East Asia

Life Through A Lens.

My boyfriend, Ashley, makes films. So, there was no option but for a film to be made of our travels together in Asia. Here’s the result…Enjoy! Oh, and the beautiful song that makes me want to close my eyes when I’m driving is by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. No surprises, it’s called Home.

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If you buy clothes in Harajuku, does that make you a Harajuku Girl?

So I’ve talked about Akihabara, I’ve talked about food, now I’m going to enlighten you to the wonders of Harajuku. If you don’t know me that well, you might not know that I’m a bit of a No Doubt fan. They’re amazing – the most underrated band ever. So consequently, I quite like Gwen Stefani. Now, when she got those 4 Japanese girls and gave them names and stuff, like you I presume, I also thought it was maybe a little extreme. However, having been to Harajuku I can see why she’d want to spread the word. You can walk around Harajuku wearing almost anything. Having said that, wearing  jeans covered in 3 weeks of dirt and sweatand my big baggy coat, I did feel slightly uncool. We’d read that weekends are the time to see all the girls gathered in their Cosplay get-up so had to wait until our last day to see them. There were still plenty of shops to be trawled during our weekday trips though. Despite most of it being “vintage” aka, overpriced charity shop, I did manage to find a 2 for 1000 Yen rail. Get in. So I got me some threads from Harajuku. Oh yeah.

After almost a week of waiting, we arrived on Sunday morning to a mass of tourists but no girls! All I can think of is that they have naturally moved on, as young people do, and now congregate somewhere else. If you know where, I’d love to know! This meant we had our last morning in Tokyo to kill in Harajuku, which meant I finally got to do something I’d really been looking forward to – KARAOKE. The daytime prices were a fifth of the night prices so the lack of Harajuku girls meant we’d hit the karaoke jackpot at 11am. The only catch was you had to buy a drink per person as well. I’d just indulged myself in another Calpis from the 7/11. I wasn’t ready for another drink. So I settled for a rosehip teapot, at least that way I get more than one glass full. Anyway, it was awesome. I absolutely loved it.

When we went in, we opted for 30 minutes, sticking to our budget ‘n’ all, but we ended up staying two 30 minute blocks longer. They don’t tell you when your time is up by the way – you have to keep track, which we did, we just wanted to stay longer.

You get a little room, with a built in sofa around 2 walls, a coffee table, a TV on one wall and the door and phone (to order more costly drinks) on the other. At first, we didn’t really know what to do. I pressed a few buttons and BAM! AKB48 came blaring through the speakers. I think I failed to mention them on the Akihabara post. They’re very specific to Akihabara so I won’t go into them now, but Google them. It’s mental.

Anyway, we found our way back to the menu screen, found the “English Songs” button and sang away! I think it’s fair to say Adele would have been proud of my rendition of Rolling In The Deep. Hey, she’d probably be a fan of Harajuku too and end up with some Stefani style girls. You never know.

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Ghibli – say it fast three times.

The good thing about going home after my stint in the Bangkok hospital was being able to sort out our Chinese visas. After a bit of Googling, it seemed like a long old process but it turned out to be rather simple. More simple, almost, then getting tickets to the Ghibli Museum. It’s a good job I did go back as we’d have never known that we needed to order/reserve/pay for our Ghibli tickets long before we arrived in The Land of the Rising Sun. Take note if you’re thinking of Ghibli-ing it.

After our journey out of the city and into the suburbia of Mitaka, we followed the signs to the museum. The entry is staggered throughout the day to ensure an enjoyable experience for all. Then in you go and you get your ticket, which is an amazing start. Each ticket is three cells from a Ghibli film. Having only seen Spirited Away and Ponyo, I didn’t recongise mine – Ashley tells me it’s from Princess Mononoke, one of their most famous– although I did recongise his ticket cells from Ponyo!

