Hiroshima

Hope all is well with all you folks back home.

I’m enjoying Japan. I love cute things and Japan is cute world magnified. You should see me in those toy shops, some serious regression going on. John got rather excited about all the different lego available, you can even play with it in store. Mega! show_random($num=1, $tags=’bobafett’); ?>

We left Tokyo on Monday. Thanks Keith for a fun stay. It was into wider Japan all on our tods with no hand holding from Keith. Arch, scary! But quite exciting.

Mega exciting was the bullet train. I’ve never been so hyper about going on a train before. It was a huge monster of a machine with a bit of a strange duck billed front. Masses of leg room, a smooth ride and some serious speed. Oh if only back in the UK….. I need not continue.

We arrived in Hiroshima knowing that we would find it interesting but also a little scared of how it might make us feel. We exited the station looking a bit lost. Immediately someone stopped and asked us if we needed help and pointed out the tram stop for us. Nice. When we got on the tram we were studying our map. An old man was also looking at it with interest. He offered help and insisted guiding us to the very street we needed. He didn’t actually know where he was going and we had to persude him to take a different route at times. It was still really sweet of him and we arrived safely. This man was easily 70 years old and told us he was born in Hiroshima and had lived there all of his life. He clearly lived through the Atom bomb. We wondered what stories he might have to tell.

We were a little worried about staying at the ‘World friendship centre’ even though it was our first choice of accomodation. In the back of our minds was the concern that we might find the people a little overpowering. We needent have worried. It was run on a voluntary basis by an American couple. You got fantastic breakfast in the morning and could go and watch the news in the living room. It was a little like staying with relatives. We were made to feel really welcome. Thanks to Don and Pauline.

On our first full day in Hiroshima we set out to see what is known as the A-bomb dome. It’s a grand old building which has been left exactly as it was immediately after the bombing. It certainly stirred up the emotions, mangled metal and rubble really gives a strong visual impression of what the rest of the area must have been like. Many near by memorials in Hiroshima’s peace park were tasteful, simple and gentle in their message. The museum was admirable too. It starts by introducing you to the political context around the bombing. We found this to be pretty objective and a good introduction to the facts. At no point was there any goodie vs baddie insinuations. This part of the museum was the easy bit. show_random($num=4, $tags=’bomb, a-bomb, dome, peace’); ?>

The second half started to get harder. When you see personal stories, scorced childrens clothes, photographs of people with appalling burns and walls stained with black rain it’s pretty hard to take. I rushed the last bit a little as I was feeling physically sick. While I was waiting outside for John people were coming out and bursting into tears. We left for five minutes or so and braced ourselves for the art and photographic exhibition. The art exhibition was by various survivors of the bomb depicting their lasting memories. The visual images they presented and the commentary along side them were deeply personal and highlighted the psychological side of the aftermath. The tissues were certainly out after that, it was one of the most increadible insights into human suffering I’ve ever experienced. We were both almost speechless afterwards. It’s not something we could just come out and have a debate about, we’re discussing it in small chunks.

The amazing thing about Hiroshima is that it has a hopeful, cheerful and kind atmosphere. It’s an admirable city and we found it a rewarding trip.

We treated ourselves to half an hour in the toy shop after all of that. A temporary but necessary fix.

While in Hiroshima we also got out onto Miyajima, a mountain island, and did a little walking. It did us good but it was seriously cold and snowing a little on the top. We also went to a small English cafe selling Jacket potatoes called ‘spud love’. It was really cosy in there and actually a really good way to speak to some of the locals who were all really lovely. show_random($num=4, $tags=’Miyajima’); ?>

We’re in a 30 bed dorm in Kyoto now. It’s not as bad as it sounds and has free internet. All is well but we’re still in a very reflective mood.

Bye for now,

Viv xx

V

Hello from Japan!

For those that can’t read kanji that says ‘Hello from Japan!’, at least that’s what google translate tells me.

We arrived on Sunday and currently taking it easy staying at Keith’s in Tokyo, finding our feet in what is a radically different place to Australia (unsurprisingly!).

