Monday, 29 July 2013

Remembered Postcards 2: getting crunked.

I woke up with Bruno Mars in my head. Today, I don't feel like doing anything. It's a sentiment I share. Travelling takes a lot more out of you than I expected: I need some time to just kick back and think.
This post will be rather more detail than my last, seeing as there are fewer days to cover.

Day 18. Hong Kong. Had I been travelling alone, I would have spent the whole day in museums, as entry is free on Wednesdays. As it was, the morning was spent sorting out my friend's lost camera, and we only managed an hour each in the History and Science museums. But, on our last evening in Hong Kong, we managed to eat Chinese food - and vegetarian Chinese food at that! I loved knowing I could eat anything on the menu: it made me want to visit a vegetarian restaurant back home.

As the sky got darker, we visited Temple Street market for our final Cantonese trinkets, before taking the famous Sky Ferry from Kowloon back to Hong Kong Island. I stayed up until 2am, talking to a lovely Spanish guy called Josu in the dorm and writing postcards. My alarm was set so I had time to pack in the morning before our flight; I was to be awake at 4am.

Day 19. Tokyo. If you asked me what happened on the flight to Tokyo, I wouldn't be able to tell you. The cabin crew could have stripped naked and sung the national anthem backwards for all I know. I fell asleep before the plane was even in the air and woke up as we came in to land.

We had been warned that the Tokyo metro and rail system is more tangled than demonic spaghetti, but we actually found it alright. I crashed out again at the hostel, then ventured out by myself to buy food. It was the first time I'd walked around a foreign country on my own, and I actually felt really safe. In the laundromat next to the hostel, I befriended some Americans from Utah, and also discovered that bento boxes are the work of benevolent gods. I also realised that smiling and saying "sumimasen" - excuse me - was standard procedure in busy pedestrian areas.

Day 20. Tokyo. Mary's grandmother is friends with a Japanese couple called the Ishikawas, who decided to meet us while we were in Tokyo. They were absolutely lovely. We ate in a tempura restaurant and saw the last two scenes of a kabuki show (traditional Japanese theatre), and had a look at the fantastic external architecture of Tokyo International Forum.

However, from that night, my time in Tokyo really came to life. The other guests at JGH Hostel were funny, fantastic people and I somehow got roped into being the only girl going to karaoke with 7 guys (2 English, 1 Scot, 2 Dutch, 1 American and 1 Aussie). Bizarrely, 3 of them were younger than me - I wasn't the youngest, as I had been in every previous hostel! Success!

Karaoke finished at midnight. The adventures didn't. Devin (the American) and the 2 English teenagers, Fagin and Connor, decided we should have an explore of our area, Nishi-Kawaguchi - a decision perhaps affected by the unlimited free bar at the karaoke. We left the hostel for a wander. 2 hours later, we realised we were really lost, and didn't return back to the hostel until 3am. I went to bed at 5, after falling asleep on Connor's shoulder.

Day 21. Tokyo. Today, my travel companion felt very unwell, and so I had a day of doing whatever the hell I wanted to by myself. I went to Ueno and watched abnormally huge crows in the park, and realised that the Museum of Western Art had a free exhibition of Rodin's statues outside it. I visited the National Museum of Tokyo, which was fascinating, and then a group of us headed out to the fireworks festival in the evening. It involved getting on the infamous Tokyo Subway system, which literally has people whose job it is to cram as many people in as possible.

The fireworks were marred by a thunderstorm. The rain was so hard, the streets turned to streams. For a while, it was impossible to tell if flashes of light were obscured fireworks or faraway lightning strikes. We lost most of the group on the way back to the station, but Fagin, Connor and I got coffee and waited for the crush to die down. Back in Nishi-Kawaguchi, Devin and another guest, Veda, made runs to the drug store for candy. Connor recommended we try Crunky, a chocolate bar filled with crunchy puffed rice. Apparently, the brand is well known enough to spawn its own verb: to eat Crunky is to get crunked. Fagin had the genius idea of putting it inside Oreos, and thus Crunkeos were born. We drank White Russians on the terrace outside our dorms, and Connor and I ended up sharing a tiny capsule bed because I couldn't be bothered to go up the ladder to my bunk.

Day 22. Tokyo. After three weeks sharing everything, the cracks in my relationship with my travelling friend were beginning to show. It was her birthday. We went to the Studio Ghibli Museum, which looked like it was built of pure whimsy but did nothing to soothe our injured spirits. Our passive-aggressiveness of the last few days, both inadvertent and deliberate, had come to a head. She snapped, and I did, and I suppose we were both at fault. We separated ways at Tokyo Central, and I went to Harajuku to see the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi-koen (the park). I watched hip-hop dancers and a multinational drum circle, and even caught sight of a Harajuku girl on my way back to the station. 