The first room is full of awe-inspiring film and animation related displays; including a carousel of solid figures in slightly different positions spinning under a strobe that gives the impression of moving models, a giant robot juxtaposed with projections of moving butterflies, a house with a Ghibli film image behind each door and a model set of Miyazaki and his crew. All of the films and reels were visible as part of each exhibition, which makes you view the film as more of an art form in my opinion.

The rest of the museum is a Wonka-styled, child and big kid friendly building, which you’re encouraged to view as you wish. This includes a replica of an animation studio, a Cat Bus (there’s one that kids can clamber on but also one that adults can walk through) and a roof top garden complete with a giant robot.

It’s a very cool place, but maybe a little small for all the preparation involved in getting tickets. Having said that, perhaps this makes you appreciate what is there all the more. Like I said, I’ve only seen Ponyo and Spirited Away, and it did make me want to watch more Ghibli films, however, if you’re reading this thinking “Who’s Ghibli? What’s Ghibli? When’s Ghibli?” then maybe it’s not worth the preparation involved. On the other hand, anyone from a Ponyo and Spirited Away novice like me to an uber-Ghibli fan like Ashley is bound to enjoy the place.

Sadly there’s no photos allowed inside so this is about as good as it gets on the photo front…

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Tokyo Bites.

I didn’t really want to do a standard day 1 we went here, day 2 we did this blog for Tokyo. Why?

A – because we’re here so long, we’re going back to a lot of areas more than once and I imagine that would get rather boring to read (and write).

B – because I wouldn’t know where to start. There’s just so much going on and it would all get in a big word jumble and turn out like alphabet soup. And nobody wants that.

So I’m just going to write about a certain aspect each time. Today I think I’m going to talk about the food. Let’s not beat around the bush here: food is expensive in Tokyo compared to most of Asia. At first, we thought it wasn’t too bad and it can be a little cheaper than London and the UK but as the week has gone on, the wallet has gotten lighter and our bodies have probably gotten heavier.

I think our most authentic meal was the day we went to Tsukiji Fish Market and had some sushi. Made fresh and served with wasabi, soy sauce etc – it was very cool. Cutting sushi in half with chopsticks however, is not as easy as you may first think.

Another stand out meal, if you can call it a meal, was at the 100% Chocolate Cafe in the Ginza area. I’d seen an advert for the place on a Metro billboard and had been intrigued ever since. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t cheap, but it was quite gourmet. To drink, we had a mug of hot, frothy milk served with a ball of chocolate mousse and caramel or strawberry sauce to drop in, which was delicious and very filling. And how could you not eat anything in a Chocolate Cafe?! There were 6 “fresh chocolates” on display and 3 ways to have them served: in a croissant style cornet, in a “wafflette” or on cake. We both opted for the cornet and ordered one with Kirsch White chocolate and one with Crushed Macademia. Of course, they were both delicious!

Alas, this and the sushi were one off occasions. Most of the time, mainly to save money, we ate at what I imagine are the Japanese equivalents of fast food restaurants. In some you order and pay at a vending machine and then take your ticket to the counter, in some  they come and take your order and in one we even had a touchscreen built into our table to order from. Amazing. What is similar with most of them is that you tend to be given a mug of green tea and/or a glass of cold water. If you’re not given one, a water machine is normally available, which for me is an instant win because I’m a water glugger.

Breakfast was difficult to find on the go because most places don’t seem to open until 10/11am so it was often a 7/11 stop for a bread roll of some description and a jazzy drink.

Speaking of drinks…wow. How many varieties of drink does one country need?! There are so many brands, variations and just plain weird looking ones that we decided to try a new drink everyday. My favourite was Calpis. I think Pungency cold milk tea came a close second for Ashley.

I think that if you go to Tokyo, or even Japan, the food and drinks are half of the fun. Just don’t get too addicted to the Calpis, I wouldn’t want to cause you any embarrassment asking for it in Tesco when you get back home.