The journey here was pretty smooth and featured our first airport sleeping experience at Hong Kong that was actually pretty pleasant thanks to advice from http://www.sleepinginairports.net/ (thanks John K!). < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’hongkong’); ?>

Japan is a very confusing place. I’m not sure if Japanese people are just used to the level of complication that abounds or whether it is just served up so they can have a good laugh at gaijin wandering about looking confused.

Here’s a list of things that have confused us so far:

  • The rail network is ridiculously efficient and blazingly quick, but trying to find out what sort of ticket you need to get is ridiculously confusing such are the number of different fares and train operators.
  • Taps. I needed instructions on how to use a tap (really!)
  • The kettle. Likewise, I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to use a kettle that had four buttons on it. There is no need for such complication in a kettle, all you need is one button for on, surely! Ironically you’d think that a kettle would boil water but the wizzo-kettle doesn’t even do that, it merely heats the water to a steamy, if not boiling, 98 degrees.
  • The shower. Granted, showers back home have had me flummoxed for a while before, but I’ve always managed to figure it out in the end. Keith had to show me how to use his, never would have figured it out for myself.
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Aside from being confused a lot we’ve really enjoyed our first few days here. We’ve been out and about a bit sightseeing in Tokyo. Watching the sun set from Tokyo’s answer to the Eiffel tower was cool. Looking out over the city in any direction all you can see is grey buildings until mountains or the river get in the way of the architects, Tokyo is vast. For the most part it’s also nothing much to look at, but is punctuated with the odd respite from the endless shops and offices in the form of temples. The buddhist temple Senso-ji and the surrounding low-rise district was pretty cool. The electronics shop districts are a gaudy sight too – endless rows of them with neon signs vying for your attention to step inside and look at all the cool gadgets and cameras advertised by brightly painted signs and posters. Viv bought a fancy new camera for a bargain price in one of the shops to replace the recently deceased one that had a terminal meeting with the coral sea back in Australia. < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’tokyo’); ?>

Relative to Australia it is bloody cold here, about 12 degrees outside and as most of our clothes more summer orientated we’ve been pretty chilly, even when we do have about half of our limited wardrobes on to go outside! It should be warming up soon anyway with spring only just around the corner.

We’ll be hopefully heading on from Tokyo on Monday, assuming that all is well with our Chinese visas, to Hiroshima. In the meantime we’re enjoying the luxury of Keith’s hospitality at his dinky little flat. < ?php echo $falbum->show_random($num=4, $tags=’yashio’); ?>

Sayonara!

John

Australia round up

I know you’re all wondering what we’re up to in Japan but we have a few loose ends to fix up for Australia first.

Here goes then:

GOOD THINGS

Wildlife.
It was worth going to Australia to experience the wildlife, even if we did have to endure some other things we didn’t like. Here’s a list of wildlife that got me really giddy:

Green Tree Ants – These little fellas are ace! They’re quite cute too. I liked them because they made really cool nests out of leaves. You could tap the edge and they would all come out to investigate. Unlike other ants they don’t seem to bite you just for the sake of it. They spend a lot of time wandering around aimlessly in circles (my kind of ant!) You can make them jump too and they suddenly become all alert and start looking around. My favourite Austailian creature without a doubt.

Flying foxes/fruit bats – Seriously fantastic large, noisy and messy. They are quite a sight and fling fruit stones at amazing velocities. Brilliant.

Sneaky the Croc – I LOVE SNEAKY THE CROC!

Froggies! – Loads of tree frogs, pretty tame too.

We also liked:

Cute little pademelons (tiny wallabies)
Kookaboras (Noisy and funny)
Really interesting insects (like the leafy Katydid which just looks like a leaf and the Rhino beetles)
Monitor lizards (The carpet carriers of the lizard world, when they basked in the sun they flattened their legs like a spaniel would)
Lots of snakes.

