Good, Bad & Strange
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Where would you like to go in Asia?

Malaysia, Singapore & BruneiThailand,  CambodiaChinaHong Kong & Macau,   Korea,  Taiwan,  Japan 

 Good Bad & Strange

 Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei – January & February 2007

Conversation between Rebecca and a Policeman on a motorway, south of Kuala Lumpur

“You were going very fast.  May I have your license please?” – Rebecca hands over her driving license

“Where are you from?”

“England.”

“Ok, you have two choices.  One, we fill in paperwork and you pay a 200 Ringgit (£28) fine.  Lot of paperwork, takes a long time, a real delay.”

“And the other choice?”

“You give me 50 Ringgit (£7) cash now, no paperwork and you drive straight off.”

Rebecca hands over 50 Ringgit and gets her license back.

“Safe journey back to Australia.” – smiling and waving as we leave.

Conversation between my friend Jarrod and a stallholder, Petaling Street Market, Kuala Lumpur

“You sir.  Yes, you sir.”

“Yes.” – warily

“T-shirts, sir. You buy a t-shirt.”

“I don’t think you’ll have my size.” – pointing at his ever expanding belly.

“No problem, sir.  We have King Kong size.  Perfect for you.”

We spent a month flitting between Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia, the areas of Sabah and Sarawak that make up Malaysian Borneo and Brunei (The Abode of Peace).  Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

Jarrod and family – It was great to see my old friend from University.  Along with two other lads, we shared a house in Nottingham while we were lazy students.  I’ve been threatening to visit him each year since he left to go back home to Kuala Lumpur in 1995.   So to finally get there and meet his family was excellent. 

Arsenal v Man U – Watching Jarrod’s facial expression as Henry scored the winner for Arsenal at 2am local time on our first day there.  Jarrod is a Man U fan and had spent all thirty minutes of the second half while Man U were ahead chatting and texting with other smug local Man U fans.

Singapore – Despite its reputation for enforced cleanliness (no chewing gum, no spitting) Singapore had a great atmosphere and seemed to be full of happy young people.  It boasts a very entertaining night zoo and although it cost a fortune, Rebecca really enjoyed her Singapore Sling at Raffles.

Kota Kinabalu (KK) – The capital of Sabah (North Borneo), KK was a fun town that was the antithesis of Singapore.  It wasn’t clean or particularly pretty, but it was a real haven after surreal Brunei and “Great, it’s raining again” Kuching.

Orang-utans – Possibly the only ginger thing that doesn’t deserve to be shot.  They’re great, just look at the pictures.

DVD, VCD “cheap cheap” – 20 Ringgit (£3) for 3 DVDs, when the films are still on at the cinema. We must be in Malaysia. 

Sarawak Cultural Village – An excellent place to learn about the indigenous people of Borneo, with a really entertaining cultural show.  The real thing is a little different (see strange things below).

Chinese New Year – Fantastic fireworks from nightfall on New Year’s Eve that got even better after midnight.  The highlight of the celebrations was a lion dance performance at our hotel the next day. 

Food – Rice and noodle with every kind of meat (except pork), chilli sauce with everything, practically every meal was cheap and tasty.  Curry for breakfast is normal here.  

Roadside services – Cleaner and better than most towns, with a great selection of food options at low prices.

Bad Things

Cheap Airlines – Fly Asian Xpress (FAX) cancelled one of our flights, but didn’t tell us, they just sent an email telling us that the time had changed.  We turned up for the new flight to find it was fictional and we couldn’t fly where we wanted to for two days.  We were not impressed.

Borneo development – Tied in with the point above, lots of development, especially around Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, destroying jungle habitat and making more money for a few people in commerce and government, while not really benefiting anyone else.

Patronage and corruption – In Malaysia these seem to go together.  The colourful full-page adverts congratulating a government minister on opening a new building or road that few people will use are bad enough, but the backslapping is just the end result of the backhanders and bribes that the Malaysian economy seems to run on. 

Car Hire – Jarrod sorted out a hire car for us, sadly we had to get the brakes fixed before we could go anywhere in it.  In Borneo we hired a car in Kuching, but couldn’t get to it, as there was a fire in the car park where it was kept.

Driving and Roads – Driving in Malaysia seems to be very hit and miss. Using the horn instead of the brake was a common bad habit and Kuala Lumpur seemed to be overrun with traffic at all hours.  In Borneo the idea of fixing potholes hasn’t sunk in yet.  Apparently the conversation we had after being stopped on the motorway is very common, the police being the front line of corruption.  Quite often cars are stopped and the drivers asked how much cash they have before the police “officially” rob them.  In retrospect we were probably lucky to get away with such a small fine.

Iban rant – On a nature trail walk our guide, an aging local Iban man, decided to give up after five minutes and instead gave us a forty-five minute rant on why the Iban people are so poor and downtrodden.  It would’ve been interesting on the longhouse tour (see strange things below) but on a nature trail tour where it was hot enough to fry an egg on my back, it was annoying.  One of the group might have told him to shut up, but for the smell of rice wine on his breath and the machete attached to his side.

Levels of hygiene – It would be stereotypically unfair for me to say hygiene levels in this part of the world vary from ok to diabolical, but unfortunately it’s true.  The hawker market in Port Dickson was the smelliest, dirtiest and most disgusting place serving food I’ve seen outside of Glastonbury.

The Amazing girl – We met an English couple on the way to Batang Ai National Park. We saw them the following day and Rebecca asked what they had got up to on their excursion that morning.  She was treated to two minutes of babble with every sentence starting with “It was amazing”.  Bloody tourists. 

Cat statues – Kuching has lots – they are crap, so is Kuching.

Food – Fish head curry, dried fish, cuttlefish packed like crisps and especially sembal, a fish paste.  If “evil” had a smell, it would be sembal flavoured.

Strange Things

Iban Longhouse – At Batang Ai National Park we visited a local Iban longhouse. Instead of the colour and hospitality of the tourist longhouses further down the river with dances, colourful costumes and blowpipe demos, we got the real thing.  Starving people in slum like surroundings with wild dogs and pigs everywhere.  We were hospitably treated and then charged for the privilege. It was a sobering experience in spite of the rice wine we drank with the headman. The rant in the section above would’ve have been quite powerful here, but instead, apathy was the overwhelming emotion.

Left-handed? – Get used to eating with your right hand, the left hand has other uses here and no toilet paper is provided.

Sri Lankan Airlines camera – Ever wondered what the view from the front of the plane is on take off and landing.  Fly with Sri Lankan Air and the on board camera shows you, on a big screen at the front of the plane.  I tried to keep my eyes shut.

