Sunday, 27 April 2008
Ric finally succumbed to a pair of shorts and even some Crocs for his baby-soft feet!
We then went to Sentosa Island in a cable car. Unlike Hakone we could see for miles. The harbour looks great from above. So much blue. The island itself is very touristy and heaving with massive Indian families but fun and interesting none the less and with such a mixture of ethics it's all the more fascinating.
We we almost alone as we walked round the Butterfly and Bug House and then the 'Jungle Walk'. Only once we'd completed our trek did we realise it was actually closed off for repair! The beach was completely artificial, reminding us of Dubai but still picturesque.
I've just had the hottest curry of my life in one of the many scores of eateries in Little India. The range of food here is quite exceptional and all of it whether it be Chinese, Indian, Nepalese, English, Italian, French or any other cuisine, seems completely authentic. And everything is so cheap!
We've not yet dared try a Durian fruit but can smell the damn things everywhere! Both of us are happy I can finally eat until I'm full!
Tomorrow, our last day here, we're off for more window shopping at the huge Raffles complex and then grub in China Town. I'm still deliberating about starting the Larium. It's had such bad press and I'm worried about the side affects it'll cause in me (these include such horrors as severe depression, anxiety, paranoia, nightmares, insomnia and even seizures!). Ric took his first one today and is fine so far.
Singaporeans speak a funny kind of English which we struggle to comprehend at times. They throw in all sorts of Malay, Chinese, Tamil, pigeon-American and other bits of jingo! There's definitely a nuttiness about the place one doesn't find, on the surface at least, in Japan. We like that.
Phones charms and ice tea are as ubiquitous here as in Japan and I'm stupidly excited about adorning my phone as soon as I've bought a new one!
Lots of news back home about friends getting married. I'm naturally thrilled for them and hope I don't miss their weddings, but also slightly scared. It seems very grown up!
Friday, 25 April 2008
We melted out of the underground, very over dressed, on to frenetic, noisy streets around Little India where our Hostel is located.
What a change of scene! In spite of the heat and humidity even at this late hour, I feel a sense of relief. Japan is great but feels ever so formal, neat and hard work for an English tourist, whereas Singapore has a lot more craziness, a buzz and although there are few white faces here, it feels easier to blend in.
We dumped our bags and headed straight to a veggie curry house, a bit like an Indian MacDonalds but delicious and reasonably healthy. Not that I minded how healthy it was. It's just great to feel full at last!
As Ric will vouch, it's the happiest I've been since we left London.
Looking forward to checking the city out over the next few days...
Thursday, 24 April 2008
I've started getting in to my reading and am half way through the twisting, scatological and yet riveting One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the train. I'll save War and Peace for China.
After another long journey up from Hiroshima we arrived at Kyoto's splendid 1997 station and then spent a whole day cycling around Kyoto on a pair of rickety hire bikes. It's a bit like a smaller Tokyo except with loads more temples and castles. The sun shone brightly and it was my turn to get burnt.
The main roads are wide, straight and long in Japan but all the side streets are riddled with black cables (telephone lines perhaps) which makes them look very different from London. It is also rare to see a house except out in the country but even there people seem to live in tall blocks of compact flats. All the towns and cities we've visited have broad rivers running through them which make for good views.
So we visited The Imperial Palace where the cherry blossom is still in bloom, the touristy Geisha district where the restaurants double as their work apartments(!), the magnificent Golden Pavilion, Ni-Jo Castle (with the Nightingale floorboards which squeak loudly when you walk on them - intended to warn the household of intruders), Higashihongangi Temple, The Botanical Gardens where I froze and my fingers went multi coloured (as they're prone to do) and some must dos. It's funny how there still aren't that many tourists there and how we all look at each other as if to say 'what are you doing here, tourist, I got here first'. Ric and I play at guessing their nationalities. You don't see any Benidorm types though which is a relief. Thailand will probably be quite different in that respect.
