Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Return to Oz...

So, two weeks ago, I touched down at Coolangatta airport.

Initial reactions:
1. ZOMG I am back in Australia.
2. Everybody is really loud and rude.
3. Customer service is pretty awful.
4. Is it just me, or have things gotten more expensive?
5. *switch on tv* Why is Kyle Sandilands still a thing?

The next day I caught the bus and train to Brisbane. The bus arrived about 3 minutes before the train was due to leave from Robina station, so I rushed to the service counter, paid for a full-fare ticket to Fortitude Valley. The guy gave me a ticket, and told me to run because the train was about to leave and there wouldn't be another for half an hour.

So I ran, with backpack, suitcase, satchel and laptop bag in town, and just made it. Then I looked at the ticket. Although I'd paid full price, the guy had given me a concession ticket. The hour trip that ensued consisted of me thinking "ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap I hope no inspectors board the train..."

And then the inspectors boarded the train. They fined some people but never got around to checking my ticket. Then they got off at Roma Street. Then I anxiously awaited the possibility of being checked when leaving the station, but the attendant just gave it a casual glance and waved me through at Fortitude Valley.

Fortunately, the next few days were more relaxing. They consisted of:
1. Coffee and brunch at trendy hipster cafes in garages and warehouses.
2. Craft markets with all manner of cringeworthy t-shirts, fudge, and handmade ornaments.
3. Sunshine and long walks along the Brisbane River.
4. Wholemeal bread, vegemite, and vegetarian food.
5. A weekend of social swing dancing at the Brisbane Lindy Exchange.

And then, on Monday, I was back in Melbourne...

To be continued...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Last day in Tokyo...

So, I had one day left in Tokyo. It was a clear and sunny morning, so I decided to hire a bicycle and ride around the city, via the Tsukiji Fish Markets, Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara.

Along with the beautiful weather, I came to appreciate how flat Tokyo is - much like Osaka - which made for a pleasant day's riding about town.

And then, it was finally time to leave. It was a strange feeling, after almost nine months living in Japan. On one hand, it felt a little too soon, as there was still plenty that I hadn't seen yet. On the other hand, I was feeling the need to move on and get back into full-time work in the industry. It's been a memorable and challenging experience, in which I've learnt quite a bit about the world and about myself. However, I'm not getting any younger, and there's so much I need to contribute to the world.

It's scary, moving on, especially without a strong idea of what's coming next. Every time I try to control my fate, the throws something completely different in my lap. However, I'm trying to learn to be less indignant about not getting what I want, and opportunistic in making the most of what I have in front of me. It's a hard lesson, but I think I'm getting better at it.

So, on to the next adventure...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Day in Disneyland

So, when planning our weekend in Tokyo, it was suggested that we spend a day in Tokyo Disneyland. I must confess that I baulked slightly at the idea, thinking that it seemed something of a waste when there was probably heaps of other cultural places that we could be visiting, and that it would be expensive and tacky and crap. However, I eventually decided to go anyway, figuring that in life there aren't that many opportunities to visit Disneyland, and that it'd be an experience either way.

I am so glad that we went. It totally lived up to the hype and delivered in almost every way. The parades were astonishing huge, energetic and full of joy. The rides were as diverse and interesting as they were thrilling - I didn't even mind waiting up to an hour for some of them. My only disappointment was that the day wasn't long enough to do everything!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

From capsule hotel to capital city...

So, it was a weekend of firsts. On Friday afternoon, after work, we headed in to Osaka, and checked into a capsule hotel. I'd heard plenty about them, but had never experienced one and, to be honest, it was more comfortable than I expected. I was expecting something more cocoon-like, like out of the Matrix, and was surprised when it was big enough to stretch out in, and even sit up in. The television and alarm clock were a bonus, too. That said, I wouldn't want to be any taller - my feet were touching the curtain at the foot of the capsule.

Staying the night in Osaka meant that we could get an early start the next morning, jumping onto the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Again, I'd never been on the famous Japanese "Bullet Train", and it was a much more comfortable and swift journey than my Seishun-18 journey in late March.

Arriving in Tokyo a mere 2 hours and 33 minutes later, we took in some of the obligatory sights. Our hostel was in the shadow of the Tokyo Sky Tree, along with what could best be described as a giant golden turd. Given the available of lucky golden turd charms, it wouldn't surprise me if that was exactly what it was. We then headed off to the Yebisu beer museum, which unfortunately only provided tours (and beer sampling) in Japanese, but it was an otherwise very nice little museum. From Yebisu, we walked up to Shibuya, viewing the famous crossing, then through Harajuku, and finally to Shinjuku, for the Spring Jazz Festival, where we saw the evening out with some swing dancing.

