses for the day that stopped at The Ritz. There's also a train that goes directly to Tokyo Station, the "Narita Express (NEX)", but we also missed the last train for that. A quick Google search showed that it would cost about $300 to take a cab from the airport, we instead took a bus from the airport to a hotel about 2 miles from our hotel and took a cab from there. This was especially daunting considering my cellular data only worked for about 10 seconds every 10 minutes, it was getting late, and there was an obvious language barrier that made me wonder if we were headed in the right direction. But luckily, we made it to our hotel without too much effort. As expected, the customer service at The Ritz was great. Our bags were immediately taken for us when we stepped out of the cab and we were escorted to the main lobby on the 45th floor. When we stepped out of the elevator we were met by the live music of smooth jazz saxophone and a vocalist that made me think "god damn this is a swanky hotel". It got even better when we got to our room and were met with this view. They must clean the windows every day, because when you walk into the room you can't even tell there's a pane of glass there. It almost looks like an optical illusion. Having this great view was one of the highlights of the trip, and one of the biggest reasons to choose the Ritz Carlton when staying in Tokyo. Again, I cannot believe how excellent the service was at this hotel. The concierge was great (for the most part - more on that later), turn-down service twice daily, spotlessly clean room and bathroom, etc. What really made them surpass my expectations were the little things. On Day 1 we used up all the complementary espresso pods, so during turn-down service the housekeeper left an extra box of espresso with a note (picture taken after we used some). Similarly, after a day when we used both complimentary bottles of water, after turn-down service we found two extra bottles of water with another endearing note. And one day when we mentioned to the concierge that we were celebrating my birthday and our honeymoon, we found this nice gift of chocolates in our room when we returned for the night (the heart and sphere were filled with chocolate covered almonds). Somehow I forgot to take pictures of our room. It was standard size as far as hotel rooms go, but the bathroom was exceptionally large. There was a bathtub, shower, two sinks, and a separate small room with the toilet. Speaking of the toilet, it seems like many toilets in Japan have built-in bidet systems with warm water and heated seats. This one was especially nice and had a "power deodorizer" that seemed to vacuum up the fumes directly from the bowl. Wouldn't be a deal-breaker if they didn't have it, but we enjoyed having a high-tech toilet for the first time in our lives :). Like I said, the concierges were great with most of their recommendations. All of them were fluent in English and we enjoyed every activity/restaurant that was recommended, with one exception. For my birthday dinner we wanted to try some Japanese fine dining. We told the concierge our price limit of ~250/pp, and were recommended to try a traditional Japanese kaiseki at the Ritz Carlton's restaurant Hinokizaka. As expected, the view from our seats was excellent, and we were very happy to have some origami to take home with us as souvenirs. Unfortunately, those were the only things that we were impressed with. We've had the pleasure of dining at a handful of fine-dining restaurants and have never regretted splurging a few hundred dollars on a meal - until now. We were presented with two menu choices - one for $180 and the other $240. Without really looking too closely at the difference between the two menus we decided to get one of each. I still don't understand why the $240 menu was more expensive. Most dishes were nearly identical, but the $240 menu had one less course and there were no "ultra-luxury" items that would normally expect an upcharge like truffles, caviar, foie gras, etc. Without diving into detail on why each dish was disappointing, I'll just say that most dishes seemed poorly balanced - either too salty or too bitter. There was an herbal lemon jelly that several of the dishes used that completely overpowered the dish with a sour, bitter flavor that was, bluntly, disgusting. Maybe it's just that I don't like Japanese fine dining, because the restaurant seems to be well-reviewed elsewhere, but I will certainly not be going back for a ~$500 dinner. At least the presentation of the food was pretty.
Tokyo - Sightseeing Highlights
Tokyo was our favorite destination. Everything was surprisingly easy to navigate once we figured out that there are actually several distinct rail companies that share some of the same stations. At each of the rail stations we used, there was always staff that spoke English well enough to help us, and we were always made to feel welcome to the country. Every time we asked for help we were politely greeted and treated respectfully. Overall, it seems like Japan strongly encourages foreigners by having multi-language maps, easy to decipher pictures, and multi-lingual customer service to answer questions. The one really annoying thing that surprised me was the lack of trash cans. There were several times where we wanted to throw something away but instead just tossed it in our backpack because we walked for blocks without seeing a garbage can. The same thing goes for buying snacks in marketplaces - eat it and give your trash to the vendor you bought it from, otherwise be prepared to carry the trash with you all day. Somehow, the city seems pretty clean regardless. While we were in Tokyo, we saw beautiful gardens and temples, and ate amazing food. Most of our time here was spent browsing for souvenirs around the various shopping districts (such as the famous Shibuya crossing area), falling in love with dogs at "puppy cafes", and playing wacky Japanese arcade games. We also spent half a day at DisneySea because my Wife is a Disney fanatic and she originally wanted to do DisneyWorld for our honeymoon.