We also ate green tea ice-cream in the park before the heavens opened. It rained all night and most of today on our return to Tokyo where we went to look for the punks and dressed up teenage girls in Shinjuku but ended up spending a good hour in a stationary shop choosing funny stickers to pimp our phones with back home...or that's the plan. Everyone including the men decorates their phones with such tacky childish kitsch!
Hey check out the tube and Japan Rail map - no wonder we've be confused at times!
Ric and I are a bit bored with the food in Japan to be honest and having to supplement it with numerous visits to the Family Marts. Give me my Fujiyama miso noodles in Brixton!
I've been offended by an onslaught of abuse about my Crocs and hair. Maybe they weren't the most fashionable purchase but they're wonderfully comfortable. As for my hair, it will grow...too slowly.
Since we still can't upload our pics to Picasa, here are some of Ric's photos of the trip:
11.30am flight to Singapore tomorrow where our South East Asia adventures begin.
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
I am so glad that he's spoken out. The illness is such a terrible secretive destructive affliction and the more that people know about it the better...
Here's a BBC take on the story - poor prescott
Monday, 21 April 2008
So Hiroshima - what to say? It seems like a pretty trendy, upbeat town, with young folk, masses of shops and cafes for the tourists, and new buildings for obvious reasons. Lots of foreign tourists here as you'd expect. It's a shame that we all come for such a mawkish reason really!
The park surrounding the site where the Atom bomb was detonated in 1945 is green, clean and spacious and it's hard to imagine that the ground we are walking on is the very same on which thousands lost their lives in the most appalling way in 1945.
We came really to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum which was fascinating (though I didn't really learn anything new about what happened here in 1945) and unutterably sad. It's only when you read the personal stories and look at the photos of Hiroshima just after the explosion that you get a sense of the devastation. Barely three buildings survived the blast and even they were badly damaged.
The wording of the signage in the museum is understandably loaded. Nuclear weapons bad, period. I wonder how many Japanese people today know the full story and what history they are taught in schools. Dave thinks they are pretty ignorant which is a pity.
I don't think there's much more to see here but I'm glad to have visited. I do feel quite sad though. So much death and suffering.
Ric and I are both pretty tired today, possibly still a bit jet lagged. It's also a lot hotter and more muggy here in the south which frays ones nerves slightly! We've not squabbled or fallen out yet but we're noticing each other's needs, wants, irritating facets and bad habits more than previously. We're chuffed to have found a chain of hotels, Toyoko Inns, in each city though. They're the same price as hostels but clean and almost luxurious and with our own bathroom!
Before I forget, a few other unrelated observations...
The ladies bikes that everyone rides in Japan are called Mamacharis! What a great word!
The Japanese just love their miniature Dachshunds. Today we walked past a pet shop with dozens of puppies in individual cages. Poor things. We wanted to take one home. Perhaps that's why they're kept in this way, appealing to our sympathies as they gaze out so cutely.
Tomorrow Kyoto and a computer where I can upload my damn photos!!!!
Sunday, 20 April 2008
Last night we went and sang out hearts out in a local karaoke bar where we had our own cubical and the beer was on tap.
Today we drove a few miles out of town with a few of Dave's friends to the small village of Mikani with its Tojinbo Cliffs which are sort of like our Beachy Head(!) but absolutely magnificent and then walked over to Oshima Island where there is a festival today (they have a lot of festivals in Japan it seems). The place was full of doll-faced children and food stalls and the bridge leading to the island was strewn with enormous, brightly painted, wind inflated carp flags, each one representing the boys of the village apparently. We wandered right round the small island, battered by the wind but invigorated by the sea air. Ric ate a whole barbecued squid (see pictures). Give me candy floss any day!
As we scrambled along the craggy rocks searching for fresh water pools and up the steep stony steps around the island we felt like The Famous Five though none of us experienced an epiphany as it is believed one does here. Would be a great place to propse to someone...if you ignore the occasional body washed up on the beach.