Passion for football – Lots and lots of interest, lots of opinions and lots of Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool shirts (all pirated).  The favoured Liverpool shirt has the clubs name written in the Carlsberg font across the front. 

Durian – A large fruit that really smells.  We got stuck behind a truck of them on the motorway and thought there was a chemical leak nearby.  Hotels in Asia ban durians from their premises and treat them with the same severity as firearms.

Brunei – A surreal place, in which one of the richest individuals in the world lives next door to a stilt village in the river where thousands of his subjects reside.  The best example of how Brunei is today is Jerudong Park, a rival in size and rides to Alton Towers when it opened in 1994, now a sad deserted place with about three rides open to anyone over five years old. The only worthwhile ride being the log flume with a backwards drop and real bats living in it.  

Global gaming – Soon after arriving in Brunei we discovered an Internet café beneath our hotel.  We checked a few things online while the eight teenage lads around us got very involved in online game play, often shouting “holy shit”, and “got you now motherfucker”, without any real idea of what they were saying.  Don’t you just love globalisation?

Semmengoh Wildlife sanctuary – We didn’t see any orang-utans here, but it was nice, until I realised they were a bunch of tree hugging hippie bastards.  See the photo album below for proof.

Kuching Museums – A nice area with pleasant buildings full of stuffed animals, odd artefacts and paintings with little or no explanation. There seemed to be no real sense of purpose other than to stick a load of old things in a building.

Have you seen the monkey? – A question posed to us on more than one occasion by helpful local men.  I can’t help thinking that if Rebecca was here by herself it might have more euphemistic connotations.

Fairy cave – According to our guidebook a popular place to visit, we found it open, but derelict, the steps to the cave rotting and nothing but litter to be found near the entrance.  However it was an impressive sight inside.

Food – Rojak, mixed fruit and vegetables with prawn paste, wrong but quite nice.  Halal versions of pork products – chicken sausages and beef bacon. Banana leaf curry – eat your curry from a leaf with your fingers (right hand only). Cats eye drink, sugar syrup in a plastic bag with a straw.

Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei provided us with our first experience of Asia and for the most part it was excellent.  If we had known how pleasant it was compared to some of the countries further North, I think we would have appreciated it even more. 

Click on the picture below to see the Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei photo album  (opens in a new window)

 Thailand – February & March 2007

Conversation on the way to Batang Ai National Park, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo – February 2007

 “So where else are you going after Borneo?”

“We fly out to Bangkok and then we’re going up to Chiang Mai.”

“Have you been to Bangkok before?”

“No, we haven’t been to Thailand before.”

“Bangkok’s full on man.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah – you’ll hate it.”

And he was right.  In Thailand we spent most of our time in the Bangkok and Chiang Mai areas.  If I’d written this after the first couple of days in Bangkok it would’ve read as follows – Good Things – none, Bad Things – everything, Strange Things – all strange things are bad, so it’s not worth differentiating.  Fortunately it got better. 

Good Things

Colour – With none of the Islamic restrictions on dress that Malaysia imposed and a love of yellow (the King's colour) Thailand was always bright, if not always cheerful. 

Ocean World, Siam Paragon Centre, Bangkok – Another Bangkok exception, a fantastic aquarium with shark feeding a highlight. If they fed the sharks live tuk-tuk and taxi drivers it might be more fun, but you can’t have everything. 

Chiang Mai – A much nicer place than Bangkok, full of good food and nice, helpful people. We were even helped by a tuk-tuk driver. Shame about the pollution though. 

The Reclining Buddha, Wat Po, Bangkok – I didn’t like Bangkok much, but the reclining Buddha was an exception, huge, gold and hypnotic, a great sight.

Thai Cookery Course – Rebecca spent five days learning how to cook loads of really tasty Thai food, which will come in handy when we finally have a kitchen again.

Sukhothai World Heritage site – Cycling around the temples of the old capital city with no one around to rip us off was both interesting and relaxing.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery – A moving and fitting tribute to the POW’s who were worked to death by the Japanese while building the bridge over the River Kwai. 

Food – Pad Thai, green and red curry, chicken and cashew nuts.   

Bad Things

Con artists – Coming in all shapes and sizes (but nearly all living in Bangkok) The taxi driver who insisted on twenty or more occasions that “you go my bar – it on the way” until I told him he’d get paid nothing unless he took us straight to our destination.  The man outside the Royal Palace who attempted to get us into his bar by insisting the palace was closed for prayers, while hundreds of tourists were pouring through the door behind him. The “free” temple guide at Wat Mahathat who knew nothing about temples and instead spent ten minutes explaining a “free” tour of other sights with a stop at the Thai Export clothes shop (who she was an agent for). She also insisted that the Bangkok Museum was closed to foreigners that day (it wasn’t of course). Hailing five taxi drivers at the bus station before getting a cab prepared to turn his meter on.  So many other “where you from?”, “you got map?”, “you go here – five minute, ten minute”, we quickly got to the point where we were sick to death of it.

Pollution and Haze – Chiang Mai was coated in haze the whole time we were there. A result of unchecked forest fires and a lack of rain, mixed with hundreds of toxic motorbikes and tuk-tuks on the roads.

Tuk-tuks – A motorbike with a passenger carriage for two bolted to it, they are slow, uncomfortable, smelly, pollution machines that (with one exception in Chiang Mai) are owned and operated by the biggest rip off merchants in the country.  

Bangkok – A real capital city, like London on a bad day, a perfect mix of con artists and ignorant bastards. A real shithole with the exception of the two good things in the section above.   

Axe Cushions – They look nice, but try using one as a cushion and you’ll realise how crap they really are.

MOB’s – Mail order brides – The number of men who would be charitably described at home as plain, a little overweight or “he’s into dungeons and dragons you know” (or all three) accompanied by attractive Thai women was astonishing. There was even an advert for an agency offering Thai women for special long-term relationships with Western men in our city guide to Chiang Mai.  I thought slavery was outlawed, but perhaps I was wrong.

Horny Bus Drivers – List of items a Thai bus driver needs in order of importance – 1 Horn, 2 Accelerator, 3 Supply of Amphetamines, 4 Everything else except, 5 Brakes.   Our bug-eyed, ranting driver from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok blasted his horn so frequently we started to get worried when he went more than 30 seconds without using it. The trip lasted 3 hours. 

Food – Pea aubergines, fish paste, kaffir lime, added live caterpillar in Rebecca’s salad in Phitsanalouk.