There were also wildlife experiences to note. We enjoyed camping in our little tent. It took a bit of getting used to with all of the strange noises. The Kookaboras sound like evil little goblins, tawney frog mouths (a little like owls) sound like darth vadar when they hang around your tent. Actually we only experienced this once, maybe our frog mouth was asthmatic…. Dingos howling and possums trying to break into the tent were other experiences.

Another thing to note is the number of things that can kill you. There are jelly fish that can leave you deceased so you have to wear a stinger suit. In southern queensland the water is too shark infested to swim in at all. There are 20 species of poisonous snake that could kill you and two deadly venamous spiders. On top of all of that we got leeches on our legs on one rainforest trip, not deadly but pretty unpleasant. It all adds up to make you a little nervous.

Ecology

Amazing rainforests protected by mangrove forests. Fire dependant Eucalypt forests. They all varied to an increadible degree between sites. I’m sure that those of you who’ve seen my flickr site recently will be worried about being bored to tears by me spouting off about a load of plants. I’ll leave it at that but they were fascinating.

BAD THINGS

This is where we risk repeating the rants. I’ll keep it brief.

The wrong kind of tourists

Bloody bratpackers! In truth we only really met one fellow traveller that was really on our wavelength and that was Jonas from Amsterdam. He was a bit nearer our age and was capable of intelligent conversation about interesting and important things. He was a good laugh and liked to drink too, (bonus Jonas!)

NO PUBLIC TRANSPONRT! BEING FORCED TO GO ON TOURS IF WE WANTED TO SEE ANYTHING! Grr!

There are some amazing natural treasures in Australia including some huge Lava tube formations. We couldn’t afford to go and see them because of the above reasons. I think it would have cost us about £200 each just for a day. I feel sorry for Australian children from less well off families who don’t have the funds to see some of the things that they should have right of access to as far as i’m concerned. The Lava tubes are privately owned and visitors are exploited.

Last but not least. The beer was crap.

HELLO JAPAN, HOW LOVELY TO SEE YOU! show_random($num=4, $tags=’Missionbeach’); ?>

Japan here we come!

We got bored with Australia and booked some tickets to go and see Keith early. We’re off on Saturday!
John’s researched the best airport sleeping spots in Hong Kong so we might look vaugely human by the time we arrive there on Sunday.

(Mums: Keith will be in charge of us for the duration of our stay in Japan, therefore he will be responsible for our behaviour. His telephone number is….. ha ha! Sorry Keith, just thought I might have your heart racing there for a moment.)

So, what have we been doing since John last wrote? We’ve locked ourselves in a room to judge the caption competition. There have been some major fights, i’m surprised we’re still together. Not really 😉

The best thing we did was go croc spotting last night. It was ace. There was a 2m croc called sneaky. I never thought i’d consider a croc to be cute but he was gorgeous. I think our guide was aware of this and did say. ‘Now don’t forget crocs are mean and do want to kill you.’ Aww never. Far too adorable.

show_random($num=4, $tags=’blogoz2′); ?>

We spotted some wild Kites and Eagles that swooped down for food. We did a bit of mud crabbing too. The warning the guide gave me reminded me of my favourite quote by a person we’ve met in Australia. We were at a campsite in Maryborough and talking about Sharks. The guy said:

‘Me and them sharks have got an understanding you see, I stay away from them and they don’t come on this campsite.’ Classic!

Today we tried really hard to get a final snorkel in. No go. All trips to the outer reef are suspended and the rest of it was like swimming in weak hot chocolate. Apparently the reef around there has been seriously damaged by trawlers anyway. I’ll not start my rant about the horrors of trawling and what an environmental disaster they are but i’m biting that lip hard! Anyway, at least we tried to snorkel and we got to see some excellent reef and fish on our sail of the Whitsundays. show_random($num=4, $tags=’MissionBeach’); ?>

Much love to you all!

Viv

Caption competition – We have a winner

Congratulations to you all for your great entries. It’s been a lot of fun reading them! Here goes:

In 3rd place with the startling starwars related sizzler:

“He says his name’s Yoda and ‘Broken down my car is…’ ”

It’s Dr Skiz

Congratulations – you win, a birthday card – It’s in the post!