We ate the most incredible lunch of fried pancakes stuffed with meat, fish, noodles, veg and eggs. Tasted a bit like pizza. Sounds ominous but proved delicious and very comforting. Made a welcome change from the usual fair of noodle soup.
Last night in Fukui tonight before we head south to Kyoto.
Saturday, 19 April 2008
I'm also becoming an expert in nodding with gratitude. I like the custom and it speaks volumes when you can't understand or utter a word of Japanese.
We just missed the Cherry Blossom festival but the trees are still heaving and dropping their petals.
Fukui a smallish but lively town situated on the West side of Japan. It's been raining a lot so we've been kicking back a bit, cycling, browsing shops (a massive Muji!), eating in some great restaurants and even having some wacky sticker photos taken in an enormous noisy pink booth shop, much adored by teenage girls here it seems. Ric only needed a wee bit of persuasion to go in. We haven't tried the arcades out yet- though we're fascinated how popular they are everywhere we go and how they always seem to be heaving with men, on their own!
I've been surprised how tiring doing not an awful lot can be, or perhaps I'm just not eating enough. Plus it's hard work and tedious searching for veggie food and I'm becoming more and more casual about what constitutes a meat free meal! There are only so many times I can mutter appreciatively about spinach, onion and poached egg noodles!
Much to the amazement of the locals, I've been running along the wide river that runs through it every morning. To be honest it's just been really good to have Ric's friend here to show us round and take us out to the bars and restaurants we would otherwise have missed or not dared go in to. We went to the ￥10０ Store earlier (like our pound shops) - what an amazing collection of odds and sods including row upon row of tiny toys, sweets, stickers, bits of tat to 'bling' your phone with, bizarre kitchenware, cellulite reducing gadgets, mouth exercisers, etc. I bought Ric a laughing cat mustard pot for his birthday in there. Cheapskate? Moi?
I got myself some knee-high socks with toe gloves! I've been good at resisting other bits of junk.
This keyboard keeps jumping to Japanese characters...bear with me...
I experienced a hilarious if embarrassing cycling incident today. We thought we'd be smart and pump up the tyres on our borrowed ladies bikes- everyone rides them. Found a great little bike shop, run by an elderly couple, and they let us use their pumps (much better than English ones I think-more efficient). I evidently pumped too hard though and as I peddled off down the road, pleased with our success, the front tyre exploded making everyone in the street turn to look. What an utter imbecile! So then I had to push the damn thing back to the shop, Ric laughing all the way (he's been drinking far to much Boss coffee), where I was greeted with much laughter and pointing. The universal language of bikes prevailed. Felt a bit guilty letting an old man fix it but he was so eager to help. He had to replace the whole wheel! Ric will never let this one go. What would my Southwark Cyclists comrades say?!
I think I'm getting used to being on holiday now!
Off for some Karaoke action now to celebrate Ric's birthday.
Friday, 18 April 2008
The route around town and across the lake to see Mount Fuji is easy and perfect for the old or lazy! We hardly had to walk an inch with our so-called Free Pass (about 20 quid) which got us on a train, then cable cars, then a boat and finally a bus back to the start. As the photos demonstrate we didn't actually see a damn thing at the top, just an awful lot of fog! Ah well, we got the idea.
The Japanese are experts in the art of facilities, ie. ensuring there a loos, vending machines, restaurants and gift shops absolutely everywhere, though not rubbish bins. You'd think there would be rubbish everywhere as a result but not so - the place is immaculate, even Tokyo! People don't leave a trace!
Our guesthouse, which was half way up the hill behind the train station in Hakone, has a natural hot spring to bathe in, or at least dunk - it's so hot! The place is a real sanctuary, though they booted us out pretty sharpish at 10am the next morning! Ric was predicatably mesmorised by the notion of loo slippers, or 'poo slippers'. I think I'd better get him some for back home.
I'm having a lot of odd convoluted dreams. Even dreams about having dreams.