 

Strange Things

Bridge over the River Kwai – You can walk across the famous bridge (rebuilt version – original destroyed) or ride across in a crappy tourist train.  Either way you end up in a surreal souvenir market that sells tat by the bucket load.

Finding yourself – Just down the road from the bridge over the River Kwai you can find spiritual nirvana with the aid of Buddhism, full English breakfast and happy hour beer.  If you get bored, you can get your dreadlocks done too.

Porno Porno – Patpong in Bangkok is an area with a night market. It’s also full of go-go bars where you can watch highly trained Thai ladies do things with their nether regions that you wouldn’t think were possible.  As we walked around the area we were presented with list after list of “pussy” shows that were about to start, while been offered “porno porno” and Viagra.  We turned down the chance to see two girls playing ping-pong “pussy style”, but found the area quite relaxing. With so many willing customers the sales technique was friendly and unpressured. If you said “no” you got a smile and left alone, not pestered until you gave in.   

Wrap around trousers – In the night bazaar in Chiang Mai, Rebecca got caught by a very camp man who wrapped a pair of unflattering black trousers round her before she had chance to complain. While he fitted the trousers he kept telling her that black was her colour. Then he made the mistake of saying “Black makes you look slim”.  To which he got the terse response “Are you saying I’m fat?”  Very professionally he came back with “No, no, no – it makes you look slim-errr”.  Rebecca didn’t buy the trousers. 

Sergeant Major Tawee’s Folk Museum, Phitsanalouk – Sgt Major Tawee has devoted much of his life to buying traditional Thai folk items and displaying them in his museum.  So if you want to see every kind of animal trap invented, the process for castrating bulls (with pictures) and lots of rather strange models; this is the place for you.

Long Live the King – The Thais love their Royal family.  Pictures of his majesty (nearly always wearing yellow) are found all over the place and the airport is plastered with signs, at least a metre high, reading “Long Live the King” on the outside of each jet way.  Somehow I can’t really imagine arriving at Heathrow and seeing hundreds of banners with “Long live the Queen” but you never know.

Monkchat – See the photo album below.  I think that most of the chat was along the lines of “where’s your toilet?” before they put up the sign below the main one.

That’s what colour it is – Many garages served petrol from a barrel with a glass section at the top that looked like a bubblegum machine, emptying five litres each time into your tank.

Food – sausages in balls served on a stick, sweetcorn flavour ice cream, half a pineapple hollowed out and filled with rice.  

 

In the end Thailand was a mixture of really good with downright annoying bad, but to be fair, not as bad as I thought it would be.

Click on the picture below to see the Thailand photo album  (opens in a new window) 

 Cambodia – March 2007

Conversation at Angkor Temples

“Mister, mister. Where you from?”

“London.”

“That is capital of England.  You buy ten postcard, one dollar.” – starts counting from one to ten

“No, I can’t buy those.  They have a French word on them (Cambodge for Cambodia) and I can’t buy anything French as I’m English.”

“Oh.”

 After a slight pause, “ok your wife buy. Lady, lady, you buy ten postcard, one dollar.”

We only spent five days in Cambodia, but it was so different from Thailand I felt it deserved its own good, bad & strange.

Good Things

Temples of Angkor – The highlight of any trip to Cambodia, incredible buildings, wonderful engravings and two great days out for us.  We spent the first in the company a taxi driver called Mr T and his friend, who was a funny and knowledgeable guide.  On the second day we rented electric bicycles and got round more or less under our own steam.

Constant Movement, Phnom Penh – In general Phnom Penh is a busy place, but the road to the airport was incredible. Stalls line the sides of the road selling anything you can imagine and they all seemed to be teeming with people.  On the road it was even busier, taxis, cars, land cruisers (for the rich), motorbikes (by the thousand, often loaded up with 3 or more people), pickup trucks with twenty people in the back, bicycles, tuk-tuks, cyclos (bicycle tuk-tuks) and most strangely, a herd of cattle.

Royal Palace – The only part of Phnom Penh that wasn’t busy. Wonderful buildings complete with occasionally useful information in inadvertently comical English.

No More Landmines - Finally the majority of the landmines have been cleared; see the picture in the photo album to see how recently work was going on near Angkor Wat.

Food – Amok chicken – chicken curry served in a coconut, fantastic French bread everywhere, fresh pineapple on a stick around every corner at Siem Reap and the best hotel breakfast in Asia at the Bougainvillea hotel in Phnom Penh.

Bad Things

Intense poverty – Phnom Penh is a city strewn with rubble, shit, rats and teenage kids begging with their babies. Cyclo drivers, who can’t afford a place to live, sleep outside on their bikes and the city just feels broken.  We were told that the levels of poverty were even worse in rural areas.  

“One dollar” – See the conversation above, which was between me and a kid who was no more than six years old.  At Angkor no one bothers you in the temples, but as soon as you reach each exit you are bombarded with little kids selling you all manner of things for “One dollar”.  They are all well trained; all have the puppy dog innocent look mastered and look as though they might cry if you don’t buy from them.  Sad and somewhat unsettling, rather than annoying.

“Massage” 5000 riel – Yes “massage”, and yes, 5000 riel ($1 = 4000 riel, £1 = 7500 riel).  Teenage prostitution for slightly more than a pack of ten postcards, building after building in the area near to the central market in Phnom Penh. 

Strange Things

Getting a Visa – Arriving at Phnom Penh airport without a visa you have to queue up with a completed application form and a passport sized photo.  When you’ve handed it in, you move ten yards to the right to wait for the row of seven seated officials to laugh uproariously at the pictures and chat loudly, before sticking a visa in your passport and relieving you of $20.  Don’t worry if you forget your extra photo – you can get one for “one dollar”.

Rebecca corrupting a monk – On the electric bikes at Angkor we passed all sorts of people, but the one who sticks in my mind was the monk who smiled and said hello to Rebecca and then had to stop to turn his head round as he couldn’t get his focus off her breasts.  I have a feeling he’ll struggle on the celibate side of monkhood.

Motorbike use – There are thousands of motorbikes in Cambodia and they are usually loaded in one-way or another. We saw a number of bikes that managed to seat three adults and two kids at once.  Girls sitting on the back invariably rode side-saddle and the only people who wore helmets did so to keep the sun off.  Motorbike is also the favoured method to carry goods about, from crops to ladders to, well anything that can be loaded on.  We saw one bike attached to a cart with a haystack five feet high and three feet wide on it.  On top of the haystack, a friend of the rider was fast asleep. 

Petrol in bottles – With so many motorbikes about there is a real need for cheap fuel, which is sold in two litre glass bottles on the roadside.

