A Travellerspoint blog

london

great base for exploring europe

After Japan we arrived in London. We both have a number of friends in London, so it makes a very convenient base for the Europe segment of our travels.

We arrived late at Yeekei's place, where we set about catching up with friends.

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Yeekei

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Dave (or Will if you ask his parents)

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Frieska

Being Lim's first time in London, we set about viewing a bunch of the major tourist sites. Many of the best parts of London are within easy walking distince (or otherwise a quick underground tube ride).

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Borough markets has a bunch of different food for sampling - this not quite healthy dish is topped off by large scrapings of boiling cheese.

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Unless your a giant, sharing is the only way to finish.

London is much like Rome and other cities drenched in well preserved history - there is something interesting around every corner.
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Green park, just around the corner from..
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.. buckingham palace...
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and some modern art at the Tate Modern - this particular exhibit had a sci fi theme, gibson novels were lyin around as part of the exhibit.
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Whilst this is just a drop in the bucket for London, we have plenty of time here, so more coming later.

We took a day to jump in the car with Yeekei, where we navigated ourselves stone henge as the old roman town of bath.
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Stone henge is interesting - although its perhaps not quite as large as you would expect. Perhaps the most interesting thing about these old stones is the mystery around them. No one has figured out what they were for yet.
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Bath is an absolutely beautiful town. Its interesting to walk around and gawk at the place, whilst the local kids get drunk in the park.
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We spent a quick couple of hours to educate ourselves on dinosaurs at London's natural history museum, and then packed for our next stop - Germany.
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Until then, cheers!

Posted by hughmadden 08:13 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

tokyo

rest and recuperation

After travelling through India we flew over to visit a friend in Tokyo, Andrew. This visit was less about cultural experience and more about rest and relaxation.

Andrew as usual was an awesome host and gave us a week of fun. In the process we learnt a little more about Japan anyway. (purely accidental i assure you)

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On arrival in Andrews pad in chic Shibuya, he gave us a quick tour. (i have stayed with drew before)

Drew: Here is the bed, i've made it already thought you will be exhausted. Here is the kitchen, showers, washing machine make yourselves at home.

Lim and me: *wiping tears from our eyes*

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A rare moment for me and drew to play in the kitchen - it took Lim no time at all to bustle me and Andrew out of the kitchen and take over. She was overjoyed to have a kitchen again.

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The joy of home cooked meals.

After only a day or two, we were healthy, happy, and ready to get out and play in Tokyo.

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Busy vibrant tokyo - Shibuya intersection

First up was to one of drew's favourite sushi restaurants for some Sushi. Yum! Good japanese sushi just melts in your mouth. I'm yet to experience anything even nearly as good outside of Japan.

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Drinking really nice sake out of bamboo.

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Next up was a day trip to the slopes for some boarding. The week had been dumping snow, and the day was clear, bright and sunny.

Japan can offer some of the softest, silkiest powder snow in the world, and it obliged for us. One run in particular was full of beautiful powder which made the day all worthwhile.

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Another favourite Japanese pass-time, is of course, karaoke. We headed out to hire ourselves a room and set about belching out some tunes.
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Sarah is a friend of Andrews. Her day job is at a call centre where she takes calls from Japanese parents who'd like their children to hear English songs. They select a song, and she sings it down the line to the children.

Shes got a set of lungs and the tones of an opera singer - kind of humiliating as a karaoke partner!

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Andrew and I are long time pool opponents. As per usual we both claimed complete superiority but actually had many excellent very close games.

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And yet _more_ playtime, black lit bowling.
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Lim's experimental bowling wasn't enough to take the crown, but it certainly shows her devotion to the sport.

We had a number of excellent dinners out with friends. Absolutely delicious, and viciously expensive for Australian at the moment. (due to the Yen's strong appreciation in recent times, and the Aud's mammoth decline).

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At one point we noticed how much hair Sarah had, and Lim just had to play.

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After a week of intense work and play time with us, it was hard to keep Drew awake at times.

Aside from fun and games, we also visited some of Tokyo's sights, aided as usual by a Lonely Planet.

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Lim assured me the plastic hamburger wasn't distracting and she was studying hard.

First on the list was the largest fish markets in the world, Tokyo's Tsukiji.

To get into the centre of Tsukiji, you have to dodge hundreds of the metal trolley cars that are cruising around at high speed.
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After seeing the wholesale distribution of a multitude of oceanic food products, we sat down for some super fresh sushi.

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On the way out, we spotted a cherry blossom tree in full bloom. Cherry blossom season Japan is a very special season, and we were lucky enough to see the starts as some early blooming blossom's got busy.

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On another day, Drew took us to Yoyogi park. Yoyogi park has thousands of people out to enjoy themselves, practising juggling, tight rope walking, dancing to open air DJ's, and playing music.