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Watch E.T Toddle and Bobble to the Maid Cafe!

Tokyo is exciting. We were both really excited about coming here, and it’s definitely lived up to expectations. As soon as we arrived (ahem, perhaps coming from China helped, ahem) people couldn’t have been nicer. Strangers ask if you’re ok when you’re looking at maps, shop assistants smile and are incredibly polite and best of all – NOBODY SPITS!!

We had a bizzare double plane journey from Beijing to Shanghai and then Shanghai to Tokyo. We were put in a torturous glass holding area in Beijing because we hadn’t really left the country and were going to land again in Shanghai for an hour. This meant that we could see the beautiful shiny restaurant sign but only through a big glass wall. We had no restaurant – just toilets and a water machine. It was a real last minute “This is China, thanks for coming, now buggar off” moment.

When we arrived in Tokyo, we were overly excited yet overly exhausted so headed straight to the hotel and arrived about midnight after we got lost and 4 staff and a customer held a mother’s meeting with an iPad in the 7/11 to help us before the customer walked us to the hotel! Japan 1 – China 0.

In case you’ve missed my excited rambling over the past couple of months, we’re staying in a pod! A capsule hotel! The best thing about which is the shared bathroom. Loads of products to use (including Skin Water and Hair Water), a spa bath and Ashley has told me the male bathroom also has a sauna and a massage chair! The pod itself is pretty cool too. There’s a TV, radio, alarm clock and an internet cable all built in. You get new towels, pyjamas and slippers everyday as well as fresh sheets. It really is very cool.

What’s turned out to be another good thing is that the cleaning begins at 10am, so you have to be out by then, which means we’ve been setting our pod clock to wake us at 8 and having a little spa treatment before heading out for the day to explore. And there’s so much to explore!!

The first couple of days were spent hitting different districts but today I’m going to write about one. I’m in awe of Akihabara – the manga/”geek”/anime/neon/maid cafe capital of Tokyo – aka, Electric Town. It’s insane. Everything is so kitsch and cute and trashy yet somehow you want it in your life. There’s Sega arcades with floor upon floor of teddy pickers (I didn’t win the Squid Girl headphones), there’s shops selling retro in-packet toys (you can watch ET toddle and bobble), there’s sex shop “department stores” (you can easily mistake for manga stores from the outside) and then there’s the maid cafes. Maid cafes…hmm, how to explain maid cafes when I’m not sure I understand myself? Here goes…

You’re walking through Akihabara, you see a girl on the street with bunches in a French maid dress, handing out leaflets, smiling and talking in a squeaky voice. You notice them a lot. You kind of get the idea that it’s a bit like an anime geek’s version of Hooters – instead of big jugs, they got big frills and Hello Kitty hair bands. But you’re not sure if tourists are allowed, if girls are allowed, maybe they’re allowed but maybe it would be awkward. After a few days you give in to the curiosity and up you go. Now replace the word “you” with “Me and Ashley”. and you’re up to speed.

So this evening – one of the girls hands us a leaflet and we ask her where it is, she walks us to the building with her friend who also works there.

“Ahh, ok, thank you!”

They come in the lift with us and take us straight in. Now that’s pretty good service. In we go. A warm welcome from the maids! Lots of high pitched ‘konichiwas’ and big smiles. Not such a warm welcome from the single, hairy men in there.

We’re given some seats and shown a menu and asked in Japanese to choose between “Cafe” or “Bar”. We looked back at our maid blank faced. Luckily she spoke a little English.

“Erm..you have 30 minutes with Cafe for 800 Yen or 60 minutes with Bar for 3,000 Yen.”

We really wanted a meal. Plus, we’ve been avoiding Starbucks because it costs so much – 300 Yen – and you get to stay longer than 30 minutes there! It seemed offensive to Starbucks to spend that much on 30 minutes worth of cafe time.

“Food? You do food?” we asked, pretending to nom nom nom with our hands.