Food – Spicy Chinese tofu and peanuts with big beer in Phnom Penh.  

The phrase “assault on the senses” is overused, so I won’t bother with it, but you can’t leave Cambodia without a sense of awe, whether it is inspired by the temples of Angkor or the squalor of Phnom Penh.

Click on the picture below to see the Cambodia photo album (opens in a new window) 

 China – March & April 2007

Conversation on a Yangtze River cruise ship shortly after it arrived at Shanghai Docks eight hours later than expected

“It really was a problem with the fog.”

“Fog?  Don’t you mean hideous air pollution?”

“No.  It was real fog.  The trouble is that because there’s so much pollution above the fog, it takes ages for it to disperse.”

Guide Commentary on a Yangtze River cruise ship while passing through the Three Gorges Area

“Here you see the line which is the old level and the line of the new level when the Three Gorges Dam is complete and this area will be flooded.  As you can see that bridge is between the lines, so we call it “Bye-Bye bridge” – because when the floods come we will say “Bye-Bye”.”  

Guide Commentary on the way to the Great Wall explaining the Chinese Zodiac

“So you see we have twelve animals, one for each year, but not the cat, as the rat did not wake him up in time to get the job. Before this the rat and cat were best of friends living together, but the rat he went with the ox and the cat fell asleep.  This is why the cat hates the rat now, just like the Tommy and the Jerry, where the Tommy is trying to kill the Jerry all the time. “Bam bam bam.” - mimes hitting with a fist and strangling.

“Yeah the Tommy tries to get the Jerry and kill him because he hates him, yeah, bam bam bam.  It’s great.” - big grin on his face as he warms to the theme.

More soberly after five minutes of Tommy trying to kill Jerry.  “And that is why the cat hates the rat.”

China is a place with good and bad things, but most of them are just strange.

Good Things

Terracotta warriors – An hours drive from Xi’an, the warriors are one of the great sights of China. The scale is incredible and the area is nicely laid out, although after this year you’ll have to trek through an international convention centre to get to the warriors.

Xi’an – The best city we visited by far, everything was good: the city wall that you can walk on, the Forest of Stones museum, the food, the Muslim quarter and even the sun visor DVD player our taxi had on the way back to the airport.

Three Gorges scenic area – Incredible scenery on a Yangtze River cruise, soon to be less incredible when the Three Gorges Dam is finished and the area is flooded. 

Acrobatic show – We went to an acrobatic show in Beijing with few expectations, especially when we saw the state of the theatre (outside and in).  But we were pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained for an hour and a half by acrobats with an average age of about fourteen.  Plate spinning, pole jumping, hoop diving and balancing tricks that defied belief – “Insane” as the American behind me seemed to say every few minutes, and he was right. 

Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and Forbidden City – All in Beijing, all built in the same style, all worth a visit, especially when they finish renovating the Forbidden City.  All audio guides are by GPS with a flashing light that comes on to tell you where you are as the commentary kicks in, marvellous.

Huang Shan, The Yellow Mountain – More incredible scenery along with a surprisingly good cable car ride. 

Yonghe Gong Temple – Fantastic Buddha statues (one 18 metres high) hidden away in a nice temple complex in Beijing.  

Tsingtao Brewery in Qingdao – Very much like any other brewery tour, except you get to drink unfiltered Tsingtao half way round, before getting a big jug of filtered stuff at the end, with snacks.

Shanghai Museum and Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre – Showcasing the nation’s past and the city’s future respectively, they were both excellent. 

Food – Noodles, rice and sumptuous beef and pork dishes, jasmine tea, most portions big enough to share. 

 

Bad Things

Child like ways – The majority of Chinese people behave like children in public, possibly because there aren’t that many kids around now that the one child policy has been in operation for nearly twenty years.  Crowding, shoving in, shouting, queue jumping, running and especially smugly getting the last seat on the metro are common and annoying occurrences.  At first I thought they were all just a bunch of peasants and then decided later that ignorant kids was more realistic, peasant kids that is.

Shanghai Docks – A grotty area with no obvious facilities where we sat for nearly eight hours waiting for our cruise down the Yangtze River.  The staring there was top quality.  The woman holding her young son in the air so he could produce a turd the size of his head just a few metres away from us wasn’t very good either.  Fortunately we met a local bloke called Patrick. He was waiting for someone to get off the boat that we were waiting for.  He spoke good English and gave us valuable insight into the Chinese way of thinking.    

Spitting – Remember Bob Carolgees and Spit the dog, you will if you visit China.  The sound of hawking up a big fat glob of spit is omnipresent in men and women and they think nothing of flobbing it out wherever they happen to be. At least we discovered why “no spitting” is so rigorously enforced in Singapore, which has a majority Chinese population. 

Sales technique (English speakers) – Like a dog with a bone, a constant barrage. The “Don’t give up until the bastards give you the money” approach.  We met an Aussie who was originally from China who summed it up with “They won’t let you go until they’ve squeezed every last dollar out of you”.

Smoking – Almost as common as spitting, the idea of a no smoking area only really exists at airports.  Even on no smoking floors of hotels people just smoke in the corridor outside their rooms. 

Sales technique (Chinese speakers) – Learn the name of your product in English, the phrase “Hello” and some numbers. Hence the greetings – “Hello postcards”, “hello book”, “hello warriors”, “hello kite”, “hello pineapple” and my personal favourite, “hello beer”. 

Staring – Not just a glance, but full on, in your face gawping, especially for Rebecca.  “Quick a woman with breasts, let’s go and stare at her for five minutes”. 

The Three Gorges Dam – Meeting China’s power needs by displacing hundreds of thousands of people and flooding some of its best scenery.  It looks disgusting as well.

Smog – Most of China seemed to be covered in a grey cloud of filth.  In fact grey is the main colour in most cities.  As the world’s largest industrial producer, it is horribly polluted. 

Welcome to the Eighties – In terms of women’s fashion and especially in the case of terrible permed hair.  There are attractive Chinese women, but none of them live on the mainland, they are all in Hong Kong and Singapore. 

Learn to smile – Especially in Beijing and hopefully before the Olympics.  A good city spoilt by the usual ignorant childish habits and an inability to smile.  Cheer up you miserable bastards; you live in one of the best places in China.

Food – Anything with chicken or turkey in, full of bones or very strangely coloured – the suspicion that “chicken” was a euphemism for anything vaguely meaty, fried squid on a stick.

Strange Things

Great Wall – We visited the Badaling section, the busiest part. The wall was interesting and a great sight, the fact that it was useless at its job (Genghis Khan bribed the guards), that it was full of Chinese tourists shouting, pushing, wearing identical red baseball caps and generally behaving like little brats was only part of its strangeness.  The sliding cars that took us up to the wall entrance and slid us back down like a rather poor theme park ride were definitely stranger than anything else. 

