Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Eight Months!

I've been here 8 months now, and hasn't it flown by? Actually, this blog has been going for 10 months and I've not run out of things to say yet!

So, in the essence of randomness had an interesting exchange on the train. Now, Japanese people are polite and modest, and often refuse things they really want out of politeness. So, the other day, I was on a train. A seat became available and I saw an old man standing up and indicated the seat to him. He motioned for me to sit down. I motioned that he should. This went back and forward for about 4 refusals each before he said he was getting out next station. So I sat. Still wasn't sure whether to continue insisting though. But then again, I've seen the oldies here thrusting their way through crowds to take possession of an empty seat.

I've mentioned the cosplay thing before - where youngsters dress up as Goths or dolls or whatever else costume they can get their hands on, and pose around up in Harajuku. Wellllll.... the other day I saw a Westerner dressed in a Little Bo Peep outfit. Boy did she ever look stupid. Especially near where I live.

I've recently started using a couple of different places to park my bike. This of course means I have to actually remember where I dumped it. It also means I spend a lot of time being confused and wondering around trying to find it.

August holiday I'm going to Hong Kong! I'm very excited and paid the deposit today. I can plan now...

A couple of weeks ago I started proper Japanese lessons. I get one group and one private one every week. They're great! The language is starting to sink in. Sentences are starting to be formed in my brain. Shame my memory isn't better though! Or my confidence to use it. But that'll come.

The schitzophrenic weather is going loopy here. Some days are bright, hot and sunny. Others are grey and it pisses it down. So it's either too hot or too wet. And it's not even rainy season or summer yet! I've been drenched twice in the last week. Not fun.

Saturday night I went to a beer garden at the top of Parco (a huge department store) in Ikebukuro. It was nomi tabehodai (stuff yer face with as much food and booze as you can in two hours) and it was a really chilled out place to be. Unlike most of these where you can only drink as much as they get around to bringing you. This was serve yourself. And wooeee were some of their drinks strong. Unfortunately they didn't warn us before clearing it all away. Naturally, this was another night that ended in karaoki. Barbie Girl is definitely my song of choice at the moment. It's over taken my other regulars. Of course, it does all depend on Ken...

We had an American with us who doesn't live here. He pointed out they took credit cards. So odd. In the UK I used my cards the whole time. Here I'm totally used to carrying cash and using it for everything. I did find it a bit odd at first though. But so few places take cards there's no real choice and I've not thought about it in months.

Another bizarre fashion I've been seeing for months, is men with towels wrapped around their heads. I can offer no further comment nor hazard a guess as to why. It's just -- odd. That's all.

Many Westerners complain about not being able to find shoes that fit here. So far I've been okay when I've needed footwear. What's struck me recently though, especially as sandal wearing season is here, is just how many Japanese girls also can't seem to get shoes to fit properly. Lesson in shoe wearing - the whole of the underneath of your foot should be in contact with your shoe. Toes should not be dangling from the sides. Got it?

Final note: my contract is being renewed at the end of this year and I told my boss I want to stay for two more years.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Do I have to do ALL the talking around here?

It's your turn.

Tell me something interesting about you.

At least give me your name and tell me where you are and how you came to be reading this blog.

And especially if you found me by googling something odd. (Yes, I DO know).

I know how many people read this blog and I know most people don't comment. So say something.


Go on.

It doesn't even have to be that interesting...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Come on Barbie, Let's go Wrestling...

I had an extremely cheesy trashy night last night that ended up in a couple of hours of karaoke. It's the first time I've gone with just one other person. I started the singing binge with 'I'm a Barbie Girl' and ended it with 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun'.

Long may cheese be a part of my life.


And then my hangover and I went to a sumo final. Awesome! Big fellas, them sumo lads. I've wanted to go for ages and the stadium was great. You could see really clearly even from the top. There's lots of ritual involved - clapping to the gods, purifying the ring with salt, sweeping the ring, swaying and then the guys finally lunge and the bout is over in seconds as one big guy pushes the other out of the ring. Loved it. Bought a Hello Kitty in a sumo outfit for my phone!

Job I wouldn't want for all the money in the world, part one: some of the sumo fighters are so fat, er large, that they cannot wipe their own bums. 'Servants' are employed to do this job and it's meant to be an honoured position I think. I know that a lot of the trainee wrestlers get employed to do this task. You can see the bum wipers / sumo's servants wandering around dressed up in traditional costumes of some sort!

And then I punished my liver with one more quick drink before giving up.


On another note, Thursday night I experienced my first Japanese cockroach. It was small. It was on my leg. Then it was on the floor with a trainer being thumped down on it's head. It scuttled away. I got the hoover. First-Japanese-Cockroach to come in my apartment is now in hoover. Having rescued and released a fair few spiders, I feel karma is equalised here and have no sense in guilt. I will continue rescuing and releasing spiders, hoovering or squishing cockroaches and splatting mosquitos. I'll be nice to people though. Promise.

And the final random 34 for 34...

And another 34!

