Wednesday, April 06, 2005

London from the sky

A mad rush around the airport using up my yen and totally not hearing my name being paged – the check in guy forgot to give me my boarding pass and I forgot to ask for it (you’d think after all the flights I’ve taken, I’d have this bit down!). Only realized when I was looking for immigration and the guard asked to see my boarding pass. Luckily the flight was delayed…

On the plane I watched Ray and the Aviator, looked out the window, admired the mountains in Japan, and then the mountains and snow in China and Russia, doing my best not to think too much about what I’d have to do when I get back. Felt a mixed up kind of dread about all that stuff but also good things about seeing family and friends…just all mixed up!

Nearly there and getting nervous, I started talking to the japanese girl next to me – visiting England for the first time so I told her lots of good things which made me feel good and then I looked out the window and saw fluffy little clouds which always makes me feel good…and then I saw the Thames, the Gherkin, the London Eye, the Palace, St Katherine’s Dock (and my friend Ashley’s mum’s house) and figured it ain't so bad ;o)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Day 148

Spent the last day in Japan in a little bit of a daze and a little bit of a dodgy tummy...too much sake! Takako showed me the bright lights of Shinjuku and we spent ages putting 100 yen coins into slot machines so we could get a cute little toy ;o) It's so addictive! We finished off at a korean restaurant - it's a very japanese thing to do - honest! Have had a truly lovely time in Japan - lots of people watching (geishas, samurai and sumo wrestlers included), waiting for cherry blossoms, train stations, trips to the police station, good shopping and great food. Thanks, Takako - you really helped me feel at home ;o) Next time I'm staying longer - for those promised hot springs, a wander around your home town, the islands, learn to use a samurai sword and maybe this time see Mount Fuji.

On the subway home (and on time for my curfew) I sat next to a pissed as a fart guy who kept dropping his head back and snoring loudly...thought it was the perfect thing to be bringing me back down to earth and home.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Hiding out for the night

So far in Japan...

Started out feeling a little lost in translation and lonely (without my missy G) in Osaka. But got talking to fellow travellers, Dan and Carrie, and soon enough, was feeling back on track ;o)

so then...Japan

First day - Osaka

My first day in Osaka...I went for a stroll to the main park and castle, had a coffee from a vending machine (my first experience with a vending machine in Japan - seriously, they're everywhere!), admired some cherry blossom trees and then followed the sound of a beating drum to find a lone samurai drumming. Nobody else was around so I sat on the steps nearby to listen, clap and watch the sun set behind him. Later on, I decided to check out Amerika Mura where all sorts of american goods are sold (mainly hoodies and trainers!) and where japanese kids do their hip hop thing. Really cool place - great for shopping and had a really cool record store (unfortunately more London prices than Thailand!). Also the perfect place to wear all your bling and your ridiculously oversized jeans/trackies half way down your ass - or if you're really cool, just under it (I figure the bowl kind of walk they do is how they keep them up!) with pride. Last place for me to check out that night was
Dotombori (I'll have to check the spelling of that) - the main shopping arcade and entertainment area - I took pictures of the Bladerunner style scenery, did a spot of shopping, saw a geisha running (as much as you can in a kimono) for a taxi and 8 sumo wrestlers walking down the arcade...followed very closely by adoring female fans and finally got a taste of some octopus balls (of the tentacular variety rather than the testicular).