In 2nd place with this grotesquely gross gag:

John – that sneeze really cleared my passages.

It’s AndyDad

Congratulations – you too win a birthday card – In the post also.

And the winnner with this treacherous threatening tickler:

‘just follow my instructions and the cricket above your head (gary) wont have to turn nasty…no funny business…you’re asking for a 12″ deep pan with chicken, no peppers…if you fail to get free garlic bread gary gets the nod…are we clear?

it’s AndyBro

Congratulations – you win a bendy rubber crocodile, a small rubber whale, an information leaflet about ‘Vic Hislop’s Shark Expo’ and some stickers from New Zealand bearing the logo ‘No Pigs, pig semen or pig embryos on the South island without permission’.

We’ll post these off as soon as possible. Well done to everyone!

Viv x

Sailing the Whitsundays

We have just got back from a pleasant couple of days sailing the Whitsunday Islands aboard the ‘Ron of Argyll’. Unfortunately the weather was not with us and we ended up with 3 overcast days which meant that snorkelling could either not be attempted or was not the best. However we did have one excellent snorkel on a patch of the great barrier reef with a great variety of coral and an even greater variety of fish. We were in the water for about half an hour and just kept spotting new fish that we hadn’t seen before even towards the end of that time. The fish have such vivid and irridescant colours, it’s a really beautiful scene. Some of the fish were very inquisitive and would come to check you out, one fish looked a bit evil and had sharp teeth which unnerved me when it approached. Viv got bitten by a fish too when she was feeding them bread, it mistook her finger for the bread!

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That snorkel was defintely the highlight in what was otherwise a slightly dissapointing experience. The boat was too crowded and the others on the trip, while all pleasant enough, were not anyone that we shared much of a rapport with. We also both found that we do get a bit sea sick so the times when we were sailing for a while weren’t the most pleasant as we spent the time lying down feeling queasy. It was nice to get back on solid ground again.

Finally, congratulations to Viv’s sister Jane who has just had a baby boy, here’s hoping he doesn’t grow up to be a spurs fan like his father!

CAPTION COMPETITION

A mystery prize is available for the most inventive and amusing caption for a currently untitiled photograph on my flickr site.

The photo shows John making a phonecall under the supervision of an amphibious friend. What shall I call it?

Get those imaginations to work!

See you all after our boat trip!

Viv xxx

(No frogs were harmed in the creation of this image) (Actually, we didn’t even touch it. It’s clearly a very nosey creature).

When it rains, it pours

As Viv said in the last post the caving was really great, felt proper adventurous and jeez those holes were tight! I’m just glad that I had lost a bit of weight since leaving the UK else I’m not sure I could have got through, fortunately we didn’t attempt the hole named ‘rebirth’ – those cavers have some great names for bits of the cave!

After the caving we headed up to Mackay and got wet putting up our tent, wetter walking to the supermarket and soaking on the walk back. At night the tent did what it does best and warmly invited the rain to come join the party inside the tent – a free water bed! If anyone is planning to visit Mackay then don’t bother staying at the Central Tourist Park – it’s shit. There’s no kitchen (thankfully there was a pizza takeaway over the road), nowhere to sit that’s out of the rain other than the tent and you have to rely on Mackay’s poor public transport (although at least it had some, most of Australia doesn’t) to get you out there. It is also bloody ugly.