  1. I've had eczema all my life;
  2. English is, embarrasingly, the only language I'm now proficient in;
  3. I have good friends on four continents;
  4. One of my favourite movies is 'La Cite des Enfants Perdu';
  5. I once questioned a trainee priest about his sex life;
  6. My first ever foreign holiday was as a baby - to Spain;
  7. I've been in amateur dramatics performances;
  8. I've worked on the sets of several no budget movies;
  9. I once hitched a lift with a bomb disposal expert;
  10. I twice nearly drowned and once slipped off a cliff;
  11. I've fallen off a motorbike, horse and bicycle (not on the same day);
  12. As a kid, I never hurt myself. As an adult, I suddenly became clumsy;
  13. As a kid, dentists never bothered me. As an adult, they make me very nervous;
  14. I used to hate needles and have to lie down to have an injection. Now, I'm fine and can watch it being done;
  15. I ran away from home once as a kid. It only lasted a couple of hours as I got hungry and went back;
  16. I once spent a couple of months doing an archaeological dig in the south of France ;
  17. At university I had a baby golden pheasant chick as a pet for a while. I took it for walks and taught it to fly;
  18. Also at university I once had to dispose of a couple of hundred porno mags (not mine) that someone was stashing in my flat;
  19. I can't juggle. I have no co-ordination;
  20. I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 8 or 9;
  21. I can bend my little finger back to touch the back of my hand and bend my thumb to touch the inside of my wrist;
  22. I've worked in a wine 'museum';
  23. I hated school and had all sorts of mysterious (psychosomatic) pains develop as a result;
  24. I had hundreds of nose bleeds as a kid but only a tiny handful afterwards;
  25. I lived on a farm for six months in Cornwall, England;
  26. My paternal grandparents were Russian and my maternal ones were Polish. I only ever met one of the four;
  27. I can only get on my bike from the right hand side, otherwise I cannot get my balance straight off the pedal;
  28. I've never been able to do a cartwheel;
  29. Queen was the first band I ever got into - at age 7 - and I couldn't go to sleep as a kid without listening to one of their tapes;
  30. As a teenager I did work experience at Just 17 magazine, a recording studio, an advertising agency and a newspaper;
  31. One day, aged about 14, I was allowed into an operating theatre to watch lots of operations taking place;
  32. I was drunkenly persuaded to join an internet dating site a couple of years ago. Met up with two guys from it. Some odd emails from other guys... Don't think I'll try it again;
  33. I adore the book 'The Little Prince';
  34. I don't get crushes that often but, when I do, they can last for years;

Friday, May 20, 2005


I saw a girl with a broken ankle today. She was hobbling with crutches and a plaster cast on one foot/ankle. On the other foot? A mule with a silly little heel.

Darling, that's probably why the first foot is in plaster.

Parents on trains here are good. They know their kids want to clamber on the seats and take off the kids shoes, lining them neatly against the train seats. Cute. Except, recently, I've been spotting adults taking off their own shoes on trains to get more comfortable too.

Can't wait for summer!

Japanese teachers of English: I've taught a few Japanese who teach English. The level of their English is apalling and their fluency terrible. Now I really understand why so many Japanese go through the system unable to grasp the language - blame the teachers!

Chest report, two weeks on, feeling a bit better now but still hurting a bit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Define a sock. Surely the essence of 'sockness' is that it covers the toe and heel, no?

Today I saw a girl wearing toeless and heel-less socks with her sandals.

Certainly different.

Only here?

In the name of blog research, today I tried a cafe latte flavoured kitkat (white chocolate). Verdict? Not as nice as some of the other flavours I've tried.

Shorts (of any length) or skirts OVER lycra leggings is a very popular look here now. So much so that today I saw a male university student wearing shorts over leggings. Whatever you like I guess...

Also observed today was a scooter going down the road. A moron in a van decided to cut this guy up. It was unreal. I mean this scooter guy had nowhere to move to. Could have been very nasty. Even more unbelievable though was scooter man then headed round to van man's window, said something quietly and continued on. I'm not sure which of the two actions shocked me more. In the UK, scooter man would have yelled all manner of abuse at van man, or punched him / attacked his van, etc. Oh well. Only here, I guess.

My class of three 6-year old boys had me in stitches today. One of them has picked up 'Come on, baby' from somewhere and all three of them kept saying it. Their mothers cracked up when I told them. None of them (admit to) know where the boys picked this up from.

And chest report - am still in pain from 12 days ago....

Sunday, May 15, 2005


http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1600980,00.html - this is an interesting article about how good manners are disappearing in Japan, especially amongst young people, and how the chasm is growing about acceptable public behaviour between the young and the old.

I particularly like the bit about the MP's who were told off for emailing on their keitai and reading comic books, in parliament.

Oh these heinous offences include 'using strong perfume, carrying large bags, kissing, infants, crying, sitting on the floor and, most unexpectedly, using an umbrella to practise golf swings.'

But then again, imagine a train with one seat available - I've seen old people cut each other up to get to it. Think musical chairs here.

Old people these days... not like when I were a lass down in t' mine from day break to day end...... (I think I'll leave cloth cap n whippet out of this). They don't know how good they got it.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

34 more for 34....

In celebration (what the?) of my last 33 years, here's another list of random things, and guess what? I've a final 34 waiting to be posted in a few more days time!
  1. The first concert I ever went to was 'Kajagoogoo' when I was about 11ish.
  2. I love storms, choppy water and air turbulence;
  3. I talk (out loud) to myself far too often;
  4. At school I was constantly in trouble, but never bad enough to get suspended;
  5. Seeing animals in cages really upsets me;
  6. I spent a couple of years doing voluntary work with adults with learning difficulties;
  7. I was president of RAG (a society that raises money within the university and community for charities) for a few months at university, before I gave up;
  8. I spent 15 years flatsharing and don't think I could ever do it again;
  9. I did some asthma trials as a way to raise money before coming to Japan;
  10. I'm scared of 'conventional' doctors treat things with acupuncture or homeopathy when possible;
  11. I've snogged two girls in the past - I was extremely drunk that night;
  12. I hate dark chocolate;
  13. I gave up smoking 4 times. The last time was about 5 years ago;
  14. I have a psychology and American studies degree and a post grad journalism;
  15. My ambition is to live and work on every contintent;
  16. I've done some stupid things in the past, but have no real regrets;
  17. I love picking scabs, bursting blisters, etc;
  18. I could never do high-jump at school because I was scared of the bar;
  19. Going down stairs nearly always makes me nervous of falling;
  20. Beach holidays hold no appeal to me;
  21. I rarely finish tasks that I start;
  22. I read tarot cards from age 11 to age 21 and then stopped;
  23. My first real crush was when I was 12. It was a guy whose kids I babysat for;
  24. I hate the taste and smell of aniseed;
  25. I could read at age 2.5, but my academic brilliance then sort of disappeared forever;
  26. I was on tv twice as a kid - once in a documentary about computers in school and once on Newsround;
  27. As a kid, I lived opposite actress Kate O'Mara (Dynasty and Triangle) and used to leave flowers on her doorstep;
  28. I'm unable to trace my family tree and I have no contact with any of my family;
  29. I hate heavy metal and most hard rock;
  30. I've been to one football game, one rugby game, one baseball game and one American Football game. And not really understood any of them;
  31. I've stewarded at concerts at Wembley Stadium;
  32. Until I was 27.5 years old, I'd never had a job that wasn't temping or temporary;
  33. I'm a complete technophobe and I never read instructions;
  34. I'd never eaten any Indian food before age 18.

