My trip to Taiwan has been a momentous one for my traveling credentials – for the first time ever, I have travelled with only carryon luggage (that’s for a 3 country trip!). It’s also the first time I have travelled without a planned itinerary – in the past I have booked all or most of my hotels, and known how I was getting from a to b. Not so on this trip! I had a rough idea of some places that sounded interesting, and I booked the first nights accommodation, but the rest was up in the air when I boarded my flight to Taipei.

A quick layover in Hong Kong was extended when my next plane was delayed, and the gate changed from one end of the airport to the other. But no matter, we were soon up in the air again. Arrival into Taipei was surprising – coming out of the arrivals hall I was greater by a mass of faces, and not one pushing and screaming “taxiiiiiii”. Much of my trip was like this – you hear the Chinese being spoken and see the signs everywhere, but then notice that no, people aren’t trying to get you to buy their products or no, people aren’t trying to scam you, a bit hard to get used to!

At the airport I quickly and easily organised a sim card and a bus to town. My hotel was easy to find and easy to check into. Exhausted from travel, I wandered around till I found an ATM that would accept my MasterCard (luckily I had bought some TWD in Melbourne). Grabbed some 7/11 food for dinner (an amusing mix of Japanese and Chinese konbini foods) and crashed for the night.

Escalators in Taipei

Escalators in Taipei

At this stage I was still considering just getting a tour package, and have someone organise my travels for me, so the next day I set off for one of the travel agents in town. Navigating the metro was simple (similar reusable token system as Bangkok), and using google maps on my phone (best invention ever!) I quickly found the travel agent. I was able to organise a tour for that night to see one of the markets and do Mongolian BBQ, but unfortunately there was only one tour running that week. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, so I left it for now.

I wandered around the town for the rest of the day, until the taxi picked me up for my night tour. We went and collected another girl for the tour before meeting up with the “big bus”. A total of 6 on the bus, we had 2 Australians, 2 Japanese, a French and an Italian in our group. Most had been in Taiwan for a few days at least and were all due to fly out in a day or so. Our first stop was Mongolian barbeque – once again proving that Mongolian/Korean BBQ has very different meanings in different parts of the world. Here, we lined up and chose our choice of thin (raw) meats, vegetables and sauces. Into a bowl they went, and then were handed to the chefs, who fried them up on the spot for us. There was also a selection of salads, fruits and drinks. The middle of the table had a bubbling pot of water that was available to be used for shabu-shabu style food as well. The restaurant appeared to be catering purely towards bus groups, and the food was just mediocre, but the experience was amazing!

Pork for all!

Pork for all!

Our next stop was the Snake Alley street market, culminating in the Long Shan Temple. To be honest, if I had of realised the street market we were going to was Snake Alley, I probably wouldn’t have done the tour. Snake Alley is known for its shops selling snake blood – they cut and bleed the snake in front of you, and then you can do a shot of this lovely concoction. HOWEVER I saw none of this – we arrived in the middle of a huge street festival, celebrating the goddess of the sea. There were people everywhere, and men dressed in scary devil costumes. Our poor guide was terrified he would lose us (he said when he has a group of 20 or 30 it is horrible), but we had a brilliant time, weaving in and out of the procession. We beat them to the temple and had a quick look around before attempting to find our bus again.

Taipei Longshan Temple, all lit up for the street festival

Taipei Longshan Temple, all lit up for the street festival

The last stop was Taipei 101. It was a clear night, and the view from the top was flat out amazing. When it was built, it broke all sorts of records – check out Wikipedia for more info. The Italian guy and I attempted to get a photo of each other in front of the mascot – trying to get in between the mainland tourists was challenging – mum had to take a photo with son, son had to take a photo with dad, dad had to take a photo with daughter, daughter had to take a photo with aunty, grandma had to take a separate photo with everyone! The Italian guys hasn’t been to China, so was a bit bewildered by it all. On the other hand, I got a photo with grandma!

