Introducing the Asian typhoon

Australasia ~ Australia ~ Victoria ~ Home and Asia ~ The Philippines ~ Manila and Asia ~ Japan ~ Fukuoka & Hiroshima

So much has happened, and yet nothing has happened since my last post – nearly 2 months ago! What can I say? Once again I’ve slipped into holiday mode, and have slacked off a bit on my blogging. Almost immediately after writing my last post, it was decided that I was needed back in Australia to help out the family business with our annual promotion. So we madly scrambled around to find a decent flight back to Australia at extremely short notice, and came up with a Philippine Air flight. “Hmmm, they seem to have a bad reputation”, mentioned mum. “FANTASTIC, I’ve never been to the Philippines”, I thought…

My two weeks back in Australia were full on, 12 hour days really take it out of you, but I did get to spend some time with my nephew, so it wasn’t all bad. And I managed to convince one of my friends to come back to Japan with me for a holiday. And so it was that Leah spent her very first typhoon locked up in a 4 star hotel in Manila with me, and her second ever typhoon madly riding through the wind to get to our favourite okonomiyaki restaurant…

People waiting to catch a train in amongst the typhoon

People waiting to catch a train in amongst the typhoon

We had a whirlwind 3 days in Manila on the way over to Japan from Melbourne… Day 1 we arrived at 6.30am, had a snooze then wandered around the streets – it was hot and humid, but bearable with a slight breeze… We talked about doing a tour the next day. Day 2 we decided to go shopping at the mall next to the hotel, as it was raining “a bit”. On the way out the door, we noticed the concierge had umbrellas – so we asked when they expected the rain to stop, to try and decide if we needed to get an umbrella. He said that the storm would start at 2pm (this was at about 10am). We assumed he made a mistake, he meant the storm would finish at 2pm, and headed through the torrential rain (a bit of a summer storm we assumed) to the nearby shopping centre. Wandered around the shopping centres for most of the day. At about 2pm the weather did indeed turn worse, terrible winds and rain. At this stage we still thought it was just a summer storm, we hadn’t heard the news. It wasn’t until we passed the Apple Store that we found out – it was closed, with a big sign up saying “Closed for the typhoon”. We started heading back to our hotel, it was bucketing down with rain everywhere, lines to get taxis and trains where huge (I’m not sure the trains were running). Luckily our hotel was right in the centre of town, so we just walked through the malls to get back. Not until we got to Japan did we realise just how bad it really was over there (we weren’t watching the news in Manila – we had plenty of DVD’s from the markets to get through!).

Leah surrounded by shopping in Manila

Leah surrounded by shopping in Manila

Leah and I spent a fantastic couple of weeks in Japan, running around visiting my favourite places. Amongst a bunch of things, we rode the shinkansen to Hiroshima, visited the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, the deers in Miyajima, Leah stayed in her first hostel in Hiroshima and we were interviewed by a Japanese TV station at Dazaifu, questioned about our ‘fashionable’ clothing (we were wearing jeans and thongs…). Leah was all set to come to our Wednesday English class, when our student SMS’d us to suggest we cancel the lesson, because of the approaching typhoon. Leah still wanted okonomiyaki for dinner, so we battled the winds to ride to our favourite restaurant despite the warnings… We were fine, and the typhoon ended up passing by us through the night, hopefully the typhoon’s are over for the year.

This red torii (gate) at the Itsukushima Shrine (Miyajima) welcomes visitors to the island - famous throughout Japan and the rest of the world. Deer all over the place...

This red torii (gate) at the Itsukushima Shrine (Miyajima) welcomes visitors to the island - famous throughout Japan and the rest of the world. Deer all over the place...

Leah’s now headed back home, and I’m left to, once again, find a job. Hmmm, better get on top of that 😉


Asia ~ China ~ Beijing

Ahh, back in Beijing. Finally on hols again! Where to begin… My trip started with a phone call at 12:30am on the night/morning that I was to leave – “do u want to go out clubbing in the city, then we’ll drop u at the airport”… NO! Flight was relatively uneventful – decent food, had a 1 hour stopover in Hong Kong, which stretched out to a 4 hour stopover when my flight was delayed. Matt was waiting at the airport though, so a friendly face was most definitely appreciated! We got me and my stuff up to our apartment (right in the middle of Beijing), where I quickly sussed out the place (photos to come later). Best surprise was the air conditioner in my room (thanks Matt :)).