Friday, May 13, 2005


I mentioned to someone this evening that I'd taken my bicycle to the police station to get it pumped up and they thought this was odd. Strange. To me it seemed a very obvious thing to do.

On the train this evening I noticed a pet beauty school. Again, quite obvious this should exist if you think about it. It DID amuse me though.

My chest is STILL hurting from a week ago. But regardless of whether I've strained, sprained, broken or pulled something, I don't see the point in getting an xray to confirm this. If only I could stop laughing, sneezing, coughing, moving, lifting things, etc, I'm sure I'd be okay.

I have a beginners class of two students. I've had them since they started the course about 5 or 6 months ago. At the beginning their level was very very crap. I've realised they can now hold a (basic) conversation with me in English. I'm MOST proud!

This evening, I bumped into my neighbour at the station and she suggested we go for a beer. We went to a place we've been to a couple of times before and where we both hold members cards. We had to get updated cards and fill in new forms which included date of birth. I pointed to me, which is coming up soon (did I mention that already?) and asked for a 'presento' as a laugh. Guess what? We were given a FREE (my all time favourite word that!) bottle (1.5 litres) of shochu (clear 20% knock you out / give you a hangover / wonderful, wonderful drink). HOW happy were we? I wonder how many more freebies I can score before my birthday? (and yes, I DID have to prove it).


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

15-year olds

Oops. I think I let the cat out of the bag. 15-year old student (regarding subject of how Japanese school kids have to clean their own schools) - "you mean kids EVERYWHERE don't have to clean their schools?"

What if, by giving her this information, I'll be starting a nation wide student-cleaning strike. eek. I'll be deported, ne?

On why she thought it was important - "you need to clean when you are a mother, so this teaches you."

And in her school, apparantly, not ALL the kids 'pretend' to clean. Blimey!


Picture the scene: a high school boy - maybe 15 or 17-years old. Very smart military looking dark school uniform. Perfectly ironed shirt. Shoes shined so hard it hurts your eyes to look at them. And, hanging from his belt, a 10 centimetre high cuddly Mickey Mouse toy.

Only. In. Japan.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Three things for Tuesday

Women don't get groped after 9.30am

I'm a little perplexed, I must admit. In Tokyo, many trains are introducing a women only car to cut down on groping by men. However, this only applies until 9.30am. Some lines apparantly run them late at night too, but that's besides my point.

Tokyo trains are rarely NOT packed. At 11 or 11.30 when I get the train to work, they are normally still heaving, and when I return at 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 or 11 at night... they are still packed.

Do gropers look at their watches?

I don't get it. If you're going to have women only cars available on trains, they should apply from the first to the last train.


I don't know exactly when it happened, but the Japanese, especially teenagers, have adopted 'bye-bye', and you hear choruses of 'byyye-byyye' ringing out at you daily. Most odd. I liken it to all British teens suddenly screeching 'ciao-ciao' at each other on parting. Teens, eh!


As anyone that's been concentrating on this blog knows, Tuesday and Sundays are my days off normally, but we have to do a certain amount of 'cover' days for other teachers. We all lurrrve cover days. Not. Anyway, today was one of mine and the trip took me on THREE trains. Grrrr. But, that aside it wasn't such a bad day. I directly evaluate how much I like teaching by how good my last class was. Or something like that. Today I had three fabulous classes - all were groups - and normally I have 1 or 2 students only. I had five housewives this morning who were really chatty, a group of six 5-6 year olds and a group of four 8-year olds. I love groups! You can do great games with groups. I love it when the kids get really excited in class and all competitive and how they take competition so seriously (which of course I encourage!). Of course, it is good if they also learn something! But just seeing kids enjoying the class is enough in my opinion!

Two of the other classes were so-so, and the final class was a business class with a dull dull student. I hate business classes anyway. But I'm still buzzed out from the kids classes. Or is that the caffeine? Hmmmm.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

34 things for 34 years part one.