Kyoto - Hyatt Regency
Compared to the Ritz Carlton, there's not really much to say about this hotel. Compared to most hotels, this was a very nice hotel. Compared to the Ritz Carlton, it was exceptionally normal. The service was pleasant and the concierge was able to recommend how to make the most of our time in Kyoto. From our second story window, we had absolutely no view - we could only see the wall of the building next door. Instead of a 65" top-of-the-line Sony Bravia, we instead had to watch Game of Thrones on a plebeian 42" display. We did not get gourmet chocolates left for us in our room, nor were any thoughtful handwritten notes left by the housekeeper. I know it's not fair to compare this Hyatt to the Ritz Carlton, so to be fair, this hotel was very nice. It was clean, comfortable, and conveniently located. Although I wouldn't recommend it at its cash price of ~$564/nt, I was happy to pay 20k Hyatt points to stay there.
Kyoto/Osaka - Sightseeing Highlights
We purchased the 7-day JR RailPass since I knew we'd use it for a round-trip to Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka and a trip from Tokyo Station to Narita Airport. At ~$260 each, it more than paid for itself. You need to purchase the JR RailPass voucher while you're still in the United States, then bring the voucher with you to Japan. Exchanging the voucher at Tokyo Station was straightforward, and we were able to reserve a seat on the Shinkansen "Hikari" to Kyoto. After just under 3 hours, we arrived at Kyoto Station and took a complimentary taxi to our hotel. Again, we saw some beautiful temples and ate lots of food. We took a day trip to Osaka using our JR RailPass. We decided not to get reserved seats and just hopped on the next available train, but unfortunately had to stand for the entire 45 minute journey. Osaka was an awesome city and probably deserved more than just a day trip. My wife loved the shopping areas there, and we also took a trip to Osaka Temple at night. While we were there they had an event going on called "Sakuya Lumina" where you stroll along the path to the temple and follow along with a short story of a girl from the future who's trying to get home. Along the way there are beautiful light shows and short movies, and a great photo spot where one of the employees offers to take photos with your phone. At the top, you get a great view of Osaka Temple close-up, where we also found some adorable and friendly stray cats. Back in Kyoto, we had our most enjoyable day of the vacation. We took the subway to Arashiyama - most well known for its beautiful bamboo forest, temples, and most of all - the Iwatayama monkey park. It's a small hike and about $10 to get to the monkey park, but it's well worth it. When you reach the summit, there are dozens of Macaque monkeys just running around. There are a lot of employees around to stop tourists from touching the monkeys, but you can get pretty much as close as you want. The monkeys here are completely desensitized to humans are will walk right past you, even with their babies. There is a small hut with a fence for a wall where you can feed the monkeys potatoes and peanuts for $1/bag. We happened to be there during "feeding time" where one of the employees walks around and throws chestnuts and seeds on the ground which the monkeys go crazy for. I don't think there's anywhere else in the world where you can experience this, and it's a must-do during a visit to Kyoto. While we were in Kyoto, we decided we had to try "real" Kobe Wagyu beef. I've had A5 wagyu once before at Cut in Beverly Hills, but I was excited to compare it to what Japan has to offer. And since my steak-loving wife has never tried it, I was especially excited to see her reaction to biting into the best steak shes ever had. The restaurant we chose, Premium Pound Gion, absolutely killed it. Each course was excellent, the ambiance was great (the whole restaurant is just a "chef's table" style seating), and steak was just as good as I remembered. If you've never had Kobe beef (note: the term "Kobe beef" has no significance in the USA, but "A5 wagyu" does; if you want to experience this type of steak in the USA, look for that designator) and aren't a vegetarian, you need to try it. It's worth it. Here are some pictures of the dinner.
Flight - Tokyo to Seoul
After taking the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and going back to the Ritz Carlton to pick some luggage we left there while we were in Kyoto, we spent the remainder of the day at DisneySea Tokyo then headed to our hotel airport to prepare for a 10:30am flight. The Hilton hotel we stayed at did have a very good breakfast buffet that included both Japanese and Western cuisine. For us it was complimentary thanks to the automatic HHonors Gold status provided by the Amex Hilton Ascend. The Korean Air lounge at NRT was pretty unremarkable - similar to the Virgin Atlantic lounge we used at IAD. They did have an area sectioned off for first-class only, which was pretty unnecessary since there was plenty of seating elsewhere. However, it was nice to be able to walk past the "first-class only" sign to let all the other lounge members know just how baller we are. Just like the ICN-NRT flight, we were served a nice lunch followed be cheese and fruit. The same aircraft, A330-300, was used as well.