Street food outside our apartment

Street food outside our apartment

For the first couple of days whilst staying here, Matt had friends from his Hong Kong uni staying here – Marcus from Sweden and Tim from the U.S. Our days have consisted of sleeping till about 11, then up and mucking around till it’s safe (i.e. not hot hot hot, just hot hot) to go out. Then shopping, lunch and dinner… We’ve also been getting ourselves organised – first day was spent buying mops, detergent and finding a post office. Mop and detergent were obviously to get this apartment into order (was a pigsty!) – post office was for a completely different reason… Turns out I accidentally bought mum’s car keys with me, and she only has one set… oops. Luckily, after calling her, they found the spare, so I have been saved, phew.

Our apartment has internet access, you’d think getting that organised would be relatively easy. Not so. Matt had already bought a router so we went about setting that up – turns out the broadband here comes with a password – which we have – but it only allows one puter to be hooked up at a time. Useless for us. After a lot of mucking about, we have my macbook hooked up to the net, and is sending the internet to wirelessly to Matt’s – who would have thought?!

Halfway through setting up our net, the power went out. “Hmmm”, I thought, “it’ll just be a quick power-outage”. “Whoops” says Matt… Turns out the people he rented the apartment from had told him something about the power… Now what was it… In the end, he figured out that the electricity is on a pre-paid system – you charge up your electricity card at the bank, then put it into the meter outside the apartment. Very useless information at 11pm on a hot night… Got the electricity sorted out and am now keeping a keen eye on the meter.

Other than our technology issues, we have been shopping, eating and exploring Beijing. Went with the boys and Eric, a local guy, to the electronics market the other day. Poor Eric had never been to such a place with foreigners – the vendors swarmed and Eric was the center of attention – he got pulled this way and that. Don’t think he’ll be making that mistake again. Had Peking Duck for dinner last night – YUM. Also visited the hill overlooking much of Beijing (including the Forbidden City), the plan for today is yet to be decided. Might be a jama day…

Eric, Matt & Tim overlooking Beijing

Eric, Matt & Tim overlooking Beijing

Hope all are well… We’re in Beijing for about 2 months – if you’re in the area, be sure to drop by!


Sweating it out in Edinburgh

Europe ~ United Kingdom ~ Scotland ~ Edinburgh

How typical is this? We’re in one of the countries that is renowned for its cold and rainy weather and we are in the middle of a ‘hot spell’. Everyone is complaining about the heat, people are having trouble sleeping at night. This morning I was eating my brekky in the dining room (one of the coldest rooms in the hostel, brrr), one of the longtermers walked in and remarked ‘wow, isn’t it nice and cold in here’. Tomorrow the temperature might get as high as 22 degrees Celsius, I wonder how everyone will deal with the heat and lack of sleep. Despite all this, I did manage to get horribly sunburnt the other day, ouch!

We went out for a couple of hours on Sunday night, ended up coming home early because it was oh so hot in the club. Funny, in Australia, Sunday night/afternoon is spent lazing around, sad that the weekends over, slightly sick from a weekend of partying etc etc. You might have a drink or two, but that’s about it. Over here its one of the biggest nights of the week, 1 pound drinks, so everyone gets really drunk, quite different from home.

Next week the G8 is coming to Edinburgh, expected to be pretty big. Not only will we have all the world ‘leaders’, we will have all the protesters that come with them. Bob Geldof is calling for over 1 million people to flood the streets and ‘make poverty history’. The whole of Edinburgh is shaking in their kilts… Everyone has made all sorts of plans – they are closing down the main street (the one that runs past the front of the hostel) and are advising most shops to close for the day, if not the whole week. Pubs are replacing pint glasses with plastic cups and removing all chairs in anticipation of riots. The council is advising people to stock up on groceries and not to venture into town unless ‘absolutely necessary’. Despite all this, some of the shops are staying open – one of my friends shop is staying open, however they have put aside extra funds so they can whisk staff out the back, into taxis and away to safety in the event of riots. Should be fantastic, we’re gunna be right down there in the middle of it all…

Apart from gossiping about what’s going to happen next week, we haven’t been up to much. Just more roaming of the city, yesterday we went for a nice long walk up the mountains. Walked past Holyrood, the Queen’s residence when she’s in town (pretty impressive, she has her very own church in the backyard). Climb up the mountain wasn’t too bad, very impressive seeing the view over the city. The difference between the ‘old town’ and the ‘new town’ is astounding.