In preparation for my birthday, I thought I'd come up with an extremely random and somewhat pointless list of things I've done that other people may not have done. Next Sunday I'll post another 34:
  1. Rollerskated around the Blue Peter office (long running kids tv programme in the UK);
  2. Had lunch in the Blue Peter garden;
  3. Been in a light aircraft and been allowed to fly it and turn it around;
  4. Slept at the top of Masada in Israel at an hour the public weren't allowed in, after getting a lift in a bulldozer;
  5. Spent three months working on a kibbutz;
  6. Been invited in Guatemala to sleep in a one-horse-town in the shopkeepers uncles' house.
  7. Been on an archaeological dig in the south of France;
  8. Spent two years living in Paris;
  9. Slept in Brussels airport;
  10. Dragged actor Richard Wilson out of a pub;
  11. Had lots of 'supernatural' experiences I no longer believe I had;
  12. Stood on the stage and in the orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House;
  13. Drunk ant juice;
  14. Eaten deep fried worms;
  15. Hitch-hiked in England, France, Israel, Guatemala and Taiwan;
  16. Broken my little toe;
  17. Never been hospitalised;
  18. Developed allergies as an adult to things I didn't have allergies to as a kid;
  19. Held a python;
  20. Abseiled;
  21. Had my name on many dozens of tv programme credits;
  22. Been the subject of one newspaper article;
  23. Had bylines for many dozens of newspaper articles and features;
  24. Got told I wasn't suitable for MacDonald's after the three month trial period;
  25. Got sacked from nearly every job I had as a teenager and early 20-er;
  26. Written an obituary that made an entire funeral party laugh;
  27. Had a ladybird as a pet as a kid;
  28. Bit my Labrador as a toddler;
  29. I can't drive. I failed my test once and then gave up;
  30. I love the book 'The Little Prince';
  31. My longest relationship ever was 6.5 months;
  32. I have no idea how many houses I've lived in but it's got to around 30 or so;
  33. I've lived in ten cities;
  34. I've driven around London with a lifesize painted fiber-glass cow.

Friday, May 06, 2005


Just a couple of random thoughts on a rainy Friday when I should be doing some of the things I didn't get around to finishing yesterday.

Firstly, that it's raining. Great. So much for a day of washing.

Secondly, the British election. So, Tony did it again. I have to admit not following any of this since coming here but I understand now he's been voted in he's retiring soon, or something? So, in fact people have been voting for someone else? Needless to say, I did briefly consider sorting out a postal vote from here, but decided that I couldn't be arsed, quite frankly. I mean who would I have voted for? Lib Dems, Greens, Monster Raving doodahs don't stand a chance sooooo - as a young kid Labour were in power ("old" labour) and so I was too young to really know what they were about. Under 11 years of Thatcher I saw my education being fucked up - one text book between 5 kids, anyone? And I wonder whether she is a direct result why so many of my generation are clueless? When I first got to vote then, labour seemed the only choice - better not the devil you know and all that. I wasn't thrilled with them but when it came to the next election I figured it'd take more than one term to unpickle the fuck ups achieved by Thatcher - and now? I'm clueless. I don't like what I see, but I don't think it'll change any time soon. Better to just stay out of the country and keep my head in the sand over this one.

Thirdly, I have a birthday coming up again. I'll be 34. I don't feel 34. I don't act 34. Can't I just stop time for a bit?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A woman's place, and all that

Today I went to get some chores done locally....

After getting on my bike, cycling about 3 metres and somehow managing to fall off - hard - with the bike on top of me. I skinned my foot (flip-flops), my elbow (I look like a 5-year old that fell off a slide) and my chest (grazed and feels like somethings chipped in there).

Anyone wanna come and be my nurse-maid? I don't think I can look after myself anymore.

Tried to get some money out and couldn't. Maybe the machines don't give money out on bank holidays here? (They didn't over the Xmas holidays).

Got nice policeman to pump up my bike tyres.

And tried, unsuccessfully, to find something nice locally for a friends birthday that was a week and a half ago - sorry Sarah.

But, I did pass the Mothers Day section in the department store which had some scarves and a few other things and HUNDREDS of aprons. Mothers know your place! Equality obviously hasn't quite reached Japan it would seem!

Anyway, I'm now consoling myself with ice cream and considering never leaving home again. Ever.

Life back in Tokyo

Today I'm not doing anything. Well, I should do some practical boring things, and I was invited to join some friends for a picnic, but the plan is to take it easy as I've basically had packed days every day for the last few weeks.

And I still have more skin that needs peeling off.

One thing I didn't include in the Taiwan posts but that keeps playing on my mind was there was a guy in Taichung, in a car, who pulled over and propositioned me for sex. It didn't freak me out so much as disgust me and, luckily, I happened to be about two minutes away from my hotel and, for once, knew exactly where I was. This was good because his car followed me and kept stopping for almost a minute. There WERE police cars up the road and I considered telling them - partly in case it was happening to other people - but figured chances were there'd be a language barrier and it'd be too much hassle. I just hope he isn't going around attacking random westerners.

Anyway, enough of that. Since being back I've had a couple of days or randomly wandering around with people. Tuesday I met up with Julie, from TT, and a friend of hers and randomly wandered around Shinjuku, introducing her to the Christon Cafe, naturally. And yesterday randomly wandered around Ueno with another teacher who was on the same flight as me and several training days, but who I'd never managed to hook up with before. Nice day talking crap and bitching about the world.

I enjoy talking crap and bitching. As frequently as possible please.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Jo in Taiwan (the very very long post) - part two

So, day five was:

Hualien - Now, the only reason I can think of to visit Hualien is to use it as a starting point to get to Taroko Gorge - or to surf, but as I'm not a surfer that doesn't count as a reason. To another grey and humid day, I took off for Hualian and after buying train ticket and going through to platfor realised there was nowhere to get food or drink, so I had great fun attempting to explain to ticket woman I needed to go out and back (did I mention my Chinese consists of 'hello' and 'thank you'?) - anyway, she either didn't understand me or couldn't be arsed to, but other passengers did understand my wonderful miming and told me to go it was okay. Next thing I know, one of them is racing after me, grabs my arm and marches me to the shop, around the shop and back again! Talk about snack pressure! The train journey was pretty nice, though not as chilled as it would have been if there hadn't been three young kids running up and down, noisily for the duration. I stayed in a hostel recommended by the little tourist office next to the station called 'Formosa'. Nice place. Spacious dorms, very clean, nice staff there.

