Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hey there... Team JAC.... It's necessary

Greetings from Shanghai!! We're a little behind in the blogging... and have discovered that we are unable to access blogspot due to the 'great firewall of China' (please, don't give us the credit for that catchy term we're not nearly nerdy nor funny enough to think of that ourselves).

For the time being we are emailing our blog posts to Amy's sister, Cath, who will update our blog for us.... love you long-time, Cath. We'll put some photos up when we get to Vietnam in about a month, but in the meantime, here are links to our facebook photo albums from Japan:

... back to Kyoto.

You may have noticed that we weren't exactly impressed with our hostel, so we searched the town for a decent place to rest our heads - and what a decent place we found!! It was an earthly version of paradise in our book - particularly the all you can eat (or eat all you can) buffet breakfast... eggs, potato, sausage, bread - yes REAL bread, cheese, fruit, yoghurt, cereal, coffee and even salad! Our friends in Korea will understand just how exciting this breakfast is due to the complete lack of such wonderous food establishments in Korea. We were overjoyed with this find to say the least and set off with a spring in our step to explore the temples and old laneways of Kyoto.

Things were looking up for us in Kyoto. To add to this, we were eagerly anticipating the arrival of a dear, firey-headed friend of ours from Korea... Jesse-shi!!

Jesse has spent a while living in Japan prior to moving to Korea, so not only did we have a chum to 'talk jive' with, we also had our own personal, Japanese speaking tour guide to show us the ins and outs of Kyoto. Whoot whoot!! Our time with Jesse was spent by the river drinking beer from the convenience store, having ice-cream viciously stolen by swooping hawks, riding bikes around Kyoto, competing in pizza eating competitions, and walking... a lot.

Another of our favourite passtimes was speculating about the identities of our hostel roommates. Based on the headwear we found on their beds, coupled with an unfortunate experience Jesse once had with an angry Norwegian (involving Jesse being strangled in an elevator and forced into a tumble dryer), we decided we were sharing a dorm room with Indiana Jones and a giant albino Swede.

Turns out Indiana Jones was a German with an imaginary pet monkey that could travel through space and time (so he never knew where the monkey was or when he was... he just knew he was)... and the giant albino Swede was a very small English boy with a lot of luggage (but there was a giant almost albino Canadian wondering around the hostel who gave us much amusement). A late check-in saw the arrival of another roommate... we call her Befana. She wasn't our favourite person in the world, so let's just leave it at that. Oh, and we're pretty sure we met the ghost of Scatman-John in a Family-Mart too... Fact.

Claire, Jesse and Amy find some impressive headwear of their own

We took a day trip to Nara where we played with deer, looked at temples and shrines, got harrassed by a man selling terrible poetry, and got our fortunes read. Turns out Jesse is a lot luckier than we are. Amy's fortune was "Late Luck", while Claire's was "Half Luck". According to Buddha, the people we are waiting for will not come... well, that's just awesome... so much to look forward to.

Shopping deer

That night, Jesse and his friend Mai took us to an Izakaya for dinner and drinks followed by a bout of Karaoke (all you can drink Karaoke, mind you!). Our tight budget in Japan didn't allow for such luxuries, so a big thank you to Jesse and Mai for taking us out and showing us a side of Japan we would have missed out on otherwise! Phil says thankssss too.

The Big Bang love affair continues

As any right minded traveler would do, we headed to Osaka in the midst of a swine flu outbreak. With over 100 infections overnight, Osakans were wearing face masks like they were going out of fashion (which they actually are). We opted for no face mask, but even if we had wanted one, we wouldn't have been able to buy them. Apparently they were sold out (cough cough). Osaka was a cool city - much grittier than the rest of Japan. In a way, it felt a little like Melbourne. Osaka highlights include; the night views from the sky building, a shopping center with a ferris wheel on top, people watching in Namba... especially the male hosts with hair bigger than Bon Jovi, sushi sushi sushi, hanging out with old people at a temple flea market and once again, getting very very lost.

Two weeks in Japan flew by in an expensive blur. We loved every minute.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Thought What I'd Do Was, I'd Pretend I Was One Of Those Deaf-Mutes

After a big night at the Jamaican festival on Sunday, we were a little worse for wear come Monday morning and decided to take it easy for the day. What does one do when taking it easy in Tokyo, we hear you ask?? Go look at electronics and Manga porn of course! Luckily, we were staying quite close to Akihabara, a district of Toyko that specialises in both electronics AND manga porn! Sweet!