“Erm…yes, little food.” She went through the overpriced menu. So we’d have to pay 800 each and then more for food? We can get a meal for 500 Yen!

“We’re really hungry. Big food? Big meal?”

“Erm…sorry, I don’t know!”

We pretended to confer and left. They were very nice about it all, she even waved us down the lift. I think it’s because I said I liked her necklace.

So, yeah, that was our maid cafe experience. I was thinking it was all very cute and (mostly) innocent until I saw the clientele. But I guess if I had to choose, I think I’d rather work in a maid cafe than Hooters, at least then I get to wear a nice necklace.

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Beijing: A Wall, another zoo, and some people who need putting in it.

Beijing was a good ending to China. It meant we didn’t leave on the huge negative hatred we had by the end of Xi’an. Or maybe we’d just got used to the spitting, squatting, staring and shoving by this point. Bad things in China begin with the letter ‘S’. There’s an episode of Sesame Street they never aired.

We started out, as I’m sure most tourists do, with Tiananmen Square. However, with two Metro lines to choose from (Tiananmen East and Tiananmen West) we were spoilt for choice.

“It must be a really big square if it needs TWO Metro stops,” I said to Ashley, quite excited.

“It’s the biggest in the world I think,” came the reply.

We arise from the ground to be greeted by a recognisable red building to the right of us with Mao framed nice and big in the middle…and a road to the left.

“Well, that doesn’t really count as the biggest square in the world. There’s a road going through it. I feel conned again,” I said, slightly disappointed.

After the mandatory photos of the big red Mao building, we headed back through the underpass to cross the road.

“Oh, ok. This is the square. I’ll let them off.”

We’d got out the wrong side of the road to appreciate the vastness of the square. Blocked by two rather large screens showing the beautiful sights of China on a loop, yes, but vast all the same.

Not quite sure how to get through to the Forbidden City without paying to visit a garden, we headed in the other direction and found ourselves in a modern looking, conveniently located tourist street. It didn’t take long to put the ‘2008’ date on the drains, artificial flowers and still fully stocked Olympic shop together and figure out that this street must have been built in time for the Olympics. It was like Disneyland. Until you notice a depressed sheep sat head in hands against a wall. Very odd.

By the time we left fakeville and reached the Forbidden City (through a garden we had to pay for) there was only an hour until closing time. And a homeless woman was having a breakdown. So we decided to do it another day. We did however, have time to go into a park behind the Forbidden City that gives the most amazing (but misty) view of the Forbidden City if you climb to a spot where an Emperor once hung himself. A bizarre sentence, yes, it may seem.

And so, as day two arrived in Beijing, it was time to hit the Wall. The Great Wall. One of the Seven Wonders of The World. A day to remember. It snowed a little. Doesn’t get much better!

And it was really cold. Really, really, really cold. But it was snowing! How could we not go to the Wall the day it snowed?! Imagine the beautiful photos! It’s higher up there, there’s got to be more snow! So we carried on regardless. There was no more snow.

The two main ways to see the Wall are tour or public bus. As the public bus cost a 10th of the price of the cheapest tour, we opted for public bus. We had a Metro station, and instructions to walk 500m east to the bus stop when we get there. However, east (or in fact north, south or west) is difficult to determine when you haven’t got a compass. Thankfully, a very nice man helped us out and pointed us in the right direction. Our new instruction was “second on the left”.

Before we reached “second on the left”, we found a sign pinned to a tree saying “919”, four Westerners and a man in uniform.

“Badaling? Badaling?” said the official man.

“Yes, yes. Badaling from here?”

“Yes, yes.” He spoke very little English. To make this easier, I’ve put the conversation in English.

“Ok. How much is it?”

“55 Yuan per person, per way.”

“55? I read 12!”

“No, no.”