Geisha spotting

Kyoto - you know, the place full of temples and very old, traditional Japan. Actually, it's still a pretty big city but you can take a walk and you can find lovely small streets, amazing wooden temples (the japanese are genious with a bit of wood) and the most amazing boutiques selling traditional japanese souvenirs and really yummy food. Only problem...all v. expensive!! I spent a couple of days in Kyoto, wandering around, checking out temples and hunting for the famous Hanami (cherry blossoms) but ended up seeing 2 out of the hundred or so temples, getting sidetracked into all these tiny boutiques and admiring all their beautiful things on sale, watching 6 gaiko and maiko off to their appointments and only the odd cherry blossom - it's been extra cold this year so the blossoms are a little late. Such a shame because there are SO many cherry trees and if you got here at the right time, it would feel like paradise, I'm sure of it! I wandered around the Gion area full of the old traditional japanese restaurants - you take your shoes off, sit on tatami mats and the food is pricey but delicious and you could do lots of geisha spotting (my new thing at the moment...haven't been able to spot any sumo wrestlers since the first night). Actually, lots of older women in kimonos - maybe former gaiko (the proper geishas, maiko are geishas in training) and all looking beautiful and elegant. I did also manage to catch the Miyako Odori which is the special show the gaiko and maiko put on for the cherry blossom season which was beautiful - all what you'd expect, very pretty, very elegant and just goddamned full of class!

The shinkansen, Mount Fuji and a day in Tokyo

From Kyoto, I got the shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo. I reserved my window seat on the left hand side so I was sat in the perfect spot to see Mount Fuji in all its glory. Unfortunately, I kept dropping off and soon enough, I was in Tokyo. Not quite sure how I managed to miss this big ass mountain seeing as I'm sure I'd only close my eyes for a few seconds but I did - guess that's the thing with bullet trains... Oh well. just gives me another reason to visit Japan again! The train, by the way, was great fun - super fast (the journey on normal trains should take 7-8 hours, this took 2 and a half) and super classy. When I did have my eyes open I managed to see lots of countryside - very mountainous and full of trees all different shades of green. Proof that it's not all big cities and concrete in Japan.

Finding a friend, shopping, ice cream and lots of sake

Lucky me, I have a japanese friend (Takako) who's out here for a few months and who I'd be seeing in Tokyo. We went up the Tokyo Tower (like the eiffel tower), had a quick walk around, then straight back down to find some of that fine dining...we went to Ropongi hills. Nothing actually hilly about it but just a big ass building full of shops and restaurants. Next day, lots of shopping and a hunt for ice cream (today is the first day I've actually felt warm in japan!), first in Asakusa then Shibuya and lastly in Nakano. More yum yums with bbq fish, noodles and a night in a local japanese restaurant with great food and great sake.

Japanese police and a hideout

Places to stay in Japan...there are hostels, business hotels, capsule hotels and ryokan. This is peak season where the majority of tourists tend to be Japanese (all with cameras and their two finger v poses). Anyway, trying to find somewhere to stay and somewhere cheap...i should be so lucky! The japanese are pretty organised so you generally come to japan with all this stuff sorted - especially if you're here in peak season. Me, where's the fun in being organised? So, I've stayed at a hostel which was lovely, a ryokan (traditional japanese place) which was great fun...a big lounge type area on tatami mats, a futon and your own kimono to lounge around in and feel like you're someone special and theres the public baths (purely for soaking, you have to wash before you come in). I loved it! Was all by myself so the idea of walking into a random bar wasn't so appealing - though v.tempted to try the jazz bar down the narrow lane that is pontocho-dori. But after walking so much, I was home before 10, in my kimono, pouring myself a cup of tea and waiting for the hot water to fill the deep bath I had all to myself :o) Check me out, spending 30 quid a night on a place to stay when I'm used to spending only a couple! I had to - nothing else was available! In Tokyo, I did think about staying in one of the capsule hotels (usually for all those late night business men who've missed their last train back home) but not many actually accept I stayed at another ryokan...much cheaper than the last but also much smaller. Still lovely though. Only thing...there's a 12am o'clock curfew. It's now nearly 5am.