Seoul - Hilton Millennium
Unfortunately, with the exception of the Marriott Courtyard we stayed at in Dulles, this was the most disappointing stay of the trip. There wasn't anything awful about it, but this hotel just didn't have the same level of service as the others. When we arrived to the hotel, the doorman unloaded our bags for us but did not take them to our room. The concierge spoke English, but not very well. There was a doorman who assisted with taxis, but several times there were communication problems due to translation. Overall, the hotel staff seemed a little indifferent. In comparison to all the hotels I've ever stayed at, this probably still ranks in the top 50%, but is in a completely different category than the other hotels we stayed at for this trip. On the plus side, they give out free $10 vouchers per person per day to the casino attached to the hotel, which we were always sure to cash out before we left for the day. We also got free breakfast and "cocktail hour" snacks which were always mediocre. We had breakfast most days because it was provided for free, but I would not suggest paying for it if you're not an HHonors Gold member.
Seoul - Sightseeing Highlights
While we were in Seoul, we took a cab pretty much everywhere that wasn't within walking distance. The prices were cabs in Seoul are cheaper than any other city I've taken cabs (DC, NYC, Tokyo, Kyoto), and are barely more expensive than taking the metro. Most fares were less than $10, the most expensive being a ~22 minute cab to Gangnam costing about $13. Again, we love to try exotic food, so we made sure to experience as much of the local cuisine and street food that we could try. The highlights were the freshly fried sweet "Korean pancake" filled with honey and walnuts and the muskmelon bingsu with ice cream that was surprisingly delicious considering how pretty it looked. We also had Korean BBQ from a restaurant called "The Marbling" that we went to twice because we enjoyed it so much. We really enjoyed walking through the markets and buying junky souvenirs. We also took a guided tour that I would not recommend since it ended with a trip to a "ginseng museum" where they locked us in a sales room for 30 minutes where we were relentlessly pitched to by salespeople to get us to buy hundreds of dollars worth of "cancer-preventing, life-lengthening, energizing ginseng".
Flight - Seoul to Dulles
The check-in for KAL first class flyers is pretty unique at ICN. There's a "first class check-in lounge" prior to security where you're served beverages while your bags are checked. I thought this was a nice touch compared to the normal check-in experience, even though we only stayed for a few minutes before going through security. From what I understand, there's several different Korean Air lounges at ICN. There's the "normal" KAL lounge that anyone can access, the miler lounge that can only be accessed by million milers, and then there's the first-class only lounge. We spent all of our time in the first class lounge, which was the nicest lounge of the trip. We had an early flight home so they were serving breakfast - an assortment of Korean and Western options as well as ice cream, beer, wine, and a small assortment of hard liquor. They also had table service where you could order eggs or a couple other traditional Korean breakfast options. They also had a massage chair, but I couldn't figure out how to work it because all of the controls were in Korean. The flight was the same as the original IAD-ICN leg with some slightly different but equally delicious food options. After 14 hours of eating, sleeping, watching Game of Thrones, eating, and sleeping, we were back to real life in Dulles where we had a 3 hour drive home.
Award Redemption and Cost Analysis
Avg cash rate
Marriott Courtyard (Dulles)
Hyatt Regency (Kyoto)
Hyatt Regency (Kyoto)
Hyatt Regency (Kyoto)
Hilton Millennium (Seoul)
Hilton Millennium (Seoul)
Hilton Millennium (Seoul)
Hilton Millennium (Seoul)
First class on Korean Air: 320,000 + $800 in taxes/fees (total for two passengers). Cash "value" is $39,541 (~12cpp). Total points used:
Hyatt (UR transfer)
Skypass (UR transfer)
Annual fees paid to accumulate these points:
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Approximate spending during travel (note: these are rough approximations that I made by taking our total amount spent, $3336.39, and estimating the proportion spent toward each category other than food, then assuming that the rest was on food):
Transportation (taxi, subway, bus)
Cash spend (travel accommodations, including fees paid to accrue points): $2,270 Cash spend (expenses during travel): ~$3,900
Total cost of vacation: $6170
The many hours of accumulating points, learning from /churning and /awardtravel, and planning our itinerary were well worth it. I can't wait to build up our points bank in preparation for our next big redemption. Even though I'm glad we flew first class once, I don't think we'll splurge on it again. Business class seems adequate, even though the seats are a fair bit smaller. At least first class seats had plenty of availability so planning around our schedules and only flying non-peak season was not an issue. The Ritz Carlton Tokyo was amazing and well worth the points, but unfortunately due to Marriott award redemption change this hotel will now cost 85k points instead of 60k. It may still be worth it if you have the points to get the 5th night free. The Hyatt Regency was nice, but definitely not worth the cash rate. The Hilton Millennium was probably not worth the amount of points we blew on it, but Hilton points are pretty worthless anyway. The Conrad in Seoul may have been a better option - it's hard to say, they have similar reviews. If you go to Japan, go to Arashiyama and the Iwatayama Monkey Park! Also, early May turned out to be a great time of the year to travel to Japan/Korea. Every day was in the low 70s and mostly sunny - perfect weather!
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