Hmm. Something didn’t add up. So us and the other 4 Westerners worked as a team and found another bus stop further down – this time, the “919” was a sticker on a tree! Is that better than pinned to a tree?…

The same thing happened, only this guy wasn’t so sneaky,

“Yes, 55 each way. But with one, two, three in car, taxi, 400 Yuan.”

“Ahh, no, it’s ok, we’ll take the bus.”

Eventually, we found it. A bus stop specifically for 919 buses, full of 919 buses. At least 6 of them. Go team!

Our team of taxi tout avoiders had somewhat dispersed in the crowd but somehow me, Ashley and an American, Matthew, had managed to stay together. Matthew was a lovely bloke. He was also black – a rarity in Asia – as was proved when we arrived at the Wall for him to be met by two in-awe Chinese asking for photos with him. Good job he’s a good sport.

We weren’t sure when to stop walking the Wall. I mean, we didn’t want to end up out in the sticks, but thankfully our worries were put to rest by a huge sign in a square block of the Wall that read “NO VISITOR”.

We did it. We went as far as we could – I guess you could say we walked the Wall?…

We left the Wall feeling pretty good, if not slightly cold, which is more than can be said for when we left Beijing Zoo the next day. At least 50% of the animals caged were more intelligent than at least 50% of the visitors. Banging on the glass – including the gorilla enclosure, letting kids shout really loudly through the wires and  feeding crisps to the zebras. By the time we got to crisp/zebra girl, we’d had enough of “subtly” saying, “Oh, there’s a sign there – what dos it say? Oh, don’t bang? Oh ok then – I won’t bang the glass!”

Ashley approached crisp/zebra girl after we’d watched her for too long.

“Hey, hello, excuse me. Come here,” he ushered her towards the signboard. She looked stupidly and didn’t move. I joined Ashley, “Come, follow.” She still didn’t move.

“The sign says no feeding. Don’t feed them,” Ashley pointed to the crisps, “They’re wild animals. They can’t eat crisps.”

“Ahh, I know. I know.” Wow, she speaks.

We then proceeded to sit behind her for about 10 minutes. She knew we were there and didn’t feed them…until we eventually had to walk off.

Despite stressing out at the zoo and getting a tad cold, we had a pretty good time in Beijing. The Wall was more impressive than the Warriors and I think the Olympics must have worked wonders for upgrading the city here and there. That said, we were very much looking forward to getting out of China and into Japan.

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Xi’an: A Few Thousand Terracotta Warriors and Some Christmas Lights.

When we were ready to leave Xi’an, I think we were both ready to leave China. Everyday people spat more and more, including one idiot on a marble floor in a dead posh shopping mall. Everyday people stared more and more, including one man on our way to the train station who I couldn’t help but question very loudly in English. The shoving, the spitting, the starting and the sheer undeniable rudeness of the Chinese people had become far too much, and to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to 5 more days in Beijing before we leave China.

This is a shame, because having said that, Xi’an is actually a really nice place and as close to rural China as we’re going to get on this trip (yes, I’m aware there’s a population of over 4 million). If you love history, you could hang around for ages because there’s loads of ancient tombs etc all around Xi’an. However, the main draw is the Army of Terracotta Warriors – self-dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. This was our Christmas Day! And what with it being Christmas ‘n’ all, we treated ourselves to a tour rather than making our own way on the bus. This turned out to be a bonus as you’d never notice it from the side of the road and would probably end up somewhere even more rural.

Anyway, we woke nice and early Christmas morning after the hostel Christmas shin-dig the night before. It was all very exciting. There was music, and competitions and a magician. I’ve always wanted to see a magician!…but a tall person sat in front of me for that bit. Back to Christmas morning – up we gets, out we goes and in the reception we waits.

“Are you waiting for a tour? To the Terracotta Warriors?”

“Yeah”

“I am your guide for the day. Welcome! Come with me. Merry Christmas!”

“Aww!! Thanks!” It’s Christmas!