Fortunately we only had to spend one night in the crapsite, our next couple of nights were far more pleasurable and spent at Cape Hillsborough national park. As ranted in my previous post we had to get a tour out there which consisted of being shown a low-production value video about the region on the way out there and then being taken on a couple of short walks by a guide. Granted the walks were very pleasant and Glenn the guide did give some interesting insight into the area’s environment but all in all it was a pretty uninventive tour. Anyway once the tour was done we had a couple of days in the park to ourselves before getting picked up again and having to do another tour with Glenn (along 2 tracks that we had already walked ourselves). Our campsite was great – right on the beach and nestled under shady trees and surrounded on all sides by ants’ nests. Actually the later part wasn’t so great as my polka dot feet gladly will testify if asked. We got to see mangrove forests, deadly and non-deadly snakes, rhinocerous beetles, ghost bats, lots of crabs and some birds that didn’t move at all when you approached in the mistaken belief that you couldn’t see them disregading the fact that their plumage wasn’t green and that they were sitting on grass. Probably not contenders for the avian branch of mensa. It was a great couple of days and we even got to have our first camp fire of the trip, made by my own fair hands – I felt like a man! Fires rule! The excessive quantity of seam sealer that has now been liberally applied to the tent also seems to have persuaded the tent that water is best kept on the outside. show_random($num=4, $tags=’CapeHillsborough’); ?>

We then popped back to Mackay for the night this time staying in the much better YHA which came with the added bonus of getting a free view of hundreds of flying foxes (fruit bats) gorging themselves on the berries in the big tree right outside our room’s balcony. They made a right racket chattering away to each other and such was the rate at which they were eating we had to run the guantlet between the kitchen and our room to avoid getting pelted with discarded berry stones raining down from the tree above! We also got to see our first possum, a friendly fella who was pretty tame and very cute. It’s interesting to note the difference in image that possums have between Australia and New Zealand – in NZ they’re a pest to be hunted and turned into various dead possum products but in Australia (where they are native) they are a part of the national identity. I guess the Australian possums have a better PR man.

In the morning we headed out on a much better tour to Eungella national park where we swam in a couple of creeks and saw the deeply strange but very endearing duck-billed platypus. They’re much smaller than I had imagined. Our two days in Eungella were spent doing the longest walks that we have yet done in Oz through lush rainforest. It was great to get some really decent exercise again with an added shot of adrenaline when a lethal snake came out of the undergrowth and across the path right where I was standing – I’ve never jumped out of the way so quick! We also saw a couple of lace monitors – they’re huge and just lollop around the forest floor, occassionally stopping to bask in the sun seemingly unfussed by our presence. We also found that, pretty as cockatoos are, they collectively make the most offensive noise of any bird that I have yet heard. On our last day there we had just packed up our tent when the heavens opened and in the 5 minute walk to the bus shelter we got soaked from head to toe including most items in both of our rucksacks. The last couple of days we have had the contents of our bags strewn around room in an effort to dry everything out. One casualty of the downpour is my ipod which while it works fine now refuses to charge up so it looks like I’m without my music for the rest of this trip :-(. Gutted. show_random($num=4, $tags=’Eungella’); ?>

We’re now at Airlie beach, haven for the bratpackers that have been previously ranted about here. We probably didn’t help ourselves by staying at a backpackers that felt like a university hall of residence complete with neighbours who kept us awake till past 4am last night despite my asking them politely to shut up. Their reputation has not been enhanced.

One bit that we both forgot to mention previously was back at Bundaberg where we got to witness loggerhead turtle hatchlings poke their head above the sand for the first time and make their epic journey down the beach to the ocean’s edge for a life in the sea. It was an amazing spectacle to have witnessed, knowing that those of the hatchlings that make it to adulthood will return to these waters and this very same beach to breed in 30 years time – the journey down the beach providing them with a magnetic imprint so that they know where to return to. The turtles are the great travellers of the ocean, those hatchlings will spread out across the seas some making thier home in waters as far away as South America yet still returning to the Queensland coast to breed. The experience was not as intimate as we might have liked as we had to share it with about 60 others. I have to give the rangers their due here though – there were lots of children in the group and they did a great job of keeping them interested and mostly quiet which helped make the experience as good as it was going to get with that size of group.

Apologies for the excessive length of this post, brevity never was my strong point. I’ll leave you there anyhow to return to the far more interesting world of whatever it was you were doing before reading this post (assuming you didn’t just skip down to the bottom). Lots of new pictures up on both of our flickr sites, check them out! We’re off sailing the whitsunday islands for the next couple of, hopefully relaxing, days.

Peace out,

John