Wednesday, 30 April 2014
Thursday, 24 April 2014
Saturday, 19 April 2014
- the first time my bank blocked my card I was able to unblock it simply by replying to an SMS;
- the second time they blocked it I was able to use Skype to call them from our hotel;
- Google maps with a GPS is a great help in navigation, particularly now that I've figured out the non-intuitive way of caching a map (that's assuming you can find the address in Japanese/Chinese characters in the first place, of course);
- at least in Tokyo, being able to search for transit routes made a complex train system manageable;
- having a translator with me is wonderful, particularly in China where I can sort of draw the characters (Google Translate has a mode where it scans an image for text to translate which is amazing but unfortunately requires an active Internet connection);
- we have all our notes, documents, and bookings in Google Drive and TripIt, which means they're all to hand and backed up online;
- we can write blog posts and keep up on email during long train/bus rides; and
- every Starbucks suddenly becomes an Internet café, much much nicer than any of the dark, dingy places I frequented for an hour or so every few days last time I did this (and I don't need to worry about shared computers capturing my passwords).
Thursday, 17 April 2014
Monday, 14 April 2014
Thursday, 10 April 2014
23 hours into the ferry journey and I'm slightly bored so thought I'd write about one of our evenings in Tokyo at the Golden Gai. The Golden Gai is on the edge of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's main nightlife areas - and home to the red light district. Tucked in behind the high rise buildings with their neon lights is a series of alley ways lined with ram shackled tiny wooden buildings, no more than two storeys high, each no wider than a caravan. These buildings are home to tiny bars and restaurants, most of which are exclusively for regulars and unwelcoming to foreigners: at one point we saw a Japanese guy knock on a door, give a password and the door momentarily open to let him in.
But a few places do let foreigners in and we were in search of Albatross G (thanks for the recommendation Sara - it's still there). In the end we went to a ramen noodle place; you had to buy a ticket for your meal from a vending machine then queue outside down a dark alley, getting funny looks from people walking by (most of whom ending up joining us in the queue, probably because they assume if there's a queue it must be for something good). When there were spaces available the waiter ushered is up the stairs into the tiniest restaurant I've ever seen. There was "room" for about 8 people at once on stools crammed between the bar and back wall, with the kitchen on the other side of the bar. I'm not sure how Julian managed to fit... He looked a bit like Gandalf in Bilbo Baggins' house.
I'd like to say they were the best noodles I've ever had; all I'll say is they were the fishiest noodles I've ever had. But it was an experience to remember.
Wednesday, 9 April 2014
Tuesday, 8 April 2014
We're currently on the ferry between Osaka and Shanghai; we're two of three westerners on board and get peculiar looks from most of the passengers. Why I'm not sure: they are the ones jogging round the canteen and singing karaoke in their pyjamas. It's going to be a long 48 hours.
Back to the food; we succeeded in our Tenkatsu mission, joining 20 others waiting in line outside Katsakura Kyotoekibiru on the 11th floor above Kyoto station. It was worth the wait for a delicious feast of pork tenderloin, rice, finely-sliced cabbage and a sweet spicy sauce you make yourself by grinding sesame seeds with a pestle in a special rushed bowl and adding the various ingredients on the table to your taste. It made up for the trauma of offal stew - almost. [Almost? It definitely did - Julian]
Apart from the food, there have been a few other highlights of our week in Japan and our trip to the National Bunraku theatre in Osaka was definitely one. Bunraku is a form of puppet theatre with three-quarter scale puppets each controlled by three onstage puppeteers, and along with Noh and Kabuki is one of the main forms of theatre in Japan.
We just went to the second half of the performance, which was still 5 hours long! It was an enthralling story about Samurai, with love, betrayal, deception and sacrifice as the main themes. Within an hour the puppeteers had disappeared from our consciousness and all we paid attention to was the puppets who moved with such grace and precision that they seemed renal. The narrative is told through a mixture of singing and chanting by a musician who sits to the side of stage; for the first twenty minutes it was really grating and I thought it was going to be the longest 5 hours of my life, but the skill of the narrators in conveying the emotion of the puppets was incredible.
Highly recommended if you ever get the chance - it's as good as Avenue Q, but very different!!