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Japanese style really doesn't shy away from bright colours. Personally, I think its funky :)
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Busy street full of cool shoppers & clothes
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Artsy cafe for a coffee

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Nearing the end of our Tokyo visit, we took a cruise through Tokyo. You can get a feel for the skyline.

When we were due to leave, we dragged our bags out to the airport, only to see that dreaded message, 'flight cancelled'. We dragged ourselves all the way back to Drews and camped out for another couple of days, until eventually rang ourselves onto a flight and made it into the air.

Now we are in London and starting the 2nd main leg of our trip, Europe.

Thats all for now, keep well folks.

Posted by hughmadden 08:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

india.. wow..

We arrived in New Delhi, India, without really a good idea of what to expect.

(India - similar to the rest of south Asia right? - Wrong)

New Delhi is the capital of india. Given india's roaring growth and world dominance as part of the chindia economic miracle, one would expect a fairly developed city...

Instead the taxi delivered us to a dirt street full of cows and huge holes in the road. This was the capital of Delhi?

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Pretty quickly we had to adjust our perceptions of india.

India has a rich complex background of religions, tribes, and history. The politics and tensions are far too complex to understand in a short visit - however there are a few points of particular interest.

India has one of the worlds highest population growths, and a massive divide between rich and poor. (perhaps re-inforced by the deeply embedded cultural class barriers; castes).

Even though it has a rapidly growing economy, the average standard of living may actually be going down due to the even larger population growth.

Signs of the poverty are everywhere - particularly in the desperation of touts harassing tourists, and starving children and beggars.

We took a few days to get used to things, gingerly tripping our way around delhi.

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Lim's trousers and t-shirt was far to racy and outfit for this mosque - they whacked this bag over her head to prevent any un-suitable distraction to the locals.

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I knew I simply did not have the necessary grace to eat by hand (as most of the local's do). Lim had to learn the hard way, but points for trying! :)

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Delhi's red fort by day
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and by Night

After Delhi, we went to see India's most famous building in Agra - a monument to a kings lost wife, the Taj Mahal.
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Big monument to a past wife hey? Perhaps he should have done it whilst she still lived, imagine the browny points!

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This girl was digging railway tracks with a pick axe...

From Agra we went to Jaipur and the Pink City (an area of semi-original buildings still painted a pink-ish colour.

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I climbed up a wall away from the touts and got some peace and quiet. Given a few moments of quiet away from touts, you start to realise what an incredibly beautiful landscape it is - absolutely breathtaking.

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Evolution?

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Apparently with Dosa, size does matter :)

After Agra we took an 18 hour (yep, no typo in that number) train ride to Mumbai, of Bollywood fame. Suitably, we saw a bolly wood flick, "Slumdog Millionaire". An excellent movie, it was particularly pertinent to us as it explained the crimes and scams and life-styles visible everywhere in india.

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The scene of the taj hotel shootings 26/11. This is a very very current issue and mentioned many times a day in the media. Little signs of the event remains, aside from some black scorch marks on the building.

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As per usual, the most delicious food is found by looking for a queue of locals. These samosa's costed about 30cents AUD, and yet were mouth watering.

Finally, we are calling India done, for us. It certainly wasn't a joyous visit, but it was one hell of an experience.

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Posted by hughmadden 01:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

seoul - city of tech and love hotels

0 °C

We paid a quick visit to seoul, capital of south korea.

We struggled through a few words of korea as this is a country with little spoken english much the same as china.

The people were extremely helpful and friendly - at one stage a gentleman walked us out of the subway and a way across the street until he was happy we knew where to go.

We luvvved the food - this octopus was still struggling, but I won in the end.
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Korea is full of love hotels - couples enter the hotel, select a room from the lit up pictures on the wall, and check in for either 4 hours or the night.

This means there is a ton of accomodation - an up-market love hotel is an excellent affordable hotel.

Our first room had a total of 5 plasma/lcd screens, a spa bath, two computers, and various kinds of remote controlled mood lighting. (all for 90aud per night - the korean won is also very depressed at the moment).
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With a couple of soju (locally brewed vodka equivalent) in the fridge, we had the kind of cheap, opulant luxury that is completely foreign to a couple of back-packers.. wow!
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We visited a shopping mall where there was about a thousand teenagers dressed up as cartoon figures. Not far away there was a gaming competition, I think it may have been the street fighter III launch.
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In S Korea professional gamers are celebrities. Several TV channels at any one time may be showing a video game tournament. Each of these guys had fans.
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These were the two excitedly commentating.
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We spent one day on a tour bus to ensure we did some of the obligatory tourist sights.

First up - the korean museum, with terse english labels.
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Hugh: where is the museum anyway? (hint, its the only building around)

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A cup of coffee on another freezing (literal term) day.