The Brides of Qingdao – Couples in China like to have nice wedding photos, so many travel specially to Qingdao for its beach scenery, just for a few shots.  We saw couple after couple lined up on the beaches in full wedding gear, often with the bride wearing trainers and tracksuit bottoms underneath to run to the next photo destination.  By the end of the day we had seen more than fifty couples getting pictures taken. 

Arrival in Beijing – Hopefully not a metaphor for Beijing’s Olympics?  We walked off the plane onto a modern jet way that abruptly finished with a crap and rusty set of steps that went down to a smelly, packed bus that took ten minutes to get to the baggage collection area.

Guangzhou sound and light show – Hong Kong has one, so not to be outdone, Guangzhou got one on its riverside.  The lights are ok, but the sound was a strange choice.  Bearing no relation to the light show it flowed through traditional Chinese opera to “Roll out the barrel”, back to traditional Chinese, before finishing on the Magnificent Seven theme tune. 

The cruise for thirty – When we finally left Shanghai docks (eight hours late) we discovered that we were two of thirty people on a cruise ship built for five hundred.  We were outnumbered three to one by the crew.  The cruise was good, (Yellow Mountain excursion, we met some nice people, the Three Gorges scenery was great), bad (so delayed we eventually transferred to another boat for the last couple of nights), but mainly strange (we were welcomed by the ship’s band playing “Colonel Bogey”, most of the excursions were like the one below and being so few on board of such a large boat just felt wrong). 

Ti’anamen Square – It’s big, really big, more than a kilometre from end to end.  The entrance to the Forbidden City is at one end, Mao’s Mausoleum at the other (closed for renovation) and a six lane highway cuts through the middle of it.  It was just a vast unsettling place (especially if you remember the news footage of the student demonstrators being crushed by tanks).  But it was full of Chinese people, many of them staring at us.  At one point a young lass asked us if we would be in a picture with her older relatives.  We agreed and then wondered if the older women spent all of their time in the square collecting pictures with foreigners to see who could get the most.  

Wuhan tour – A typical Yangtze River tour excursion. Starting with twenty minutes on a coach with a commentary designed to appeal to Americans (“Here’s a KFC, there’s a McDonalds. My kid loves it”), followed by a rushed fifteen minute tour of a strange sight (the grotesque rock museum), thirty minutes in the museum shop spent desperately trying to sell us something, followed by a twenty minute coach tour back to the boat with a vaguely interesting old Chinese myth thrown in if applicable (the drunken monk and the dancing crane). 

Neon – If you live in a colourless society why not cover it in neon.  That’s what the Chinese have done, at times it looks garish, but most of the time it’s just a bit overpowering.

Auld Lang Syne and Yankee Doodle Dandy – Lots of “traditional” Chinese instruments are sold at all of the tourist attractions. To demonstrate them the stallholder invariably played the traditional Chinese tunes “Auld Lang Syne” (about 90% of the time) or “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (the other 10%).  One of our cruise friends who had been in China before told us “They are told to play one tune and keep playing it until they get it right.  Unfortunately, most of them never manage it”.

Shanghai Maglev Train – It’s a great idea (a magnetic levitation train), it’s fast (431km/h top speed), it looks good, but it doesn’t really take you anywhere. (Pudong Airport to an outlying metro station still 20 minutes from the centre of town).

Mobile phone volume – In the West in ascending order: - silent, low, normal, loud, eardrum bursting.  Chinese phones only seem to have eardrum bursting, which is handy as their speaking volume is at the same level. 

Shanghai hotel – Our hotel in Shanghai was part of the 80,000 seat Shanghai stadium. If we wanted to pay extra we could have had a room with a view of the pitch. 

Automated airport announcements – Non-stop in most airports, in Mandarin and English, telling you to start boarding, continue boarding, to board more quickly and reasons for delays.  My favourite “This flight has been cancelled due to (long pause) airline”.

The Bund Tourist Tunnel – To cross the river in Shanghai you can pay 3RMB (20p) to use the metro or 35RMB (£2.30) to go through the Bund tourist tunnel, a rather bizarre neon light show that lasts at least 90 seconds.

Fengdu Ghost City – “Welcome to Hell”.  At the home of the King of Hell, you can make sure you’re not damned for all eternity by making offerings to the King, see what happens to those that are damned in rather graphic model form or buy lots of ghost based tat.  It’s very strange, but the models are great and we found it very enjoyable.

Food – Chinese banquet food – a weird variety of dishes from gorgeous pork to sickly fish served on a rotating table on every excursion and every night on the cruise.  Dim sum in Guangzhou – chicken feet and pork knuckles and other stuff that wasn’t so easy to identify.  Nutritious beef penis casserole (didn’t try it).  Most of the things served on sticks or in ball form.

Mainland China was definitely an experience, but I don’t think we’ll be rushing back anytime soon.

 Click on the picture below to see the China photo album  (opens in a new window)

 Hong Kong and Macau – April 2007

Conversation in a Taxi between Rebecca and an apparently elderly taxi driver

“The Royal Park Hotel in Sha Tin please.”

“Royal Park.  Hmmm.  Sha Tin.  Hmmm.  Yes, I know it.  Ok.”

“Is that a picture of your granddaughter?” - looking at a picture of a baby on the dashboard

“No.” - long pause

“It’s my daughter.” 

And he still took us to the hotel and didn’t rip us off. 

Hong Kong and Macau were a bit of a relief after mainland China, but strange things were still in evidence. 

Good Things

Night races – A fabulous racecourse in the middle of the city with a skyscraper backdrop, 10HKD (60p) admission and the same amount as the minimum bet level.  A popular place for ex-pats on a night out after work and with locals desperate to gamble.

Hong Kong Disneyland – I know it’s for kids but we enjoyed it anyway, and the fireworks were especially good. 

Peak Tram – A pleasant and scenic ride up a cliff face to get great views of Hong Kong Island.

Parks and Aviaries – There are several good parks and aviaries, including a very good walk through aviary in Hong Kong Park. All of them are free of charge.

Star Ferry and Hong Kong Island Tram – Public transport since the early years of the 1900’s, still working well and very affordable – Ferry 2.2HKD (14p) – Tram 2HKD (12p).   

Tourist service, especially at the airport – Wonderfully helpful and obliging, a real bonus after mainland China where tourist service hasn’t really caught on as well as tourist rip-off has.