A group of us went out for dinner, and my "sakana tempura" turned out to be literally a whole fish fried in batter. Eyes and all. I needed more food after that, so I picked up an onigiri from the all-night bento store, and we laughed at how expensive all the other karaoke joints were. One of the guys and I decided to stay the night in an empty 2-person room we found, abandoning our assigned bunks in crowded rooms for some peace and quiet. 

Day 23. Kawaguchiko. Unfortunately, the hostel owners weren't aware of the fact we stayed in an empty room, and at 9am we found our screen door had been padlocked from the outside. While hilarious in retrospect, at the time it was a cause for major panic, and we had to send someone to reception to unlock our door, to much confusion and many quizzical looks. It was my last morning at the hostel, so we celebrated by buying Crunky and Oreos for the breakfast of champions... Crunkeos.

My friend and I took the train out to Kawaguchiko, which is a village near Mount Fuji. The scenery here is beautiful, and the air is much cleaner than the city, but we can't climb the mountain as we didn't leave enough time, and there are too many clouds to see it. On the plus side, we're on speaking terms again. I'm just glad I can have a day off from rushing around being cultured. Writing is therapy, and I feel so much better for today's session.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Remembered Postcards 1: don't you forget about me.

First of all, an apology. I haven't written anything recently. This is because WiFi is somewhat hard to come by, and often by the time I'm back in the hostel I just want to go to sleep or read my Kindle, not be productive.

I hope you haven't missed me too much. I've missed writing more than I thought I would. Without further ado, here is a rundown of some of the odder bits of my adventure so far...

Day 1. Dubai airport. We ate in Starbucks while a muezzin sang the call to prayer.

Day 2. Singapore. We shared our room with a group of Thai people. Only two spoke English. Sisters. Lovely girls. I say girls; they were 23 and 25.

Day 3. Singapore. I spent all night watching thunder shake the city and fell asleep in the small hours. We visited the Night Safari and watched nocturnal animals come alive.

Day 4. Singapore. I purchased a lucky charm in Chinatown, a dog (my zodiac symbol) and called her LB for Little Bitch. She is keeping my bag safe.

Day 5. Kuala Lumpur. We arrived by overnight train and stared at the buildings, a mix of colonial architecture with Chinese, Thai, Indian, Muslim and modern influences thrown in like spices in a soup. We climbed to the Batu Caves shrine and I fucked up my ankle.

Day 6. Kuala Lumpur. The Skybar at Traders Hotel offered booze, a swimming pool, and views of the Petronas Towers. I didn't get ID'd.

Day 7. Penang. Another sleeper train to Butterworth and a ferry to Georgetown. We met an American teaching English in Bangkok in the station, and spent hours talking. In Georgetown, every building has a story.

Day 8. Penang. It is a well-known fact Thai trains are always late. Were this not the case, we wouldn't have made our train to Thailand, as we tore down the platform 20 minutes after the train was due to leave, the guard changing his GO sign to a STOP one as we ran, rucksacks bouncing on our backs.

Day 9. Bangkok. A week of hot weather hit me and I nearly passed out from dehydration in Siam station.

Day 10. Bangkok. I felt like such a tourist, having one of the most Thai experiences imaginable: getting a massage in the grounds of Wat Pho, staring out the window at the raging monsoon. In typical luck, the one day we decided to see the Imperial Palace was the one day that the Emerald Buddha temple was closed for a ceremony. We ate lunch twice.

Day 11. Ayuthaya. We went to see the temples lit up at night and visited a night market where they sold rabbits and birds in cruelly small cages. I felt sick.

Day 12. Ayuthaya. The day was spent staring at the temples which earned Ayuthaya its World Heritage status. A teacher from the Bronx at the hostel took a liking to my friend and accompanied us back to the station. I didn't trust him. He mentioned that at 24 he had been married... To a 15-year-old.

Day 13. Chiang Mai. We spoke to a Buddhist monk and toured temples in the rain. Our hostel was Japanese-style, with tatami mattresses on the floor. A Dane and a German also staying there ended up accompanying us on a jaunt to the Night Bazaar.

Day 14. Chiang Mai. We saw Christian, the Dane, again. He's the only person I've met who is too lazy to go for a massage. We had seen to many Wats, we were at wat saturation point. Waturation?

Day 15. Bangkok. The day was spent seeing the city from river taxis. The night was spent drinking with two Dutch guys we met by accident and a taxi driver asked if the four of us were on honeymoon together. I kissed one of them, and we were out dancing till past two.

Day 16. Hong Kong. I wonder if my Dutch paramour talks about me as much as I keep mentioning him. The hostel would be lovely, save for the overweight Obama-hating fifty-something who seems allergic to wearing shirts.

Day 17. Hong Kong. We got away from the oppressive fumes by visiting Victoria Park, and then took a tram up to The Peak where we spent too much money on substandard coffee shop food just so we could sit in the window and watch the city glitter in the Light Show.

I don't know when I will write again, but I love you all. Stay safe. Have adventures. Be happy.