It was quite nice that the other 3 people on our tour were an English family. We hadn’t met many, and the first we do we’re spending Christmas day with! On the way to the Terracotta Warriors, we stopped off at an ‘Art and Ceramics Factory’. It turns out that this place batch produce hundreds, if not thousands of mini and full-sized Terracotta Warriors for the tourists to buy. Do you ever watch Willy Wonka and think, “It’d be ruined. The wonder of his magical chocolate’s taste, fizz and scrumdidillioumptiousness would be ruined if you went there.”? Well that’s what this commission grabbing tourist trap did to my view of the Terracotta Warriors. But there’s more….

When you arrive and after the 360° circle cinema you finally walk into Pit 1 (there’s 3 pits altogether), it is actually quite impressive. As I wondered around, however, it became less impressive, and I couldn’t help but think “Is this a conspiracy?!”.

Fact #1: The weapons found in the tomb used technology not invented until 1939 in Germany.

Fact #2: The bodies aren’t all together. Some are headless, saves  bit of work.

Fact #3: The factory. They can be made so easily!

Pessimistic I know, but something felt a little odd.

It did make for a memorable and different Christmas day though. Worth a visit if you’re in China I think it’s fair to say.

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Shanghai: Land of lights in tunnels and dogs in zoos.

We were expecting things to get a lot more difficult by the time we got to Shanghai. We were prepared for much less English writing, and a lot more Chinese. But no! Still plenty of bi-lingual signs to help us navigate our way around. Excellent! When we arrived at the hostel, the men were wrapped up warm in their coats, sat in the dark.

“Ni hao. We have a reservation, under Williams?”

“Ahh yes. Budget private double? I’m afraid we have no power, we have a power cut. So we need your passports and we can give you the room card and your passports back at 6pm, the power should be back then.”

We offered a copy of our passports but I think they needed the visa bit. So we left our passports with 2 men in a dark room, headed up to our room and back down and out to explore. Our journey to the hostel had transferred us through People’s Square Metro station, which was quite busy and seemed a good, central starting point. We were greeted with a mass of neon lights, mega malls and offers of hashish. Things I would expect in Vegas, New York and Amsterdam respectively. It wasn’t what we expected. It was huge and relatively modern, yes, this we were expecting. However, it also felt quite spacious and if you look down the backstreets, the mega malls soon vanish.

At risk of spending 5 weeks in shopping malls, we made our way down one of these back streets, to find what can, perhaps patronisingly, be called “real China”. What you’d really expect, where the majority of the population probably shop, eat and socialise. It didn’t take long to find a baked sweet potato stand, and it didn’t take long to get confused by Chinese finger numbers once we’d ordered. Instead of using all ten fingers in order, they somehow (in a way we haven’t figured out yet) do it all on one hand.

By dark, we headed to the Pudong area on the other side of the river. Now this was what we’d expected. Uber-modern buildings, skyscrapers galore, an amazing pedestrian high walkway around the roundabout and a beautiful array of lights on the buildings. We found somewhere to eat, which was surprisingly cheap for the calibre of the shops and the size of the mall we were in – I think it’s fair to say, food in China is cheaper than Hong Kong. About half the price. Yay!

On our second day, we started at Shanghai museum, which was free and not bad considering. We then went to the Bund with the potential aim of doing the “Bund Sightseeing Tunnel” to cross the river and walk around the Pudong area in daylight. Well. The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel costs £5 one way or £6 return. I’m telling you now, don’t worry about the return. Ashley made a video of the…experience…. I’ll let you know when it’s online. I think it says more than I could with words.