Harbour light and sound show – Unlike Guangzhou (see China section above) the music and lights are in time, the whole show fits very nicely together and looks great against the skyline. 

Skyscrapers and skyline – If you like tall, modern buildings (which I do) the skyline in Hong Kong is one of the best in the world. 

Pouring tea, Macau casino - The tea pourer in the casino restaurant had a teapot with a metre long spout.  Before pouring your tea, he whipped it around like a swordsman, before coming to rest at the perfect angle for the tea to trickle into your cup.

World Heritage sights, Macau – There are plenty of partially broken buildings left in Macau from early Portuguese occupation and they are still impressive, especially against the contrasting backdrop of the modern Chinese casinos.

Bad Things

Way too busy – Hong Kong is full.  There are way too many people trying to wedge themselves into too small an area. 

Price of hotels – Ranging from “Are you taking the piss or what?” to “second mortgage required” for rooms charitably described as “comfy”.

Colossal burger – The picture looked good, but after eating two half-pound burgers in three buns with all the trimmings I didn’t feel good.

Restaurant service – Poor at best and almost down to the level encountered in Italy in some places.

Olympic Square – Hong Kong is a venue for a few Olympic events in 2008 so it got to build an Olympic Square, sadly it is rather dull and the wrong shape; it is round. 

Strange Things

Madame Tussaud’s – Located at the top of the peak, just as you get off the tram, Madame Tussaud’s was as weird as any wax museum, but with an Asian twist.

Macau Casinos – Apparently they now make more money than Las Vegas.  However, although the Chinese love to gamble there was none of the noise and fun you get in Las Vegas casinos.  The places seemed more efficient than entertaining.

Hong Kong Space Museum – A strange place for a space museum, as Hong Kong doesn’t really have much of a space tradition, but interesting displays and films helped, until the place got overrun by school kids.

Escalators – As much of Hong Kong Island is very hilly there is an outdoor escalator running uphill for 800 metres.  It goes downhill in the morning for people to use to get to work and then they flip it to run uphill after 10am.

Filipino Sunday – Hong Kong’s children are raised by Filipino maids, who get one day off each week – Sunday. So every Sunday they spend the day talking to their friends and colleagues in every available seating area on the Island. In every park, every entrance to every shopping centre and basically anywhere you can put down a sheet of paper, eat a snack and talk very quickly and loudly.

Lucky forehead – In Macau an Indian bloke with a turban stopped me to tell me I had a lucky forehead and that I was very lucky.  He explained that he had some important info for me so that I could remain very lucky.  I felt lucky enough as it was, so I left him to it before the scam started to unfold.

Hong Kong and Macau were good; I’d recommend a visit to both, especially as an antidote to mainland China.

Click on the picture below to see the Hong Kong and Macau photo album (opens in a new window) 

 Korea – May 2007

Conversation at Jeju Island Airport between the long distance and short distance taxi ranks

“Hello.  How are you?  Do you want a taxi?”

“Yes.  We would like to go to Love Land, please.”

“Love Land.  Yes very good.  The sex museum in Seogwipo is also very good.”

“Yes and the love museum too.” – his friend joins the conversation.

“Yes, the love museum is excellent.”

“We’d just like to go to Love Land really.”

“Ok, that way, short distance rank.” 

Korea was surprising in a number of ways, most of them good, some of them strange. We split our time there between the capital Seoul and Jeju Island in the far south. 

Good Things

Korean People – Wonderfully helpful and friendly, always ready with a smile and full of sing song Haseyo (hello) and ham-ni-da (thanks) and not just for our benefit either, a great tonic after the miserable Chinese. 

Olympic Park – A pleasant place to stroll around celebrating the 1988 Seoul Olympics with a good Olympic museum that vaguely mentions Ben Johnson’s drug disqualification.   

Hi Seoul Festival – Seoul was great, the Hi Seoul festival (on at the time we arrived) made it better, with free concerts and cultural events going on through the city.  Some of the traditional drumming and dancing we saw was sensational. The highlight was seeing the world’s first speed tightrope walk contest.  Yes, speed tightrope walking, thirty metres above the Han River for one kilometre.  The winner did it in just over eleven minutes.  

Efficiency and the KTO – Korea is an incredible efficient place, things get done, no mess gets left behind and everyone seems happy about it. The Korean Tourism Organisation (KTO) was especially efficient and helpful, giving us free information that was substantially better than the guidebook we bought.

Cinema – Films are shown in English with Korean subtitles. So we got to see Spiderman 3 in a comfortable seat with no one in front of us talking all the way through or giggling and necking vodka with red bull (our last Watford cinema visit).  At the end of the film, in true efficient Korean style, everyone put their drinks and popcorn cartons in a bin at the exit.

Grandfather stones, Jeju Island – Statues depicting a mythical Grandfather image that appear at the gateway of many properties on Jeju Island.  The smile makes them look vaguely like dirty old men, but I thought they were great anyway. 

“Nanta” – Literally means Cookin’.  A very funny theatre show based in the kitchen of a Korean restaurant with loads of percussion, slapstick and few words. Basically the dialogue consists of “Krim kek” and “six o’clock”.  One of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages.

Food – Kimchi – a pickled style of cabbage, shabu shabu beef hotpot, rice sticks, bulgogi (marinated beef or pork strips), Jeju Black Pork chops.

Bad Things

Hi Seoul DJ festival and free concert – The only part of the Hi Seoul festival we didn’t enjoy, as we couldn’t find it. So it can’t have been very loud as we were in the right area.  

Police presence – There were lots of police in Seoul with big taekwando sticks (taekwando is the national sport) at each event for Hi Seoul even when 90% of the audience was over 70 and all of the events were good natured. 

Things we couldn’t do – We wanted to go on a tour of the DMZ (demilitarised zone) between the North and South, where we would’ve been able to walk into the North (albeit around a conference table in a building) but the tours were fully booked.  We also wanted to see “Jump”, like “Nanta” another non-verbal theatre show, but it was sold out well in advance.

Paranoia – Tied in with the police presence, the fire extinguisher in every hotel room and the smoke masks at every metro station.  Technically the South is still at war with the North and the border is only 50km from Seoul, but at times it seemed they were overdoing things.

Air conditioning – The panel is there on the wall in your hotel, it has buttons you can press, but does it blow out cold air?  No, it’s centrally controlled.   

Food – Kimchi – at first it was good, then it got worse, fish heads left on, bean curd strips, Jeju Black Pork rashers (80% greasy fat).