Next: Tokyo Disneyland!!!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Onward to glory...

If you want to get a feel for contemporary Japanese culture whilst travelling, one thing one must do is step into a Japanese department store. At the upper end of the price range, there is Daimaru, Loft, and Tokyu Hands. However, one of my preferred places is Don Quijote - which is far more affordable.

Here's a quick tour of the Umeda store in Osaka...

As you can see, there's a lot of crazy stuff on offer, and one must exercise caution - prolonged exposure can lead to severe sensory bewilderment!

And yes, I love matcha-flavoured stuff. I can't get enough of it. :)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Beijing Lindy Exchange and My Swingiversary!

So, continuing where we left off...

Friday night marked the first event at the Great Wall Swing Out - the 2012 Beijing Lindy Exchange. The evening kicked off with an amazing dinner, featuring the famous chinese dish - Peking Duck. I thought I'd had Peking duck before, but this was something else! This was followed by the dance in the basement of the Worker's Museum, featuring a live band, and a 1920's & 30's feel.

Then, on Saturday morning, we headed off to Tianjin, a couple of hours away on bus. After a lunch of Tianjin's famous dish -  Gobuli Baozi - we visited a few of its more famous and cultural areas, with another enormous dinner and dance at one of China's last still-fully-furnished opera houses.

Finally, on Sunday morning, we trundled onto a bus and headed for The Great Wall of China. Of course, I'd seen photos of it, but that had hardly prepared me for beholding but a small section of the 6000 km long fortress. What's more, we had a section next to the wall that was perfect for swing dancing, and we were contractually obliged to do the Shim Sham on the wall itself. After returning to Beijing, we saw the evening out with more dancing at a local club, with a 1950s feel and a kicking local rockabilly band playing. All in all, I would have to say that this has been one of the most enjoyable exchanges that I've been on - with an extremely friendly scene, great venues and bands, a good balance of dancing, socialising and cultural experiences. I'd definitely consider going back again next year.

Speaking of swing dancing - today is May 6th, which marks two years since I went to my first class with Swing Patrol. I never imagined that learning the lindy hop would lead me to dance in so many wonderful places, from Melbourne to Hobart, Perth, Sydney and Canberra - to Kuala Lumpur, Osaka, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing, and the Great Wall of China!

Happy Swingiversary to me!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


So, after a couple of days in Shanghai, I woke early and went to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, to catch the fast train to Beijing. This railway station was enormous - the biggest station that I'd ever been to - and finding my train was no mean feat. However, after some abrupt customer service at the information desk, I managed to find my platform with plenty of time to spare.

Several hours later, I was arriving in Beijing! I was, unfortunately, suffering quite a painful foot injury at the time. However, with the help of the hostel, I found an international medical clinic nearby, and it didn't cost too much to see a doctor, who prescribed some anti-inflammatories, and told me to rest my feet for a couple of days.

So, the next day, I decided not to travel too far. Fortunately, I was just down the road from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, both of these involved a lot of walking. Both were quite an amazing site to behold. I was ever-aware of the police presence, which added a level of solemnity when wandering through the infamous square. And then the Forbidden City was something else - you could walk around it all day and still not see everything. I spent a good four hours there, before deciding to seek out some good street food, and braving the stinky tofu.

Friday morning began with venturing down some alleyways in the area, looking for where the locals were eating. I was staying in Nan Luogu Xiang, which has many food places, but they're not really the early-morning breakfast kind of places, and the ones that were open were kinda pricey. Fortunately, I found a place, and then played the try-to-order-food-and-get-something-completely-different-but-still-awesome game. After a couple of days of seeing the ceramic yoghurt jars around the place, I decided to try some as well. It was a little odd, as it was thicker than normal drinking yoghurt, a little bitter, like greek yoghurt, and served at room temperature. Still, as a staple breakfast food, it did the trick!

The rest of the morning / early afternoon consisted of more wandering around the area, visiting the Beijing Drum and Bell towers, and Jingshan Park, which is the highest point in Beijing, overlooking the Forbidden City. I then ventured to the Poly Art Museum, which holds four of the bronze figureheads of the Zodiac Fountain which was looted in 1860 when the Old Summer Palace was infamously destroyed during the Opium Wars. 

Next: Great Wall Swing Out 2012 - the Beijing Lindy Exchange