Ashley and me have something that seems to have become a “thing”, you know, a “thing”. Could be called a tradition, could be called …well, a “thing” really. We go to zoos. That’s our thing. We went to Budapest zoo, we went to London zoo, we went to Hong Kong zoo and now, we’ve been to Shanghai zoo. What can you say about Shanghai zoo? Hmm. It’s an interesting one. It starts well, with a small aquarium and a reptile house – aka, lots of sea turtles and tortoises so I’m a happy bunny. Then there’s the goldfish section. Genuinely. Then you find the main attraction – the pandas! They’re really funny to watch, they sit around like slobs, legs apart, belly out,  chomping on bamboo! The type you’d imagine on Jeremy Kyle. Most of the enclosures aren’t actually too bad, including the panda enclosures. However, “Pet World” is a little bizarre. If you see a sign at a zoo saying Pet World, you would enter expecting…little fluffy bunnies? Guinea pigs and hamsters? Maybe even some more goldfish (borrowed from the goldfish section)? Well you’re all wrong. Unless you guessed dogs in glass suburban houses that is. Yep, different breeds of dog all in their own little concrete and glass “houses”. It was a very depressing place. The mating porcupines didn’t seem to care though. I know, I don’t know anyone with a porcupine as a pet either.

All in all, Shanghai is alright. It’s not as modern and shiny as it’s often billed but it gives you an idea of what China seems to be about – spitting, shoving and staring. Not necessarily in that order.

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Hong Kong: A non-spitting, non-staring introduction to China.

We eventually arrived at our hostel in Hong Kong after many long and slow attempts to leave the airport. It had been made unbelievably simple, yet we still managed to be stuck there for about an hour longer than we needed to.

Our address was blah blah Hostel, 14/F, blah blah street, Hong Kong. After a stroll to find the hostel and many a sign saying ‘Restaurant! 1/F’ or ‘Shop! 2/F’, we soon realised that everything in Hong Kong works upwards. So 14/F was 14th floor. Thankfully, our actual room was on the 8th floor, a little less time in the lift every day.

What had we decided about Hong Kong by this point? Busy. Verrry busy. But it was a Saturday. And it’s nearly Christmas. So it might not always be a battle to cross the road.

On our first afternoon we headed to the “goldfish market”, which wasn’t too far from our hostel on the map. This turned out to be a part-adorable, part-sad pet shop street, complete with puppies in glass cages and fish in plastic bags. Lovely. From here, we wandered the local area and came across some interesting looking snack stalls and foam shapes floating up and up from a Nokia stand in the street. Look out for the potential TV advert – I caught a foam smiley!

The next day, our first full day in Hong Kong, saw us set out around 7am (I blame the jetlag) and return at least 12 hours later, to then head out again for the evening. We knew we would be spending the majority of the next day on a train so thought it best to use our legs whilst we could. We managed to see quite a bit in that time – we walked all the way down the riverfront and saw the “Avenue of the Stars” (like a Hong Kong Hollywood) before heading across to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry for a bargain 30p! The seats were amazing – the backrest bar flipped so you could sit facing whichever way the boat was going. Very cool.

As we wandered through the mass of skyscrapers, we soon came across what I’d most been looking forward to about Hong Kong…yeah, I’m gonna say it, no matter how uncool it makes me sound…the longest escalator IN THE WORLD. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I was expecting an 800m long escalator cutting through a luscious green grassy hill. Instead, it was loads of smaller escalators making their way through a concrete jungle. There were some interesting looking restaurants in SoHo on the way through though, including “Yorkshire Pudding” – a British restaurant surprisingly.

If you can work your way around the roads when you get to the end of the escalator, you’re not far off the entrance to the Victoria Tram. For which you will undoubtedly queue for at least 45 minutes. We weren’t sure what to expect from the Peak. The answer? An obscure looking building with what’s known as the “Sky Tower 428” on the rooftop and which will block your view for any chance of a decent photo of the skyline. Oh, unless you want to pay extra to get on it yourself that is. We didn’t. We did find the free rooftop of the shopping mall opposite gave a decent view though, and it isn’t even that much shorter. Yeah, that’s right, I said shopping mall, at the top of a hill. A touristy hill, mind you. Complete with a Bubba Gump Shrimp Restaurant. There is a nice walk around the Peak though. A very safe walk – the slopes all have “registration numbers” so you can be sure, they’re regularly maintained, and even if a slope does cause you offence, you can report it to the slope maintenance team, because, believe it or not, they exist.