Strange Things

Underground Seoul and Cardboard City – The metro in Seoul is very efficient, but at times you don’t need to take it, as underground shopping areas connect the stations.  We walked nearly three kilometres underground through five stations one night.  In the last one of these (Euljiro 1) about twenty homeless blokes were building a cardboard city with boxes from nearby shops, very efficiently making beds, using plastic tags to join boxes together, while carefully leaving space for passengers to get by.  In the morning they were gone, returning only late at night to rebuild their city. 

World Cup stadium – Very impressive, the stadium tour takes you through Korea’s entertaining (if controversial) run to the semi finals in 2002 while explaining how wonderfully they hosted the competition.  Japan’s involvement gets one line near the end (“some matches were also played in Japan”).  This isn’t the Koreans stealing the glory; they just hate the Japanese, like most of the other countries in this region.  Thirty-five years of occupation from 1910 and the use of thousands of Korean women as “comfort women” are still kept very fresh in the collective memory. 

Love Land, Jeju Island – It’s a theme park; the theme is sex.  The pictures below give you a flavour of the place.

Snow White and the Six Dwarfs – A set of larger than life sculptures outside a corporate building in central Seoul, strangely scary without even thinking about what had happened to Dopey.

Changing of the guard – On the hour at the main palace of Gyeongbukgong, in full authentic regalia.  It was an interesting ten-minute ceremony, but the most entertaining part was seeing if the fake beards worn by all of the guards would stay on or not.

Kiddie Hello’s – More or less everywhere we were greeted enthusiastically by school kids saying “Hello”, asking where we were from and then looking very confused if we asked them a question.  It was all very good natured, if a little unnerving at first.

Uniforms and the crossing girls – Korean workers seem to like uniforms.  Our favourites were the very well dressed ladies at Jeju airport whose job it was to control traffic flow and get people across the road.

Kiddie Friday Picnic – Even stranger, kids in identical tracksuits and backpacks, no older than three or four being led into a park for a picnic on a Friday afternoon, only to struggle to find space as hundreds of other kids in identical tracksuits and backpacks, no older than three or four, were all ready having a picnic there. 

Old folks in the park – On a Saturday the pensioners of Seoul come out to be entertained by a singer and his band in a park outside the Jongmyo shrine.  One bloke was the spitting image of Kim Jung Il, the North’s infamous leader, bouffant and all, another decided to chat to us, although he spent much of his time taking his cap off and saying “Slazenger” (the brand name) before pulling his false teeth out.  Behind him several rather more respectable pensioners motioned to us that he was a nutter and that he had nothing to do with them.  They also chided him for taking his teeth out in public.

Dongdaemun Stadium – Football was played at Dongdaemun, but then Seoul built a World cup stadium.  Dongdaemun was turned into a car park and a flea market, except the stadium was never demolished.  So now you can sit in the seats and look at the car park where the pitch once was, before doing a bit of shopping in the back of the main stand.

Food – kimchi, it’s just omnipresent in Korea, sugar spun sea worms, giant ice creams built for four.  In Korea food is always shared, so meals come out with about twelve side dishes and everyone digs in, which is not so good when there’s only two of you and half of things in the side dishes are fairly difficult to identify.  

Overall Korea was a lot of fun, probably my favourite place in Asia and I would definitely recommend a visit.

Click on the picture below to see the Korea photo album  (opens in a new window) 

 Taiwan – May 2007

From Taiwan Promotional DVD – ““Taiwan will Touch Your Heart”

“Taiwan, a beautiful island in the Pacific Ocean, close to the Philippines and Japan.”

No mention of China for some reason. 

Conversation on Shanghai Docks with “Patrick”, our Chinese friend

“Taiwan is very important as it Chinese and they should be with us.”

“Do you think they want to be with you?”

“I think they do, now that our economy is better than theirs.”

“And if they don’t want to join you?”

“Then we must fight.” (Yes, ok, I know this sounds like the lead in to ten minutes of kung fu madness before Bruce Lee stands victorious and his assailants pick themselves off the floor to run back to their boss, but that’s what Patrick said and the look on his face suggested that disagreeing probably wouldn’t be a wise move)

As you can see there are still a few bones of contention between China and Taiwan.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

Taipei – A busy, interesting place, full of people on scooters, street markets and a government bent on removing Chiang Kai Shek’s name from everything. 

Bubble Tea – Tea, ice, tapioca balls and a wide straw to suck them through, surprisingly tasty.

Taipei 101 – The tallest building in the world provided a really good experience.  Not only is the building elegant as well as functional, it has the world’s fastest passenger lift, excellent information around the observation deck and a fantastic food court in the shopping area at the bottom.

Very Convenient – Taiwan has a huge number of convenience stores, apparently the biggest concentration in the world.  We found 7-11 useful, but Family Mart generally had a better noodle selection. 

Taroko Gorge – Fantastic natural scenery on Taiwan’s East coast, made more astonishing by the frequency of natural disasters that batter the island.

Tainan Temples – Tainan has lots of impressive and extremely colourful temples.

Bad Things

Kaohsuing – Taiwan’s second city promised little and delivered less, I was glad we only stayed one night.

Military Paranoia – With the Chinese believing that Taiwan should be part of the People’s Republic and the Taiwanese believing that they are the true Republic of China, it only seems a matter of time before the two come to blows.  China’s growing economic power and Taiwan’s increasingly militaristic and independent stance make it more likely to be sooner rather than later. 

High Speed Train to Tainan – The train was ok; discovering that Tainan’s high-speed train station was a forty minute drive from the town was not, especially as we had booked a hotel on the basis of it being opposite the train station in the centre of town.

Strange Things

Taroko Gorge tour – Great scenery and an interesting drive through with a commentary in Chinese.  The driver’s only method of communicating with us was by writing down the time that we had to return to the bus at each stop and in spite of that he still nearly left the National Park Information Centre without me.

Changing of the guard at Sun Yat Sen Memorial – White uniforms, high steps, slow motion.  See the photo album below.

Low Flying Planes – In Tainan and especially in Taipei, local flights come in at what seems like head height. You can practically see the passengers waving at you.

National Palace Museum – The best bits of Chinese heritage stolen from the Peoples Republic by Chiang Kai Shek when he fled for Taiwan in 1945, now proudly (and a little defiantly) on display.  Well some bits anyway, half of the museum was under renovation and a travelling exhibition from the British Museum swallowed quite a bit of space. The highlight was a small jade sculpture of a piece of cabbage, which is reproduced into any kind of tat you can imagine in the museum shop.  