Wednesday, 16 April 2008
We're amused by all the quirky signage including hairdryers and cats on the pavements, the somewhat unappetising plastic food models outside every restaurant (helpful though they are), the prohibition of smoking whilst walking even though you can still light up inside most restaurants, trains, cafes and hotel rooms. They're really in to their nutrient drinks here and cold Boss coffee in vending machines. Ric's collecting the free toy cars with those. We haven't yet seen the girls who dress up as cartoon characters or who dance in front of station mirrors but we have seen lots of very neatly dressed school girls...knee high socks galore!
The food isn't as exciting as we'd imagined. Pretty basic, though generally healthy. Fish in everything!
I still have far far too much in my 15kg backpack. Someone nicked my shampoos though so that's one less thing to carry! Bet it was the argumentative surly American girl in this hostel...tush.
So, west to Hakone, then Fukui to visit Dave. I'm looking forward to getting out of the city for a few days. We've got to pace ourselves or we'll be exhausted.
Monday, 14 April 2008
Tokyo's not really what I expected somehow. It's busy for sure but somehow very civilised too. For one thing everyone is very polite and sensitive towards each other, not like the hussling bussling Londoners. People wait patiently for the green man and give each other ample room even on the tube. We haven't yet seen it in full rush hour of course. There is very little shouting or car honking or litter in spite of the fact that (or maybe because) the bins are few and far between. People don't hassle you for money either, or force goods in your face and even the homeless people lay their shoes neatly outside of their box homes. There aren't many white faces here which surprises us. There are loads of cyclists, men, women, children, the old, but they have to use the pavement so are constantly nearly missing each other and pedestrians!
I'm doubtful that would work so well in London, or maybe it would if we gave it a go.
Ric's friend Dave and his Japanese girlfriend met us in town yesterday and helped us navigate our way to the hostel and the complicated underground network for the day. Thanks goodness! We shall go and stay with him in Fukui later in the week. The Japanese Rail passes we got in London are really useful and will save us a small fortune!
A few things that have amused us thus far:
Signs of irons and hairdryers on the pavements. Apparently the roadworks companies do this to make sure they use up their budget so they are given the same amount every year!
People wearing face masks on the tube! Apparently to protect from pollen or so as not to spread their colds.
The loos have warm seats and all sorts of functions besides the obvious!
The bird noises and songs at every pedestrain crossing
The water feels sticky - does that mean it's hard or soft?
Ric and I walked a lot today, both feeling a bit shell-shocked and not quite in holiday mode (whatever that really is). What to do here? We visited a huge Electronics retail area where there are hundreds of computer, phone and gadget shops. Then we went to Yoyogi park and saw its temple. Then we went to a huge toy shop full of kitsch, the obligatory Hello Kitty merchandise, and some slightly unsettling kinky toy dolls. Then as the sun went down we walked ages to find some food for both of us, or rather find something I could stomach. It's impossible to find proper veggie food here - why should I expect it? Ric says I'm pulling odd faces and that I look different. I think it's because I'm trying so hard to relax and not be a nuisance to him!
It's weird being away. Still don't really feel on holiday yet but I'm sure the sense will grow on me as the days pass. The plan is to stay here in Tokyo until Wednesday and then head to Mount Fuji for a night and then further West.
There are people waiting to use this computer so I'll sign off. Here are some photos
Friday, 11 April 2008
We've been packing, sorting stuff out and saying our goodbyes for what seems like weeks now and are both exhausted and eager to get going, if I can walk with my over-stuffed backpack that is.
I would like to be feeling excited but at this stage I feel quite sick with apprehension and uncertainty. Ah well, I imagine those feelings will evaporate soon enough. I'm more than ready to leave Brixton that's for sure. We've done all that we can to prepare ourselves and besides, there's no turning back now.