Hugs and kisses all [and a special hug to my new 2nd cousin, Phoenix]
xoxo bobs

Tash, Elysha and Mike, on their way up the mountain

Tash, Elysha and Mike, on their way up the mountain

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

Phi Phi Islands

Asia ~ Thailand ~ Phi Phi Island

Well well well, another day another adventure. Tash and I are just about to leave Phi Phi Island, its been like a dream. After spending two nights on trains we ended up in Phuket (Southern Thailand). The trains weren’t tooo bad, the first one was a sleeper train, we had beds and everything. The second one, however, didn’t have any sleepers left (we didn’t book early enough), so we ended up on seats for a 13 hour train trip. Ugh. Oh yeh, while we were in Bangkok, on our way down here, I had my hair plaited. Blonde and Purple, almost down to my waist. Very different, have got quite a few comments.

Anyway… Phuket was different, we spent the time on Karon Beach, there was no evidence of the Tsunami there. People were really nice, but obviously hurting, it was so quiet, no tourists anywhere. Meanwhile, we managed to find a mexican resturant that sold jugs of mararitas for about $4. mmm. Tash and I have got quite accustomed to the local drinks, the beer (Singha is the best) and the cocktails (mmm Mai Tai is awesome). But dont drink the whiskey….

We also went and visited Katong beach, the destruction there was obvious. All the resturants along the main beach had been wiped out, but were well on the way to being re-built. Construction was happening all around and people were really happy to see tourists starting to visit again. When we were there, they were having a bit of a celebration, to get the tourists through, so we sat on the beach for a while, having dinner and drinks.

The next day we set off for the Phi Phi Islands. Ferry across was uneventful, after watching a horror movie on giant squid we kept our eyes open though… Arrival at Phi Phi Don (the larger of the islands) was, well, theres no way to describe it. The tsunami had really hit here. The main beach, which used to be a collection of beautiful beach huts, stores, resturants and bars was just sand, dirt and corrugated iron. Some of the stores were being propped up by who knows what, others were tumbling into the sea. On our way through town to our hotel, we could see that basically everything had been wiped away. Surprisingly, here and there were places that apeared not to have been touched at all. Scary.

Eventually we made it to our resort, which only survived because it is on a hill, the waters didn’t reach it. It used to have a bridge crossing the canal in front of it, but that was washed away. In its place stands three planks that we had to wobble across (with our huge, heavy packs!!!) to get to the resort. Tsunami aside, the island is absolutley beautiful. The beaches are white sand, the water is the prettiest blue you’ve ever seen. We spent four days on Phi Phi Don, with a visit to Phi Phi Lei. Phi Phi Lei is where the movie “The Beach’ was shot. We visited Maya Bay and did some snorkelling, there were fish everywhere. They all loved trying to nibble on my hair – i guess the purple and blonde is a *BIT* strange… Back on Phi Phi Island we went to a beach party on of the nights, where songs were sung and people were auctioned off for charity… All proceeds were going to helping the people re-build, so everyone was quite happy to drink up! We also had fire twirling, which was quite awesome. Met quite a few foreigners from around the world. I must admit though, Australians are definetly the loudest drinkers, that and the Irish, Tash and I pretended we werent aussie… Theres only so many times you can hear ‘Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie Oy Oy Oy’ in one night. There are about 100, maybe 150 people staying on the Island as far as I could see, an Island that used to have thousands visiting it, if anyone wants to take a holiday, I suggest Phi Phi, they definetly need the tourists, and its a beautiful place.

If you guys could see where I’m sitting to type ths email, its like paradise. I’m sitting on one of the decks at the resort, overlooking the bay, palm trees swinging in the breeze… Mmmm… Hope you’re all having a great time at home, next time I write, I’ll be in India, can’t wait, Indian food yum.

xoxo Bobs

ps Met some guys from England yesterday, they’re leaving for home today, its -4 Celcius over there right now, ugh! By the time we get there, it had better be warmer!!!