Whilst we were up Taipei 101, I rang around and tried to book a tour to Kenting for the following day, but I was laughed at and told everything was full, so I’ve decided to catch a train and do it myself. My tour mates were very apprehensive about this (they had all done 3 or more of the tours), which in turn made me a little apprehensive, but with no other options, that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow!

The flights are booked…

And once again the plans are being drawn up. I’m off to Japan late July, managed to get two-for-one flights to Japan, score! We’ll spend a night up on the Goldcoast before heading off to Osaka. Tentative plans at this stage to spend a year in Japan/Asia – if Japan proves too expensive, we’ll move onto Taiwan or Korea. Anyone else planning on being in the area?

Nimotsu-less in Tokyo

Asia ~ Japan ~ Osaka & Tokyo

And once again I’ve made it back to Japan.  Although not without a few tiny weeny little incidents.  These last couple of months have been so hectic that planning for this trip was left to the very last minute – literally.  I finalised accommodation details for my first couple of nights only 1 night before I left!  Problems for the trip began when, two days before my flight, I received a phone call from Jetstar.  “Eeek”, I though, “at least I have travel insurance”…  Turns out they had canceled my first part of my flight – the Melbourne to Sydney section – and so had booked me on an earlier flight.  As I’m not known for my awareness early morning, I begged them to put me on a later flight, which they agreed to.  Little did I know…

Wednesday morning saw dad and I at Tullamarine Airport awaiting my (first) flight.  When they began announcing that there were technical faults, I knew straight away I was to miss my connecting flight in Sydney to Japan.  Several hours later I finally got on a (new) plane, getting into Sydney waaay too late for my connection.  Qantas (it was a Qantas domestic flight) put me up at an airport hotel, which was fine by me, meant I got another nights sleep…  Bags hadn’t arrived yet, as they didn’t want to delay our flight any longer (so they said), they would come in on the 2pm flight we were told.  So we toddled off to the airport hotel with just our carry on bags.

Needless to say, the bags didn’t arrive that night.  When I went to check in the next day, my bags still hadn’t arrived, so I checked in, then went to the Qantas counter to beg for some vouchers to get essentials.  The guy at the counter asked if I’d checked the ‘baggage room’ – not one person had mentioned this in the numerous times I was on the phone the night before.  So off I went to the ‘baggage room’, where you have to knock on a blank wall three times, wait three minutes and knock two more times to be allowed entrance…  Wasn’t expecting to find anything – after all, I had been chasing the bag for nearly 24 hours, and assumed it hadn’t left Melbourne yet – however, sitting right on top was my familiar backpack.  “It’s mine!” I shouted with joy to the staff.  As I had already checked in, they promised to get it on my flight for me.

On the way to the boarding gate, I grabbed some deoderant and earplugs, because I had forgotten to grab some out of my backpack.  Although I had spent half the night thinking about what clothing I would buy at the airport, I bought none, as my bag had been found, or so I thought.  How wrong I was.  Flight was uneventful, I had 3 seats to myself, so I got a decent rest.  Arrival in Japan bought an unpleasant surprise – my backpack wasn’t on the flight.  About then is when I went into panick mode.  No change of underwear?   No pajamas?  I’m in Japan, where the average size is toothpick.  Eeek!

Much of the next couple of days were spent attempting to find clothing – although I did ok with some tops (surprisingly!) underwear and skirts eluded me.  In any case, I was sure that my bag was going to arrive “tomorrow”, and didn’t want to over-buy, just in case.  In Australia, mum was spending almost every waking moment attempting to locate my bags, screaming her head off at incompetent Qantas staff.  Amongst trying to find clothing, I have also spent a good amount of time trying to buy a mobile phone in Tokyo, a near impossible task.

Crazy Shibuya at night

Crazy Shibuya at night

Never fear, my luggage did arrive, but not without dramas.  On my fourth day in Japan, I headed off to Hachijo jima, a hippy island an hour south of Tokyo.  After being assured by Qantas staff in Australia that my bag would be at Haneda airport, I spent an hour and a half trying to communicate with staff there, only to find the bag hadnt even left Australia yet.  But I was over it, I was heading to a tropical island…


Do you know the way to San Jose?