As I've packed up my things and decided what possessions I actually need for my travels, I've felt compelled to find a home for my thoughts; to expunge, organise and store them in one place. Looking through my old journals, and countless scraps of electronic twitterings, it strikes me how negative sounding they are, joyless, desperate even. What purpose have all these words ever served I wonder? Why did I write at all? All too rough, too raw, too pure, too inarticulate to be of any interest to others. The stuff of journals not blogs. It’s all retrospective anyway isn’t it?
I’ve been thinking about London, England’s erratically beating heart, a magnet for rich and poor and foreigners alike, the hub of business and social networking for so many, and the place I didn’t make the choice to live in but which so many do.
A lot of people have tried to summarise it. I wonder if it is still or ever was the ‘modern Babylon’ Disraeli proclaimed it to be, the ‘fair’ and ‘majestic’ place depicted so romantically by Wordsworth, or ‘a teen-ager and urchin, unchanged since the time of Dickens’, as John Burger once described it. As I make plans to leave, how can I forget that old chestnut ‘when a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford’? Dr. Samuel Johnson might have had a point but I’m afraid the life we might wish to live here now is more than most of us can afford!
I’d say it’s impossible to live here for any length of time and not feel an affinity with its seeming disorder, schizophrenia, impatience, self-righteousness, and no matter what borough, its grime. As I cycle from the south to the west and the north, from chaotic Brixton to grand Belgravia, the trends are obvious; the car styles change, the perils on the road change, people’s faces are of a different colour, the shops are obviously different and the roads broaden and become greener.
I wonder what, if anything, will draw me back in the end. Where would I choose to live? Can Sydney be that different, as good as I’m to believe? Or will I miss this place and want to come back? Will it be enough that my friends and mother are here?I hope I can write regular posts but without my laptop to hand, who knows!
So, first stop Tokyo, where we're hooking up with Ric's old school pal...
Monday, 7 April 2008
London – Tokyo 12.04.08 (travelling west through Japan)
Tokyo –Singapore 25.04.08 (spend two months travelling round SE Asia)
Singapore - Hong Kong 25.06.08 (travelling north through China)
Beijing – Sydney 20.07.08 (stay until Feb 2009)
New Zealand/Cook Islands/USA – dates to be confirmed!
So much to do and so many to see before we leave on Saturday...
Saturday, 5 April 2008
'Hilarious!' I thought. 'The cheesiest most incongruous thing ever', I muttered, pushing my way through the pedestrians and round the police tape, wondering why such security was necessary for Galloway, a politician I abhor and admire in almost equal measure, if that's possible.
Then I saw the real news of the day, a large fire on Brixton Road, right in front of the tube station! Smoke was billowing out high above the houses and the smell of burning rubber and plastic filled the air. The road was flowing with water, presumably from the fire brigade's pumps and it seemed to be causing transport chaos, plus everyone was stopping to have a good look. Fortunately nobody was injured - crazy!
I really should start taking my camera out with me! Ric just doesn't believe the things I tell him when I get back from my weekend runs.
Friday, 4 April 2008
Aside from the obvious displeasure it may have caused Mann's family and friends, you'd be churlish not to forgive Green and even feel a sense of relief that such a steadfast presenter, a bastion of British broadcasting, melts in front of the microphone from time to time. Indeed I'd say Radio 4 could do with a few more interjections like these!
Is it possible to be too organised for a trip like mine? I feel I've been somewhat obsessive in my urgent quest to cleanse and organise my life before the 12th April! I have been chucking clothes, make-up and cosmetics I should never have kept so long, sorting and shredding paperwork and the contents of my laptop and even setting up my tax return for when I'm out of the country next year. I've been flogging things on eBay, loading my MP3 player and sorting my belongings in to boxes with idiot-proof labels should I decide to stay in Oz and need them shipped out. I am addicted to my Things To Do List while the Lonely Planets remain untouched. There'll be time enough for those once we've left London.
What else? I could get my hair permanently straightened, my eye lashes dyed and a full body wax so I don't turn in to a banshee...enough!