I struggled to fill an afternoon though but headed off to Meilunshun Park via the Martyr's shrine. It was at this point in the trip I started using quite a lot of taxi's - but they were very cheap. The shrine was nice, colourful, bla, bla, bla and, well, it took me quite a while to figure out how to get into the park that was behind it. Lonely Planet says you can spend many hours in the park. It took me AGES to find anything to interest me there, so I don't really know what that writer was on about. And what was interesting? There were some nice palm trees there but it was SO muggy. Actually, I found somewhere to just sit and chill out for ages and cool down which was nice. There was a lovely damp wood smell there and lots of singing birds. There were people around but not too much people noise. After it had cooled I wandered on and found some old war bunkers and a fantastic view of the sea, and a lovely Taiwanese man who was a social studies lecturer at the local uni and who nattered to me for ages. I decided, limited as my options were, to go to another night market and then catch another movie. I had absolutely no idea which side of the park I came out on or which way I went but somehow managed to find myself standing back (eventually) in front of the Formosa, where I then found a taxi and got him to take me to the night market which I couldn't find. I asked people, I wandered around and looked, but could not find it. I did accidently find the cinema I was going to hunt down next though and saw 'Phantom of the Opera', after eating some sushi. The cinema was very old with 1960's seating and no food or drink available. And annoyingly, in this part of Hualien were a billion tailors (and I need new suits) but I was so hot and sweaty it wasn't an option!

Oh and the police here don't write down the number plates of cars they want to book. They whip out a digital camera and take a picture instead!

Day Six -

Taroko Gorge - I don't do tours. But for Taroko Gorge I, very sensibly, made an exception. I think it would be very hard to see by yourself and having a guide (lovely little trilingual Taiwanese guy who gave commentary in English, Chinese and Japanese) meant we got to see the best places and actually knew what we were looking at. It also meant I could do it as a one way trip and leave my pack in the coach. There were two other English teachers from Japan from my hostel, that I'd met the night before, that also went on the tour - along with a right hotch potch of people of all ages. We left at 7.30am and stopped off at a marble factory on the way to the gorge. Did you know the decent rock is used for marble and the crap stuff for cement? Neither did I. Anyway, we saw the marble process from the huge blocks of stone through to the shiny slabs, which was an interesting way to fill 15 minutes. The scenery was amazing at the gorge. Beyond beautiful and I finally saw just how mountainous Taiwan was and how my hitch was going to be a huge challenge. I'm not really sure what else I can say about the gorge as I can't put it's magnificence or beauty into words. I was glad we got to cover so much of it though. And it wasn't all on the coach; we did walk some bits. There were hills, waterfalls, grotto's, marble bridges, statues, memorials to people that had lost their lives building the road there, and so on. Because we had an early start, we had an early finish and that part of the tour ended just after 4pm. I had a buffet lunch in Tiansiang and then tried to figure out which direction I would need to hitchhike to get to -

Puli - where I planned to spend the night. If you look on a map, and I will put one up, you'll see it's a pretty long way and there are no means of getting there unless you have your own transport, or wish to approach it from a completely different direction (mainly because of damage done during earthquakes). Of course, I'm stubborn, so I was going to do it anyway. Armed with my 'hello', 'thank you', and a map of Taiwan that I'd got a Taiwanese to write 'Puli' in big Chinese characters, I expected the trip to be a challenge. I found my spot - ten metres from the visitors centre, stuck out my thumb and about three minutes later a car stopped and by pure luck the driver was going to Puli before going onto Taichung. It took me three minutes to get a three hour lift all the way to the hotel I was staying in. I felt VERY smug! The trip was wonderful. Lots of winding roads and sheer drops and so much green.... We passed through one town where it was so cold the car was enveloped in a huge white mist.

The hotel room had a double bed, aircon, TV (I don't have a TV in Tokyo) and en suite bathroom with a 'real' bath (not like the 3/4 size one I have here). Feeling so chuffed with myself I decided to go for a little walk, get some food and bring it back to my room, have a nice bath and watch TV. I went and looked at a couple of temples, including one shrouded in corrugated iron since being badly damaged in an earthquake.

Temples in Taiwan are so bright compared to those I've seen here in Tokyo.

Oh and Puli is the geographical centre of Taiwan. Just so you know!

School uniforms in Taiwan are interesting. All trip all I saw were either nylon tracksuits or black trouser/white shirt combos.

Also, parking is 'interesting' as vehicles don't really seem to bothered how far out into the road they park - walking around them, ie into the middle of the road, is quite 'interesting' too!

Day Seven -

Sun Moon Lake - So, my pin cushion/mozzie look was really getting on some by this point and starting to itch too. Getting to Sun Moon Lake was pretty easy and I didn't have to wait long for the bus which was very rickety and shaky and gave me a big bruise on my bum! Once I got to the Lake I realised what a nightmare getting from place to place would be there and, for the first time in nearly 17 years I actually considered hiring a scooter (the idea of which scares me, but that's another story) - but couldn't find any hire places. I took a nice little boat trip across the lake to a teeny tiny little island and then over to an aborginal village (touristy but still interesting). The places I really wanted to visit around the lake just weren't realistic and a taxi would have cost a lot to get there. The boat people let me leave my bag in their office which was kind, and armed with my new Huck Finn hat, I decided to take a 3km stroll to a different temple. Too late I realised this was a HUGE and stupid error. I did try to hitch but nothing was stopping so I gave up trying. There were a couple of bits of the walk that were on a specially constructed path and that was peaceful, pleasant, sheltered and laced with the lapping lake sounds around me. The long, very windy road hugs the lake but at a height and whilst I'm not always the most sensible of people, walking along the edge of this road was a pretty stupid and potentially very dangerous thing to do. Even by my standards. And naturally, my shoulders were bare and without sunblock and the weather was a lot hotter than it had been. The temple was nice. The view was nice. I got a taxi back to the town afterwards and it was only much later I realised just how burned I was. I'm not talking bright red burned, I'm talking bright red and very very blistered burned - how could I have been so stupid? I deserved that pain frankly.