North America ~ United States of America ~ California ~ San Jose

A big howdy to everyone from the sunny state of California! Yep, I finally made it here. Plane trip was long and tiring. It all began when we had all just gotten ourselves onto the plane. The pilot announced that someone had checked in their luggage but failed to show up for the flight, so they had to take their luggage off the plane. That should have been the warning sign… Half an hour later, once we had been taxi’d out onto the runway, the pilot announced that the warning light had come up on one of the jets. Three hours later we were taken off the plane, whilst a new plane and crew was found. We finally left Heathrow seven hours after the original departure time, with a cheer rising from the plane. Arrival in San Francisco was interesting as well. At immigration I had my fingerprints taken with an ‘inkless’ pad (really more like a mini scanner), and I also had my photo taken!

California is the same as it’s always been, yet so different from all the places that I’ve been in the past couple of months. The streets around San Jose are so quiet, of a weekday there are very few cars on the road. A lucky thing too, since I’ve been driving around, trying to stay on the right side of the road! In the morning, squirrels play in the trees outside my Granpoppa’s house and of a day you can hear all the leaf blowers going. My Grandpoppa’s golden retriever, Traveller, is absolutely gorgeous. He loves to have his ball thrown for him, day and night. Of a day he sits at the gate, waiting patiently for someone to walk past the bottom of the driveway. When he does spot someone, he rolls his ball under the gate and down the driveway to the unsuspecting stranger. As a result, Traveller is always making friends who come back through-out the day just to throw his ball for him. The other day, mum and I decided to give him a bath. I went and changed into my old clothes, thinking of how difficult it is to wash our dogs back home. To my shock, Traveller walked into the bathroom, jumped into the bath and proceeded to lie down. Mum has trained him so that, provided the water is just right (not too hot, not too cold), he is more than willing to jump into the bath. The only problem is keeping him out of the water when she is running the bath for herself!!!

I’ve been out and about all week, seeing the ‘sites’ of San Jose. The other day, mum took me to one of the Asian supermarkets (they’re huge over here, not like the tiny little stores in Australia). This particular supermarket stocks everything, including a huge range of fresh seafood in tanks up the back. It’s as fresh as can be – you take it home still breathing. They also have the largest range of frozen dumplings I’ve seen outside of Asia, and as a result I’ve eaten Japanese dumplings for breakfast ever since. Last night we went out to a barbecue restaurant with Grandpoppa and some of his friends. Had a great time, munching away on beef sandwiches and jiving to real western tunes. I’m in my element over here – California has a huge range of Mexican restaurants, they’re dotted all over the place. The guy around the corner from the shop sells hot dogs and burritos, yum!

Mum took me to the famous San Jose Flea Market the other day, and we had a great day. The market was full of little Mexican kids racing around speaking Spanish, and stalls that sold burritos and tacos. Unfortunately we both got extremely burnt, so I’m a walking lobster at the moment… Another of my nights was spent down at the Indian Movie Center with my Granpoppa and second cousin. We saw an Indian movie, Avunna Kadana, which I’m sure would have been really interesting, had we been able to understand. Although there were no subtitles I managed to make up a dialogue in my own head…

Most of my days have been spent down at my Uncles shop, helping mum and the girls pack everything up. We’ve spent the week (and they’ve spent the past couple of months) selling presses, computers and other printing equipment. This week we’ve had schools and other organisations coming in to collect donations of card and paper. It’s hard seeing so much of my family’s history going out the door, but it’s very rewarding when you have someone who truly appreciates what they are being given. Even more rewarding is talking to my Uncle’s friends and business partners who come in to chat and tell their stories. Everyone has something funny and nice to say about Dave, it really makes me smile, hearing these stories. It’s so great to realise that Dave made such a positive difference in so many people’s lives.