Seriously who gets off on cartoons?

It was in Akihabara that we met someone... someone who has become very dear to us and accompanies us everywhere.

Mum, Dad, meet Phil.

Hey There

Phil jumped out at us in a variety shop and we knew instantly that Phil was our perfect travel companion. Small, squishy and with a dashing 'tash to boot, we couldn't leave the store without him (although after purchasing our little man, we did see some rather unsavoury posters on the back wall of the shop, of girls who may not have been quite old enough to be posing in such a way... if you get our drift - yuck.)

On Tuesday we spent the day watching fat men in g-strings slapping and pushing each other. Fact.

Fat men in g-strings

If you haven't cottoned on yet, we spent the day at a Sumo tournament... which was pretty cool... and wobbly.

That night we caught the night bus to Kyoto... wow. The midnight express complete with a 30 minute bed-time story from the bus driver... seriously. Although we have no idea what he was actually saying over the PA system, we imagined it to be a detailed history of his life as there is no bus-related information that could possibly take that long to convey to the passengers! Aside from the driver with verbal diarrhoea, the journey was fairly painless and we arrived in Kyoto early Wednesday morning.

Tired and in need of a good shower, we made our way to our hostel.... it was crap.
We have 5 suggestions for improvement for the crappiest hostel in Kyoto...
1) In order to qualify as a hostel, it helps if you have actual guests and staff who are at least sometimes in the building.
2) Locks on doors are good things...but there were none of these to be seen- including the front door. Coupled with the issue raised in the previous point AND the absence of lockers, you may find theft an issue in the future.
3) Showers should not have bugs in them.
4) While it is honourable that you have an English school attached to your 'hostel', if you want it to be successful, we recommend you refrain from using advertising phrases such as "Let's study English with us!" We also suggest you get a few students.
5) You shouldn't advertise for things you do not possess. For example, "New Building" would imply a structure built post 1973. "Internet access" would imply you have the internet and that guests would have access to it. "Laundry service" does not mean guests should have to wash their undies in the shower or walk 20 minutes to the nearest laundromat. "Bicycle rental" would suggest you actually have a bike to rent... but what does that matter?? There was never anyone at reception to deal with any of this anyway!

Sadly we'd booked at this hostel for 2 nights online, so to avoid loosing a lot of money, we needed to endure the bugs and the creepiness of the cemetery across the road for a few nights. Fear not though - we got ours back.... we penned a strongly worded post-it note that sure showed them! If anyone ever came to reception that is.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We Heart Tokyo

We feel a little out of it... for many reasons, but three in particular;
1: We don't have face-masks and there are pigs with the flu out there.
2: We are speaking Korean and everyone else is speaking Japanese.
3: We cannot stop getting lost!

We arrived in Tokyo on Thursday evening and all the Japanese on our flight were wearing face masks... we thought, perhaps, that this was taking things a little too far, so we dropped a few words in spanish and coughed a lot for a laugh. When we landed in Tokyo, the whole plane was greeted by quarantine officials in scrubs and were given 20 questions about our contact with Mexicans, Americans and Canadians. After a detailed investigation, we were awarded a certificate saying we had passed the quarantine test and were free to continue onto immigration... think we might get them framed. After we lined up behind a gender confused nun and were asked another 55 questions about our plans in Japan and the contents of our bags, they set us free into Tokyo!!

We found our way to our hostel and were told we'd recieved an upgrade of sorts... rather than being put in the 10 bed dorm we'd booked online, we were placed in a 6 bed 'capsule' dorm room- whoot whoot!

Capsule bed

Our first day was spent hanging out with Japanese school girls and exploring our local areas of Asakusa and Ueno.

Amy & school girls

After living in Korea for the last year or so, the lack of noise, neon and people in these areas took a bit of getting used to, but it was good to see a bit of 'old Tokyo' even if it was very different to what we were expecting.

While walking through a park in Ueno, we noticed there were quite a few homeless men hanging about... favourite hang out spot for the old guys perhaps? As we kept walking we saw a group of about 200 people sitting silently in rows on the concrete. At first we thought it was some kind of protest or an incredibly quiet performance, but as we got closer we realised it was more of a soup-kitchen type arrangement for the local homeless population. It was a really strange sight for us, partly because while living in Youngtong we didn't really see that many homeless people, but what was really strange was that the whole affair was conducted in such an orderly and quiet way... it was kind of eerie in a way, but at the same time it was a humbling sight.