Bathing of the Ten Thousand Lotus Blossoms – In the vast square in front of the huge Chiang Kai Shek Memorial (soon to be renamed – but that’s a different story) ten thousand followers of a particular Buddhist sect with a female master ceremonially wash themselves for Buddha’s birthday.  Meanwhile members of the Falun Gong congregate in the other half of the square, just a typical Sunday afternoon in Taipei.

Taiwan is well worth a visit to see what would've happened to China had Mao never seized power.

Click on the photo below to see the Taiwan photo album  (opens in a new window)

 Japan – June 2007

Conversation while walking down the hill from the castle in Osaka

“Do you think Osaka Castle was worth a visit?”

“Yes. I liked it a lot.  Is that dog wearing dungarees?”

“It would appear so.” 

A little further down the hill after a moments pause for thought: -

“We should’ve got a picture of that.”

“Don’t worry there’s two down here wearing dresses.” 

In Japan we spent the majority of our time in Tokyo, but also visited Kyoto, Osaka and Nara.

Here’s the good, bad and strange. 

Good Things

Tokyo – A fantastic city with loads to do. A busy place with a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere for its size.  Great buildings and over 100,000 restaurants.

Shinkansen – The bullet train, looks great, is as fast as its nickname implies and invariably arrives on time.

Service – The level of customer service in Japan was unsurpassed, especially in restaurants.  We were greeted as if we were old friends everywhere we ate and that level was kept up until we paid the bill.  Service isn’t just for foreigners either; everyone got the same treatment.

Kaiyukan – The aquarium in Osaka, is very well laid out, with tanks set up to see what is going at ground level and then below as you spiral your way down the building through five viewing floors.

Sumo – We had an incredible afternoon at the sumo in Tokyo. Totally different from normal sporting occasions, the big lads stroll about the building with the fans, although they stick out a bit in their kimonos.  The matches were fun to watch (over 200 each day starting at 8:30am with the juniors) and when the top division sumo arrived at around 4pm the atmosphere started to really build, culminating in the defeat of the grand champion in the last bout.   

Train Stations – The main train stations in each city were almost self-sufficient towns, with shopping centres and a vast array of restaurants.  Kyoto station has a skyway observation deck on the twelfth floor that you reach via huge escalators.  Our hotel in Kyoto was actually part of the station complex.   

Osaka Castle – A wonderful old building in a park in the middle of the very modern city of Osaka.  Great views and an interesting history exhibition on each floor added to the experience. 

Sanjusangen-do, Kyoto – The longest wooden building in the world.  Inside are 1,001 many handed Buddha statues. One massive one and a thousand smaller ones; all carved from local Cypress trees.  An impressive sight indeed.

Food – Tonkatsu – battered pork cutlet, Okonomiyake – a cross between an omelette and a pizza cooked at your table, Yakitori – Japanese BBQ on a big grill in the centre of the restaurant.  All delicious.  Many restaurants featured acrylic versions of their dishes in the window, which meant we could just point at a dish and be certain that the real version would turn up looking exactly as good, which it inevitably did. 

Sapporo Beer museum – A museum with beer, no more to say.

Bad Things

Old people – The elderly Japanese people were similar to the Chinese, totally oblivious of anyone else, constantly barging through spaces that weren’t there while moaning loudly.  One old bloke on a crowded bus in Kyoto prodded another bloke with his umbrella at least ten times while shouting “orimas” (next stop) at him even though the bloke had nowhere to move to.  I have nothing against old people, but they really should stay at home out of the way whenever I want to visit their town, as it makes things so much easier. 

Bikes on paths – Cycling in Japan is done away from the road, which is ok when the paths are wide, but really annoying when the path is barely wide enough to walk down and some annoying git on a bike is tinkling their bell at you.  Kyoto was the worst place for this, but Osaka wasn’t far behind. 

Kyomizudera Temple, Kyoto – A contender for the new Seven Wonders of the World this temple is nice, but as the picture in the photo album below shows, it’s more tourist trap than temple.

Saving face – The Japanese are hated throughout Asia as a result of past nastiness; the trouble is they still refuse to admit to any of it – just so they can save face. This is one of their least likeable traits.

Dotombori, Osaka – The entertainment district of Osaka based around the canal was the only place in Japan when I thought, “This really is a grotty shithole”.

Suicide’s an option – Tied in with saving face, if you’re a political figure in Japan and you’ve been caught with your hand in the public purse or with a woman who obviously isn’t your wife, then suicide is seen as a dignified option.  

Train Stations – The biggest stations were so confusing, that it was way too easy to get completely lost as we did in Kyoto, Shinjuku in Tokyo and Shin-Osaka.

Godzilla – Godzilla, a bad thing?  Not really, just the size of the statue lets it down. See the photo album below.

Food – Takoyaki – Octopus balls, Sashimi – I can’t be doing with raw fish, anything with squid in it.  All disgusting.  

Strange Things

Dogs in frocks – The Japanese treat their dogs like children and dress them up accordingly.  There was even a dog attire shopping street in Tokyo, so your dog can keep up with the latest fashions.

The e-car ride, Toyota Megaweb – Sit in a car and press the start button.  Then sit back as you are driven around the Toyota Megaweb complex by the car for fifteen minutes, no driver required. 

Men in skirts – In Nara, a man with a long beard strolled around in a denim mini skirt and a strappy top; sadly we didn’t get a picture.

Petrol Stations – No room for petrol pumps; then feed the petrol lines through the ceiling. 

Pachinko – Go into an amusement arcade in Japan and you’ll see pachinko, a cross between bagatelle and a slot machine.  We tried it, lost our money and gave up without really knowing what we were doing.  Many locals were addicted to the raucous noise each machine makes and seemed to spend all day and night in the pachinko parlour. 

Kabuki theatre – Ancient Japanese theatre, strange even by normal Japanese standards with unusual all male acting, lots of white make up and dressing up in frocks.  Even stranger for us as we couldn’t understand a word of it.  More of an experience than an enjoyable thing to do.  

Kyoto – An incredible station, lots of temples, lots of school kids, lots of bikes on paths, lots of pachinko parlours and lots of really stupid people.  A thoroughly strange place.

Zojoji temple windmills – If you’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth you can dress a small figure at the Zojoji temple and add a windmill.  A sad and moving place.  

Nara deer – In Nara Park, several hundred tame deer roam free and are fed with “deer crackers” sold all around the park.  They get aggressive if you don’t feed them and they stink. 

Tokyo Police band – In the Imperial garden in Tokyo the police band play lunchtime concerts. Some traditional tunes eventually gave way to Copa Cabana.

Japan was a fascinating country and a really good place to finish our Asian trip.

Click on the picture below to see the Japan photo album  (opens in a new window)