Tonight I am also excited as I'll be trying Eritrean grub for the first time in a little place off Coldharbour Lane, Asmara. I'm ashamed to say I know little of the country, let alone the cuisine.
One other thing, perhaps the most important thing, I'm ecstatic about (while also in all honesty terrified and doubtful) is the fact that I will soon be breaking the routines and bad habits I have allowed to perpetuate my life in London. Specifically my eating behaviour. I must refuse to allow the beast bulimia to follow me round Asia. It feels a bit like I'm casting an untamable pet off to a rescue centre.
Thursday, 3 April 2008
I don't want to say anything that will prevent me getting in to China this July but Oh My God - what a palaver.
Yesterday I got to the embassy at 7.20am (not quite the 6.30am I planned). I queued for about two hours in the drizzle, with scores of others, all of us patiently shivering in neat lines down Portland Place. A young drunk, clearly just out of a club, livened up the wait by repeatedly asking various individuals where Madonna lived, 'um hellooooooo....does anyone know where Maaaaaadonna lives?...anyone?' This was amusing for at least two and a half minutes.
Ric came and took over after nine so I could peddle with frozen limbs off to work before the phones started ringing. I have Raynaud's phenomenon/disease/condition (whatever you want to call it it hurts!) and as always forget to layer up before my fingers and toes turned white and then splendid shades of blue and purple. I took pictures when I got to the office which I'm about to upload.
Anyway, Ric got his visa lodged but they told him I had to go back the next day with my British passport as I couldn't use my Australian one! How clever I thought I was using my Aussie one to get a slightly cheaper visa. Bugger.
So off I went today to blag my way to the front of the queue, telling the doorman with tears welling up in my eyes, that I came yesterday and foolishly forgot my passport so was promised I could queue jump to get my application in. He smiled, obliged and in I went. 'Great', I thought, 'I'll be out in no time'.
To cut this story short I lodged my application but not before I was first sent back upstairs, then downstairs and then told I had to go to the end of the line for cheekily suggesting they just wanted to make a few extra bucks off me. Then a woman who can't have been older than 23 proceeded to berate me in Chinese and pidgeon English for my ineptitude, rudeness, or something, in front of the entire hall.
So I got in line, wondering if this is how it'll be in China. Will we be made to feel like dimwits everywhere we go? At least they speak some English here! 'Never argue with them', said one experienced applicant holding wads of passports, 'this is Chinese territory here'.
Now I just have to go back next week to pick the damn thing up.
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
'You only need to get one visa' said Belle at the travel centre where we booked our flights, 'just the Chinese one or you wont be let in'. No problemo we thought as we skipped out of the door, itineraries in hands. 'Go one lunch break innit' suggested Ric.
It's no coincidence that after two months and with less than a fortnight to go, we've got our travel insurance, rail passes, hostels, Aussie passports/visas, storage, jabs and just about everything else sorted but have yet to go to the Chinese Embassy.
A friend warned me the queues could be long and that it's best to get there early. Doors shut at midday too. Another said that as a hard-up student, they were once paid to queue for a friend, but never would again, it took so long. Then my Aunt told me there is just one single hatch for all at the end of a long carpeted Edwardian room (how very eclectic). Then there are the couriers working on behalf of agents who each hand in about 30 passports at a time! THEN of course there are the Beijing Olympics coming up in the Summer resulting in uncharacteristic numbers of applicants - we could be queuing for hours and then again to pick the wretched things up if we don't opt for the same day service! I can't take time off work as it's a one woman show at the agency and Ric is reluctant because he loses the most cash.
The Australians know how to do it. Fill out an online form - bam - job done!
Tomorrow however, we must try, else we ain't going to China. The plan is for me to cycle in at 6am and queue until 8.30 when Ric will take over. You never know, it could be quite jolly especially if I take a book, listen to some music or find some other form of distraction. If only there was a 360 degree twisting roller coaster at the end of the line.
Here's a funny Weekly Gripe about the British and queuing.
To be continued....