After a long day of walking we decided to cash in our free drink cards at the hostel's bar. Hmmm... 'bar'... well, corridor would be a better description. A corridor with a few stools and alcohol. We used our coupons on beer. This may not be unexpected nor exciting for those of you reading at home, but for us it was a taste-bud revelation. The sweet sweet sapporo rolled out of the glass and down our throats in a way we had forgotten beer could. It was so good NOT to be drinking Cass, that we put away a solid 4 beers in an hour (or 3 hours with bottles of water interspersed between the beers, if you are our mums reading this).

The following day... think that was Saturday (all this no working is making us forget what day it is... mwahhahaha) we headed into central Tokyo to check out the Imperial Palace. Palace Schmalace. After a few wrong turns that resulted in a 5km detour around the palace moat, we discovered that the palace is not, in fact, open to the public (nor visible at any point around the long long moat), but we were able to view the gardens. Great. Trees are overrated... so is grass you can't sit on. It was pretty nonetheless.

In the afternoon we visited Tokyo tower where we met a monkey wearing pants and got photos taken with a giant penis. Fact.

Monkey wearing pants

Giant penis

On Sunday, we went to Shibuya and crossed the famous crossing every which way we could before heading to Harajuku to people watch and soak up the atmosphere. After snapping a few shots of the Harajuku girls (and boys) we wondered around Yoyogi-Koen Park and chilled out with a few beers in the sun amongst the Rockabillies and Rastas... the perfect Sunday passtime anywhere in the world.

Harajuku girl


After dark, we came across a big Jamaican festival where we discovered cheap box wine... we're not sure what happened after that, but the photos look hilarious, so it's safe to assume we had fun.

New Aussie friends...we are everywhere.

Japan, so far so good!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Korea, 감사합니다 !!

Dear Korea,

You may have noticed we have gone, so we just wanted to write to you and thank you for a few things...

First of all, we want to thank you for kimchi ("the cabbage that we ravage with the chili-paste taste"). Without kimchi our meals would have been bland and our yellow raddish would have been lonely and tasted like feet.

On a similar thread, we would like to thank you for all the free side dishes you have given us over the last year. Without them we would have gone hungry and been unable to stretch our stomachs to hold the large capacity of food that they can now hold.

Korea, we also want to thank you for Noraebang (in particular, the Noraebang on the train)... without it, we would never have had the opportunity to hear so many good songs murdered by so many people (including ourselves), nor would we have been able to stay awake past sunrise on so many, many, many occasions.

We would also like to thank your cheap alcoholic beverages (for convenience and cheapness, not for the taste). Firstly, to Soju - sorry things didn't work out so well between us in the end, buddy... we really liked you, but then you gave us the worst hangovers experienced by man and things turned a little sour. Secondly to Hite beer for being both crisp and fresh and for giving us an alternative to Cass... even though you taste exactly the same. Finally, we'd like to thank our old faithful, Cass beer, for it's sound of vitality and for the extra 5 kilos we have both gained because of it... we couldn't be so chubby without you.

Korea, if you don't mind, could you pass on a few shout-outs for us??
-Thank you to the guy who works at garten bier who dank from our soju cocktails before we did.
-Thank you to all the trolley-weilding ajuma's in homeplus... our shins will never be the same again.
-Thank you to the assholes who stole our beloved push bikes mere weeks after it was actually warm enough to start riding them.
-Thank you to all the men who spat/snorted/vomited in our paths - you make the world so much more colourful... for everyone
-Thank you to all the loved up couples who wear matching clothes... we feel so lonely when walking down the street alone.
-Thank you for K-pop and for 꽃보다 남자... especially for T.O.P. and Lee Min Ho.

But seriously, Korea. Thank you for everything you have done for us and everything you have given us, like our fantastic friends, who are more like a family. Thank you for Mrs. C. who has been our Korean mum (who also happens to feed us beer on a daily basis). Thank you for the gorgeous kids we taught... and thank you (sort of) for the not-so-gorgeous ones too. Thank you for giving us the chance to live in your weird and wonderful country and attempt to learn your language and to try and understand your culture. It's been weird... and wonderful. The last year has been amazing and we will never forget you. Korea, 사랑해.

보고 싶어요

Amy and Claire
(E-i-mi hago Ku-re-eo)