After all that sake I actually felt great - even impressed with myself that I didn't feel drunk as we'd basically finished a whole bottle and goddamn, the bottles are big! I said my goodbye to Takako at the station at 11.35pm and hopped on the train home. Should have been on it for 2 stops before having to change again. I managed to wake up still on the same train at 12.20am, but I think the only reason I did was because of an overwhelming urge to throw up. I did that thing where you try to swallow it which is always a bad idea and ended up puking right there and then...and a minute later, doing an action replay. Bless the Japanese, they're not big into being embarrassed or embarrassing others, so they gave me my space and pretended I wasn't puking all over the train (and myself). So, 12.25am, feel like shit, missed my curfew and have absolutely no idea where I am. What to do..... I got off the next stop, it was pouring with rain so waited for a taxi and asked to go to a hotel who would take me (v. hard when driver can understand very little english). Bless him though, he had to stop on the way so I could throw up a bit more. Geez, didn't realise I'd eaten so much (or erm..drank so much!) and ended up at a place which was full but where the girl there took pity on me and brought me to the police station... They took pity on me too and I was ready to kip in a cell for a few hours but they figured it best for me to go to an all night internet cafe. So one of them took me to a nice place, lots of comic books and PCs, just me and free coffee!! This is my hideout until I can get back into my hotel. And also why I'm rambling so much...because I just have time to kill!

This is actually my second incident with the police today. This morning I was wandering - trying to find an ATM, eating my breakfast and this policeman was watching me so i offered him some of my roll (like you do), he started talking to me in japanese so I explained I was just a he took me to the station and asked to see my passport (which was back at the hotel). I could have been a bit weirded out but, mostly, he seemed to just want to practice his english!! Anyway, I won't be offering my brekkie to any other police while i'm out here!

Oh, and the people...

Have been very friendly to a girl on the last few days of a big trip. Twice, people who I've asked for directions have ended up wandering with me until we found the place, everyone just being super polite - lots of bowing and arigatos (thank yous) and just a friendly smile - it does the trick! As for the fashion...on my god, how funky! It's like there's no in between, there's Amerika Mura (america village) in Osaka full of b-boys and b-girls selling and buying imported hip hop gear, seen girls in mini skirts, high heels and barbie doll hair, retro punk boys and girls with spiky dyed hair, grungy guys wearing beanies and baggy jeans, business guys and gals in suits and looking real serious, 80s chic and 50s rebellion, kimonos and little pooches in bags - dogs seem to be a big accessory here - I don't know how anyone manages to leave their house...just seems like it must take ages to dress up for a night out on the tiles. It's all fabulous!!! I'm doing lots of hair style watching to see which I should's hard work!

I think the first trains are on again...maybe I'll actually get a few hours sleep before heading out for shops and more yum yums with Takako ;o)

Actually feel like staying up, finding some more sake (Japan has lots of vending machines selling, bottled green tea, coffee in cans, water, condoms and beer - but no sake)...I have about 30 hours left before I leave for London.

How'd that happen??!!

and their dog Posted by Hello

at Tawan`s place Posted by Hello

another butterfly Posted by Hello

butterfly at the orchid garden Posted by Hello

me and missy G Posted by Hello

boogie time Posted by Hello

ivana and carly Posted by Hello

my sis, arlene and me Posted by Hello

me and my big sis Posted by Hello

out in Bangkok - my sister - chrisy, arlene, missy G and ivana Posted by Hello

me trying to convince the elephants i ain`t a banana Posted by Hello

smiling elephant...with really long eye lashes too! Posted by Hello

eating sugar cane Posted by Hello

playing football Posted by Hello

elephant enjoying the crowds after a performance Posted by Hello

Paa, our boogying buddy Posted by Hello

mae and her son plam...ahhh, bless! Posted by Hello

the kids at Tawan`s Posted by Hello

me and Dia Posted by Hello

us, Plam, Mae, Dia and Diew Posted by Hello

birthday sparklers Posted by Hello

Plam - blowing out his candles Posted by Hello

the results...chicken green curry, sweet and sour pork and tom yam krung (spicy prawn soup) Posted by Hello

me pretending like i can cook Posted by Hello

Cooking course - a trip to the market and lots of chilli paste Posted by Hello