There is accommodation at the lake but I couldn't think of any reason to stay there so headed out to Taichung on the final bus. That was the plan anyway. After waiting ages on the wrong side of the road (and there's only two buses to Taichung from the Lake every day anyway) I crossed to the right side. Half an hour after it was due it still hadn't arrived and there were a couple of other people also waiting for it. We got into a taxi-bus to go to Puli to take the Taichung bus from there and, as we got in and pulled away, the sodding bus passed us. Oh well. It was another uncomfortable journey and my shoulders were starting to really hurt by the time I finally got to Taichung.

Taichung - Found the hotel I wanted to spend the next couple of nights in - Fuh Chun Hotel - double bed, en suite bathroom with shower, television, etc, and chilled out for a bit before going to another night market where I really struggled to find something I fancied eating. Now, I'll eat pretty much anything (liver and other inside bits aside) as long as it looks nice and smells nice. While a lot of the food in Taiwan fell into both these categories, a lot of it didn't and nothing could have tempted me to try some of the things I saw/smelled there. I couldn't even begin to imagine what some of the things were - which is possibly a good thing. I ended up with octopus balls and a freshly crushed carrot and pineapple juice that I smuggled into a cinema that just happened to be opposite me and saw 'Guess Who?'

The Family Mart (convenience store) near the hotel had MALTESERS!! - they didn't taste as I remembered them though. Actually, there were a lot of brands I saw in Taiwan that I knew, but that aren't available in Tokyo. I also had Papaya Milk which was really yummy.

On my final day in Taichung, I was extremely careful about avoiding the sun as much as humanly possible and took taxis between places until it cooled down. I liked Taichung, but 1 and a half days were enough to do what I wanted there. I started off with the Taiwan Museum of Fine Art which is in a wonderfully spacious building and has a great cafe! Some of the exhibits really grabbed me (wonderful colours, textures, subjects), others took me 10 seconds to whizz around the whole lot. Oh, and it was free! I was very disappointed with the shop though. I'd have loved to have bought some postcards but very little in the shop bore any relation to what was in the museum. From there I went to the Science Museum, via another temple. The museum was massive and had a wonderful bat exhibition. It was one of the few there though that had English explanations, though most didn't need it. There were also lots of things to play with there! Before leaving, I have to admit to popping into the MacD's in the museum and had a chicken burger in a RICE bun. I won a corn chowder soup too! Next stop was the botanical gardens opposite, with a huge greenhouse and big aquarium which I sat and stared at for ages.

Left to go and meet up with a lovely Taiwanese medical student called Branch, and a couple of her friends. I'd planned to go via a couple of temples but managed to take a wrong turning somewhere which meant I did see a Mormon church next to a Marijuana cafe, which amused me. The one temple I did find had a 31 foot Buddha. Big guy and pretty amazing to see. Met up with the girls and went for a wander around another market, where I had a pancake thing and where they treated me to a Pearl Milk Tea - a Taiwanese speciality where you get a huge straw to suck up the pearl barley - and then had a wander around one of the large department stores looking at cute things!

And that's pretty much it apart from the Trip back to Tokyo. Once I managed to find where the bus to Taipei airport left from, settled down for a 2.5 hour trip and went to check in. A 50+ year old Taiwanese woman in the check in queue asked me if I'd check in with her as she had so much baggage. As I'm so nice, I agreed and then wondered if I'd been stupid to do so and if she had any dodgy things they'd be linked to me, etc..... It also meant she got seated with me (bulk head aisle seat this time) and she was a total fidgetter and natterer. GAH! I hate that. And it then took forever to get back home from the airport.

In all then, a fantastic trip to a beautiful, interesting and diverse country full of lovely people, horrible mosquitos and some weird foods!

Jo in Taiwan (the very very long post) - part one

I kept a trip journal for the first time ever and filled 57 pages of a book the size of a Rough Guide city guide. So, from that:

The Trip to Taiwan -
although it's not relevant to Taiwan, at Narita (Tokyo) airport, I had a curry. Japanese curry is a bit of a mystery to me. I have NO idea what the flavours are that they use and the colour is rather interesting too. Everywhere I've ordered curry in Tokyo (outside of an Indian restaurant) I've been given the same bizarre flavour. It's kind of like English chip shop curry but a dullish brown colour.

China Airlines were cool. They have a class called 'Dynasty Class' which made me giggle. I didn't see Joan Collins anywhere though. Very disappointed.

On the flight (where I got my emergency exit aisle seat - *gloat*) they brought around a tray of whiskey and beer to start off the flight, which I've never seen before but which went down very nicely!

Taipei -
at the airport they have a body temperature scanner to ensure you're not entering the country with any illnesses or diseases. I thought that was pretty cool. I'm sure they have it at other airports but I've never seen it before. Shame they don't stop people from getting on planes with coughs and colds though.

The first thing to hit me was how dirty Taipei is compared to Tokyo and how smelly. Now, you have to remember that Tokyo is sanitised to within an inch of its life and I've kind of got used to that in the time I've been here. I now expect public toilets to be clean, sparkling and with toilet paper (oh how I've changed in seven months) and to see yucky loos in Taipei airport shocked me / brought me back to reality (ie that's what public loos are meant to be like!)