After that we shot up to the Seoul Tower which is perched on top of a mountain in the centre of the city.

It's a cloudy day, but if you look close you can see sky rises nestled together like townhouses in London or Sydney's Paddington. Metropolitan Seoul has more people than Hong Kong, in half the space. (605,000 people per square kilometer).
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We spurged with some wagyu beef in the towers revolving restaurant.
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We are enjoying this while we can - we are expecting the opposite in terms of comfort (and temperature) in our next stop, india.
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Posted by hughmadden 06:05 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

learning in beijing

snow 0 °C

A bit of randon googling immediately prior to entering china revealed that we needed visas for india (oops). we adjusted our china plans and headed straight to beijing to ensure we got our visa applications in early.

We began our travels quite timmidly - few signs are written in english, and there is a very low density of english speakers in china.

The lack of english signs and labelling in china was really refreshing. I think it ditracts from a countries unique language and culture to have english labelled signage plastered around catering to foriegners. That said coca-colinisation is still apparent everywhere. We saw numerous McDonalds, all filled to the brim with hungry youngsters, and american express* sponsorship signs inside beijing's forbidden city itself. Not so forbidden anymore it seems.

Aside from adding to the overall experience, we were forced to learn the written form of simplifed chinese numbers - suprisingly easy.

  • There was reportedly also a starbucks in the forbidden city, but we didn't spot it.

On english speakers in china - there is an oft quoted figure of 300 million english speakers in china. This would make it the nation with the most english speakers (total US population being around 260million).

In actual fact, the 300 mill refers to "learning". Consider also the relationship between statistics and government whim in china, and it probably refers to 300 mill people who "want" to learn english.

The official number of english speakers in china is 10 mill. Given the chinese population of 1330 mill, this meant only 1 in 133 people on the street would understand us; yikes! :)

(in our experience perhaps 1/4 people in the service industry tend to have at least a few basic words)

Needless to say we had to learn the key mandarin phrases pretty quickly - but the presumably basic YES and NO is actually not straight forward in chinese, and not something we have mastered :/ (i look forward to having it explained by a mandarin speaking friend).

There was a single english channel on television. This channel (as with all chinese media) is very carefully worded to express sanitised government messages. (of course i don't consider fox/cnn or australian free 2 air mind blogglingly liberal either).

I found this still gives you a strong feel for current issues, simply by focussing on the subject and not the stated facts. (perhaps chinese people get very good at reading between the lines).

The influence and interplay of China's recent history** (especially the last 120 years), confucianism (china's deeply rooted philosophy), and classic economics (Adam Smith/ Wealth of nations) smacks you full in the face as you watch current political and economic developments in China.

(relations with Taiwan and the one china policy, opening up of markets with a recognition that open trade is better for both parties, managing the divide between rural and urban chinese, and democratic concepts gaining popularity in a country with a confucian/ elitist government).

  • *The Chinese Lonely Planet has an intriguing history section - which is probably the reason the book is banned in China! Other travellers told us stories of it being confiscated on arrival.

Anyway, I'm boring you; on to the happy snaps:

The sights of Beijing were interesting, the people mostly very honest and helpful, and the food, unsuprisingly, awesome :)

The forbidden city:
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Tianamen Square:
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The great wall of china:
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Okie.. this isn't the great wall of china, its the dirtiest toilet in china. Its the most interesting thing we saw on our failed attempt to catch a public bus to one of the wall sections. Fortunately, neither of us needed to go -that- badly.

The next day we forked out the $ for a tour.

The section we went to was a good 1 hour of climbing. Great fun, exercise, and really interesting to get a feel for the wall's scale. you can see it winding away through the moutains on either side.
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Traditional? Notice the green tube/ toboggan thing that runs tourists straight up to a high point.. hmm..
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The way -down-, however, took us around 15 mins. Lim experimentally slid a few feet down the rail you can see. After a I got the dumb look of amazment and happiness off my face, we slid down the 1k or so stretch at somewhat silly speeds, passing thousands of incredulous chinese tourists. Who said appreciating history can't be fun? ;p

The Ming tombs:
The Ming tombs are a bunch of hill/ template/ gates/ tombs build by the second last dynasty. Pretty interesting.

At the entrance to each is a gate to heaven - after stepping through, you are in heaven, where you stay until exit through the gate.
Entering heaven..
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It didn't take long for Lim's mischievous monkey magic behaviour to see her ejected in much the same fashion as the great sage equal of heaven.
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Last but not least - Beijing food, YUM!
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Well.. neither of us worked up the courage for scorpions and grasshoppers. We don't eat it if the locals don't, and none were.

We spent most nights wandering around in the cold/ snow, and rewarding ourselves with dumplings, hot pots, and just generally delicious food.
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On to south korea/ seoul now, zài jiàn.

Posted by hughmadden 06:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

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