That’s one thing I did find quite entertaining in Hong Kong – the construction industry. The water man is really concentrating to get the job done for you, the slopes have to be registered and the scaffolding in made of bamboo. See below.

Amusing building work aside, Hong Kong is a pretty cool place. I had been told it’s a “poor man’s Singapore”, which is a little harsh. It has its own identity. It knows it’s bright, brash, busy and kind of quirky and it’s not trying to tell you otherwise.

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Home Alone, Made In Chelsea and Those Three Little Words…

After listening to someone behind us in the queue who will undoubtedly be involved with the next series of Made in Chelsea (“I’m going to see grannie in Sussex and then go for dinner at Alesandro’s.” “It’s a bit cold in Alesandro’s.”), we were sent to the “Premier Check-In” to help get the queue down. It was much nicer – carpets, no cattle market barriers to keep us in the herd of the queue…and some grumpy Italians with too many bags.

Then it happened. VISA NOT REQUIRED. Those three little words nearly made my heart skip a beat! The happy smiley check in lady didn’t know what it meant for me to be getting on a plane first attempt from Heathrow Terminal 4 as she wrote that on my boarding pass!! No moody travel agent phone calls, no rush to find a new ticket, no repeat journey to Heathrow the next day! So far, so good.

In fact, the whole process was a breeze in comparison with my first attempt back in August via Saudi Arabia. Sadly though, Aeroflot planes don’t quite match Emirates. I’d been spoilt. The first flight to Moscow was 4 hours, which I thought would be the “cut off point” – the point at which it’s not quite long enough to get a TV, but just long enough to want one. There was no TV, so we occupied ourselves with  The Inbetweeners Rude Road Trip and An Idiot Abroad clips on my iPod. I say we…let me introduce you to Ashley…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…my boyfriend who’s joining me over the next 5 weeks. I can’t draw him without him looking like an old lady, but I assure you, he doesn’t really. I’m sure you’ll become acquainted as the next five weeks go on. He’s pleased to meet you.

Anyway, back to the Aeroflot journey….we arrived at Moscow and had an hour and a half to make it to our gate. So unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to get out and see any of the city, but fortunately this meant we didn’t need a visa! YES! Visa not required!

What can I say about an hour and a half in Moscow’s airport?…Lots of adverts for alcohol, lots of Christmas trees dotted about in random places and a rabbit warren of the same duty free shops. Oh yeah, and I want a Russian doll. Maybe next time, when I go to Russia, when I need a visa.

And so we boarded the next flight – the big one – nine hours, a Boeing 767, complete with 2 meals and surely, individual TVs….nope. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. No TVs. Just communal ones dotted down the centres of the aisles.

“Well, we probably won’t get a choice, but at least we’ll get a film,” I said to Ashley, trying to offer some consolation – we were pretty excited about our own little TV units.

“Yeah but it’ll probably be in Russian.”

“Oh yeah, good point.”

The film was Home Alone, in English, which wasn’t too bad if not a bit retro. I lost count of the amount of times we pulled out a headphone to point out a flaw to each other though…lot of flaws in that film. I’d never realised before. The one I can remember now is why does it hurt him when he puts the aftershave on? He’s 8 years old!!

The lack of filmage meant that after dinner we had no real option but to sleep. Which is probably a good thing. And that’s where we are now, after a few hours sleep, the window blind being opened by the seats in front of us gradually woke us up. And so we wait for breakfast – filmless, in the dark and still a bit sleepy. Think it’s Spider Solitaire time….ahh, it’s just like being back in Asia.

Categories: East Asia, Hong Kong | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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