Posts Tagged With: quirky

A Whistle Stop Tour of KL.

Back in the day, when I was out here all alone, these 5 weeks with Ashley became a difficult thing to organise over Skype. After a bit of sketchy planning in Myanmar I came up with a plan. Ashley’s birthday/Christmas present could be diving! We had 5 days ‘spare’ in which I could fit what became known to Ashley as the “Mystery Destination”. For a while, the Mystery Destination was also a mystery to me. Do we go to the Philippines? But we’ve never been so would 5 days be enough? Do we go to Indonesia? But I hated it; do I really want to go back there? Or do we go to Malaysia? The place I was originally planning to dive myself – the Semporna Archipelago – has sea turtles. Sea turtles!! I opted for Malaysia. To Ashley it was still Mystery Destination.

When it came to booking flights, it was always going to be a two flight trip from Tokyo if we were to go to Semporna, so I booked us on a night flight from Tokyo and an evening flight to Tawau, the airport for Semporna, leaving us with a day in Kuala Lumpur in between!

It took us some hot and sweaty trips back and forth from the left luggage area to the check in area before we found the security scanner and the lady with the bag stickers that meant we were allowed to leave our bags having been scanned for guns and the like. Phew. It also took us some hot and sweaty trips back and forth from ATM to ATM before they decided that yes, I do in fact have sufficient funds and yes, they can in fact serve me today. Double phew.

Finally on the bus into the city, I glanced up at the clock. 8.30? Of course! Kuala Lumpur is an hour behind Tokyo! The near hour spent shuffling from ATM to left luggage had been a freebie! Hooray! The bus journey was an hour long.

It must have been quite a tiring bus journey because Ashley fell asleep. I managed to stay awake. The prospect of navigating my way around the place again but without a map helped. We arrived at KL Sentral and I had a vague, vivid yet hazy memory of my mum back in August picking me up from KL Sentral and telling me and my sister we only needed to take one stop on the LRT train. The next stop up was Pasar Seni. Pasar means market, we wanted to head for the Central Market, I guessed and luckily it was right. It felt weird to be back there. We stopped off for a little drink in the Central Market food court, it being nearly 10 and us not having had the chance to get breakfast. I told Ashley there was a place I wanted to take him to eat so we didn’t eat there, but instead made our way down Petaling Street and found the food court where my mum and me ate on the last night in KL. It was just as I remembered!

After our curry laksa to welcome us to Malaysia, we headed back on the LRT to the Petronas Towers, wandered around the Suria mall a bit, took some Petronas Towers photos and whizzed back down to the market so that we were closer to KL Sentral to get our bus back to the airport. Still having some time to spare, we ate again (it was past 12, this could be classed as lunch) and decided to have a little look around the market. We were soon distracted by what was my first Malaysian experience last time – a fishy foot spa. It was the same place and possibly the same woman working there. This time I was a little braver and didn’t waste half of my time with my feet out of the water. I think it must have long lasting effects though – the fish nibbled me a little but not half as much as they flocked to Ashley. FRESH MEAT!

It was a quick little jaunt but pretty fun! And much more rewarding than I think 12 hours in the airport would have been. As a matter of fact there was only one hour in the airport, and off we set to Semporna.

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Categories: Malaysia, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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Categories: East Asia, Japan | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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Categories: East Asia, Japan | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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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Categories: East Asia, Japan | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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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Categories: East Asia, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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Categories: East Asia, Hong Kong | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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