I headed into Taipei to go and hunt down the Happy Family 2 hostel which is mentioned in Lonely Planet and which someone else suggested to me. Took an age to find it and it was a hot and sticky night so I was kind of dripping by the time I tracked it down. I'd reserved four nights there and told them the time I'd be arriving but there was nobody there to give me a key or anything. Managed to track someone down and waited. Happy Family is a pit. There's no other way to describe it, but as I wanted to enjoy my trip and make the most of the time and not spend it looking for somewhere else, I stayed and it kind of grew on me. Maybe a cross between 'pit' and 'basic' would be more accurate. My room wasn't ready. Half the lightbulbs in the hostel (I stayed in Happy Family 3 in the end) were blown. There were dead mosquitos on the walls. I HAD air-conditioning - but it was a huge noisy unit! Saying all that though, it was cheap and near to the main station so very convenient.

I got bitten to buggery though through my whole trip. I've never been bitten before wherever I've been. The little bastards really went for me this trip though. Every day. I managed to kill a few though which made me feel a bit better. Although I discovered it can hurt quite a bit slapping yourself randomly to try and get the fuckers and the way they expel blood when squished - eek!

Anyway, the first night I went out to meet Carole of http://carolenickle.blogspot.com/ - and I have to apologise for being so smelly - it was getting late and I didn't want to make you wait any later to hear from me. On the way there, I noticed that all the traffic lights have little countdown timers so you know how long you have to cross the road - and there's a little animated walking man to help you. Later, in Taichung I saw they had reverse ones - little animated red men and countdowns to tell you how long you'd have to wait before you could cross the road. Of course, whether vehicles stopped was another thing! And the scooters! Wow. There are hundreds of them, and they seem to all travel in gangs. The funniest thing was seeing combinations of three adults on them, or two adults and two kids - quite something! And litter bins. There are litter bins in Taipei. In Tokyo you can walk forever without finding one as everything is recycled. Taiwan is not so big into recycling, though I did see some bins. And convenience stores always give you receipts and often don't have a bin or anywhere to dispose of them. In Tokyo there's normally a little basket on the counter you can use for disposal of receipts. Anyway, everything was much cheaper than Tokyo and, I've got to admit, it was kind of comforting to see all the familiar things from here scattered around - Mos Burger (no, I didn't have a Mos Burger in Taiwan), the same chains of convenience stores, cold green tea, pocari sweat, other brands and chains. Nice.

Once Carole and I eventually found each other (hey, it's hard making arrangements without a cell phone) we went on a food wander, which wasn't the easiest thing to do as everywhere was shutting, but I settled for a very yummy cabbage omelette (seriously, it was lovely!) and an apple yoghurt ice drink from a little side street and we sat and nattered. It was nice meeting up with someone on the first evening, especially after all the hostel business. And that was the first time random people just came up and chatted. Something I found everywhere I went. And kids would say 'hello'. In Tokyo the kids that ever say hello are the ones I'm teaching.

Wulai - The plan for the first day had always been Wulai as museums are shut in Taiwan in Mondays. Funnily enough, the guide book said it's a good place to go if it rains. Guess what? It chucked it down. Big time - but hey - skin dries off quickly enough and I put my thing were well protected.

The hardest thing to get your head around in Taiwan is everything (eg train stations and street names) has two names, which meant I did a lot of talking to myself trying to figure out what things might be. For example, 'Hsintien' and 'Xindian' are the same place.

Also observed, some of the newspapers and face masks in Taiwan are MASSIVE compared to those I've seen elsewhere. And a large amount of homeless dogs and mangy cats.

So, Wulai: the bus trip there was lovely. It's only about 30 mins from Taiwan and on the route everything was very old, decrepid and beautiful and the windy mountain roads - wow! Plus, everything was so lusciously green. There were lots of roadside vendors, old old houses, murals and statues along the way, and a wall acting as a barrier between road and edge of road that was beautifully tiled all the way and about a foot high.

Once you get off the bus, it's a short walk to a very touristy village that was quite fun to explore. Over another bridge it's a further 1.6km to the waterfall, which is the main reason to go there. There's a little train that goes there but I decided to walk instead. At the base there's then a cable car that runs up to the top of the waterfall where there's a 'theme park' called Yun Hsien Resort. Well, it was a forest with things in it basically and I spent ages there having fun, wandering around, looking at how lush and green everything was and how pretty and spotting frogs, peacocks and 100's of white butterflies. There was also a load of 'adventure playground' stuff there that I had fun on - rope bridges (scary but I did them and was very proud of myself, as halfway across a rope bridge is not the time to decide you shouldn't be doing it!), chairs that you could swing down ropes on, and all sorts of other fun and scary things to play with. It was all very peaceful and there weren't that many people - just the noises of the waterfalls, birds and insects mainly.

I took the rattley, noisy, but bloody fast mini train back to the village with a Taiwanese guy and his daughter chatting to me the whole way. And the whole trip people initiated conversations, which I kind of liked. As we got off the train the family invited me to join them for free at hot springs they were heading to. I was tempted but wanted to go to the Snake Market instead - and to get some lunch!