Take care all, and let me know how you’re going.

xo bobs

Hangin’ in Hong Kong

Asia ~ China ~ Hong Kong

Hong Kong is so incredibly different from mainland China that it’s easy to forget that they are technically the same country. Plane trip was uneventful, although we ended up sitting next to a uni lecturer from Sydney, he leads the perfect life. Teaches during the semester, then travels the world giving talks on his research. Our pilot on the Dragon Air flight was also Aussie, so once again we were surrounded by fellow Australians! Weather in Hong Kong is similar to India and Thailand, hot and humid. Coming from Beijing, where we were struggling to move under all our jumpers and coats, it was a bit of a difference.

First night was spent in the hotel from hell. We were so buggered from the traveling that we agreed to stay there, in retrospect we probably should have kept looking. But once you’ve taken off your huge pack (both of our packs gained about 4 kg from China), it takes a lot of effort to get it back on! We stumbled into our ‘double room’ (the bed was slightly larger than a single bed), moved the bed away from the wall, propped our very heavy packs against the door, pulled out our sleeping sheets and fell asleep. No chance that anyone was getting through that door, we could barely lift one pack together, let alone two of them stacked against a door. In fact, we laugh when other travelers lock their packs to train seats – as if anyone could actually lift our packs to steal them…

The next day we threw on our clothes from the night before and rushed downstairs to book into a new hotel. The room isn’t much bigger, but it has a nice shower, walls we’re not afraid to touch, and a tv. Our requirements for a hotel used to be a bar fridge and a bath, now its just a clean wall and a door between the toilet and the bedroom… The building that we’re staying in is called ‘Chunking Mansion’, a huge set of buildings which encompasses many many hostels/hotels. Turns out most of them are pretty grotty, but we stumbled onto a good one second time round, so are happy. The local news ran a story about the mansions last night, saying how they used to be a haven for crime, but they’ve increased security (read: a guy in uniform stands next to the lift…) and have less incidents since then! Our hotel is nice though, and the woman in charge of it seems to be really friendly and happy to help us.

Third day was spent at the Hong Kong Gifts and Premiums Fair, which was huge! A full day spent traisping up and down escalators, the exhibition centre in Hong Kong is massive, at least 6 floors high. The things that were being sold were interesting, from cutsie umbrella’s (a room full of them) to huge inflatable pepsi cans. By the end of the day we were ready to collapse and crawled back onto the ferry. Oh yeh, thats right, we took the ferry to get across to the trade show, we’re staying in Kowloon, and the trade show was on Hong Kong Island, ferry ride was interesting. Whilst waiting to get on the ferry, the green light goes on and everyone RUNS to get onto the ferry first, people in elegant suits and racing with the rest of them. We’re over that kind of thing, just like when we’re on the planes, we just wait till everyone’s gone and meander at our own pace…

The rest of our time in Hong Kong has been spent shopping and just wandering around. The markets are funny, prices aren’t cheap (well, not compared to Beijing prices), but you can bargain the store owners down. Apparently the average tourist doesn’t, so the bargaining is hard. I got a bag the other day, after bargaining, we had some foreigners watching us, amazed as they didn’t realise you could bargain! Bags and clothing seem to be the items of the day, but there is plenty of other stuff too. Camera and electronic stores everywhere, and tailors too. Its a bit like being back in India, the area that we’re staying in is full of Indian tailors, everyone grabs at your arm as you walk by, saying “come and see my shop, good price for you, you are my friend!”. We’ve been through India, we’ve handled the hawkers at the great wall, we’ve handled the hawkers in Delhi, so we handle it all with a shrug of the shoulder and steam ahead.

We’ve just packed up our boxes to send home from Hong Kong and China, as Tash pointed out our packages are getting bigger and bigger, the more countries we go through. Oh well, it will be the last package for a while, Europe’s going to be so expensive! [and cold…]

Take Care all, let me know whats happening in your corner of the world,
xo bobs