Back in Taipei - here people stand on the other side of the escalator than in Japan and England which I found a bit hard to get used to. Anyway, I went to the famous Snake Market and got lured in for a foot massage. Now, stupidly I was thinking: "foot massage. hmm. now that'll be nice and relaxing...". How wrong could I have been. I mean this hurt was that having your bikini line waxed. And, my Chinese not extending beyond 'hello' and 'thank you', I couldn't really explain the pain I was being put through. I felt like jumping out of the chair every time she touched me. I thought she was trying to break the bones. And when she did my lower legs too....... YOUCH! So, so, totally not relaxing. I'm not actually sure it did me any good either! Mind you, the relief once she'd finished was something else altogether! I then ate some kind of barbecue that was cooked on a grill in front of me - a heap of cabbage, a heap of bean shoots, some beef and some chicken, a bowl of rice and a large beer. Very nice! The rest of the market: well, I was offered snake blood, snake soup and snake bile a few times. (Nope, didn't try any of them.) And I saw several snakes in cages, a few dead ones hanging upside down, a not dead turtle suspended by a hook through its shell which upset me. The vendor showed me it was alive by prodding it. The poor thing looked most distressed. I also saw some cute little fluffy chicks in a cage next to a snake.... and not so clear, was a piglet in a teeny cage. Was piggy also for the snake? There was also a lot of fish and shellfish of sale and people in wheelchairs with huge trays of tissues and things trying to sell things to people they went up to.

Oh and the escalators in the stations went at 39 metres per minute, according to a sign there. And, the umbrella condoms are baggy. In Japan they fit snuggly.

Have I mentioned yet just how bitten I got by mosquitos? Day three it really rained, so I bought a lovely plastic green umbrella and went off to the 101 Tower - the tallest building in the world with the fastest lift. It took 36 seconds to go up 89 floors - you could watch the graphics showing you the movement. I've never been in a lift before where my ears have popped. Awesome! Once up there the 360 degree view of Taipei was wonderful and I got an English commentary audio guide thing.

Next stop was the wonderful Imperial Museum which I loved. Everything was in English, as well as Chinese obviously, and I took an English guide around some of the exhibits. It was really interesting and the building itself was beautiful too.

On the way to another market, Shilin Market, I saw a badger in a cage. During the course of the trip, I saw a lot of animals in cages. Very upsetting. One part of Shilin market is all about food, and it's all bright and kicking! I did see some terrapins in an open shallow tank that had paperclips taped to their backs. I didn't try and figure out why as I kind of realised you can't really guess about something like that. There was also a pet shop in the main massive part of the market, with lots of sad animals in little cages. I do love markets though - so bright, vibrant and energetic.

Met up and had drinks with a friend of some friends here afterwards who used to work for this company in Tokyo, but now teaches in Taipei.

Day four I discovered my hostel is 5 minutes walk from the station. I'd been going a long way around that took me a good 15 minutes. Shit, I can be a plank sometimes. I headed off to the 2/28 Peace Park and the Taiwan museum. The latter of which was, sadly, shut for renovations. The park was beautiful. Extremely relaxing and filled with ponds, bridges, pagodas, sculptures and trees - and surrounded by new buildings which was a bit odd. The only noise was of running water. People were just sitting around contemplating, or strolling, or doing a bit of Tai Ch'i. It was a very muggy day. There was some kind of cultural festival going on in one part of the park. But I couldn't figure out what it was about. In another part of the park was a sort of path made of bumpy stones designed to envigorate pressure points on the feet if you walked over it. I didn't. My feet were still recovering from my not very relaxing foot massage in the snake market. Next stop was the Chang Kaishek (CKS) Memorial Park, a huge compound with a memorial hall, theatre and opera hall. All the buildings are amazing to look at and the grounds were lovely too. Inside the memorial hall was an 'all you need to know about Chang Kaishek' exhibition, which interested me, and by his statue at the top of the building were two guards. It took me a good three or four minutes of intense staring to realise they weren't made of wax! Outside was a really long, really cool dragon made from small PET (plastic drinking) bottles. It was awesome. I have, naturally, photos of all of these things. Be patient with me! There was also an interesting photography exhibition outside with lots of pictures of disasters and landscapes. I saw a thing that may have been changing of the guards. It was pretty amusing anyway: one group of guards stood throwing their guns into the air, while another group ran forward for a while, stopped, ran back to where they started and then did the whole thing all over again, whilst chanting what sounded like 'oh oh oh oh'. On the way from the CKS Park to the Botanical Gardens and National History Museum I passed a restaurant called the 'Primitive Curry House' - any guesses what a 'primitive' curry might be? The botanical gardens were wonderful anyway, and extremely peaceful and calm, apart from large groups of school kids. And in the middle of the park was a massive lily pond... it was pretty devoid of flowers though. The museum itself disappointed me as there was little information in English, although after the Imperial museum, I at least knew more than I would have done about things. Anyway, I was too exhausted to do any more sightseeing and went and saw the movie 'Sahara' instead. In the complex where the cinema was, I saw a 'BOOTS THE CHEMIST'. Can you imagine how thrilled and excited I was? Until I went inside and saw they only had about five ranges of things and nothing I'd ever buy. Oh well. I miss Boots. Actually the cinema made me chuckle, I nearly saw a fist fight about which of two people should be allowed to put their drink into the drink holder on the arm of the chair between them. I've never seen such a huge deal made about nothing. Amused me no end!

Part Two to follow (hey, we're only up to the end of day four!)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Taiwan - the teaser version

I went to Taipei, Wulai, Hualien, Taroko Gorge, Puli, Sun Moon Lake and Taichung.

I got eaten to death by mozzies and managed to get rather burned.

Visited night markets, museums, temples, monuments, shrines, statues, botanical gardens, parks, lots of natural 'things'.

Took lots of trains, buses, taxis, a boat, a cable car and hitched. And walked myself stupid.

Stayed in shabby hostels, nice hostels, okay hotels.

Saw three movies.

Met up with some random people...

People were amazing. Country was beautiful. Food was interesting...

Okay, above was the abridged version. To follow is the monster one, which I'm a fraction of the way through writing.

I'm back!

Taiwan was awesome.

Highlights - the people, the country.....

Lowlights - mosquitos, sunburn.....

Tomorrow I'll give a LONG version.