Tokyo – a million versions of Dixons

So, here we are on the last leg of our adventure! The first thing to hit us in Tokyo is the heat – literally……it’s 41 degrees. The air is thick and its uncomfortable to be in sunlight at all. Thankfully its not as humid as Beijing. The public transport system is all airconditioned – thank God or we would be either dead or marooned in our hotel!!!

The second thing that hits is the newness of everything – from the buildings to the fashion and the technology. Its all “of the moment”.
Lots of under 25’s around looking painfully edgy and super cool, and you get the feeling that there’s loads of money. Tokyo seems to be all about shopping and consumption – local electronics and European fashion.

I was expecting Tokyo to be really expensive – but its not too bad for the day to day stuff – maybe its just that Dublin has caught up.

On our first day we visited the highly fashionable Ginza district, shopped at the much lauded biggest toy shop in Toyko (Smiths is better by far) and took a turn around the Sony building where you see cutting edge electronics and pre- production consumerables – Ciaran and Adam were in their element. We had lunch in a Japanese restaurant specialising in rice dishes in the International Forum, which is a very impressive exhibition centre.

After nightfall we took the train to Shibuya to see one of the famous crossroads by night. The lights, signs and enormous screens were incredible. It was as bright as daylight from the signs and adverts, with thousands of people streaming across 4 and 5 lane intersections. The whole experience was really exciting.

Today (Friday) it was slightly less hot – only 37 degrees! We had learned from yesterday and spent the hottest part of the day in the excellent Edo-Toyko museum. This museum tells the story of Tokyo through models and artifacts….even down to building a replica kabuki theater.
We had a free volunteer guide bring us around the museum. Can you imagine in Ireland free, volunteer guides – no tip, nothing! They do it as a public service.

We then visited the district of Akihabara, which is the electronic retail centre of the whole world (that’s certainly what it felt like to me and my feet after a few millenia had passed as we wandered around a million versions of Dixons). Totally wasted on me, Adam and Ciaran enjoyed it. I kept thinking how much fun my brothers would have here – they could literally get lost here for days. To stop me from comitting hari kari and out of genuine pity for my numbed brain, Ciaran took us off for fish and chips and beer – ah, the sweet sound of western food silting up the arteries!

I do have to admit that at night the whole area was amazing from the perspective of neon lights, frantic flashing lights and electronic noise – a stereotypical Tokyo streetscape.

Intermingled with phones, stereos and every conceivable gadget was some weird stuff. Whole shops devoted to little plastic models of warriors or fantastic beings, stacks of cards of pokemon type stuff and generally cartoon fantasy stuff – aimed at adults. The weirdest stuff though was the porno stuff – very explicit dolls the same size as barbie were everywhere…..mostly dressed up as schoolgirls. This fascination with schoolgirls is pretty difficult to deal with – but it’s everywhere. I’ve seen grown women walking around in school uniform outfits or in little sailor outfits you’d put on a child. It’s all rather uncomfortable. (Ironically, myself and my friends couldn’t wait to bin our uniforms at the end of the leaving cert. No way the good sisters of mercy allowed us to look like anything but great shapeless lumps in our uniforms.)
All I can say is that I have no problem understanding why Japanese women in turn are not demanding their men titilate by dressing up as school boys – men definitely improve with age and good tailoring :)

Perth

We’ve been in Perth for 3 days now and have been really enjoying the laid back living, strongly child friendly atitude and fab beaches and sea scapes. The town itself is low key and mostly low rise. There’s about 1.5 million people here – although the same size as Dublin it doesn’t have the same buzz, its much quieter. We’ve visited the cute town of Freemantle and got a kick out of the local markets and had lunch in a microbrewrey – yum! We’ve also checked out Swan Valley, which is a big wine producing area – we stopped off at a winery and had a look around.

We had a gorgeous breakfast at Cottesloe Beach, watching the surfers while the guys ended up in the Indian ocean in their clothes :)

We had a wonderful dinner and evening in friends’ house, a real injection of news and good fun – spending some time with other people was really welcome after 4 weeks of just us mostly!!!

Starry, starry night…

I have never seen a sky like it – this is going to sound lame, but who’d have guessed that the sky reached down to the horizon in all directions :) The sky was very much a presence and not something that could be ignored or even taken for granted – i genuinely felt that i was on a tiny platform looking into space. The stars were so prevalent it looked like a bad case of nappy rash….and the milky way was enormous – we could even clearly see the Magellanic Clouds with the naked eye. There was no moon and no light pollution, so the darkness was profound. The guide was good – gave some wow- type facts and some fun anecdotes and history. We also got to use some telescopes which added to the sky even more. Adam’s imagination was fired up – Cora really enjoyed it also and got a kick out of looking through the telescopes.

This has been a highlight of the trip – on its own its worth making the journey into the desert for.

Fire, stars & didgerdoos

We had a chilled out day in preparation for our evening visit to the Tjapukai visitors park, dinner and show. It started really well with an intro to different Aboriginal spirits – it was really evocative and slighty scary for Cora, but put us in the mood for more. We then joined a procession down to this huge campfire, where there were 3 Tjapukai tribesmen in traditional body paint and clothes doing a traditional fire lighting ceremony – it was fun as we were given trad rythm sticks (as in “hit me with…….”) to beat along to the chanting and singing. There was a bit of theatrics with fire and spears and then we all trooped inside for a buffet dinner – was tasty.

At dessert the floor show started with some didgerdoo playing – much more musical than i would have expected. After that we had the most bizzarely amaturish, downright rubbish “musical and mime show” that i have ever seen. It was cringy.

We left completely mystified and disappointed – we learned nothing about the culture of what they call the “tradiitional owners”. I was also a bit cross as this cost us $250…..for $100 worth of dinner and a show you would be disappointed to see as a primary school annual play.

The real star of the night was the night sky. It was a gorgeous night and the first time we were away from city lights. It was actually a little disorientating looking at the sky and not being able to recognize anything – no familiar points at all. We could actually see the milky way and the sky was crowded with bright stars. Pity the aboriginals didn’t sit us down around the camp fire and tell us their trad stories about the sky and their environment – thats something I would have been happy to pay for!

Not the Wexford mudflats!

Today we took seats on a 4×4 bus thingie affectionately called Matilda, and joined another 6 people on the Billy Tea Daintree & Cape Tribulation Adventure. It was a superb day – we were introduced to a rainforest that more than lived up to our imaginings. We had an informed and amusing local guide who filled us in on everything from fauna, flora, history and culture.

We saw 800 year old palm trees, tree hugger reptiles, crocodiles lazily lying on the river bank. We had midmorning tea (grown locally) beside an crystal clear brook with black perch who swam right up you, we tasted some locally grown exotic fruit – most i had never heard of. Cora and Adam fed 2 giant red kagaroos and one tiny one during our BBQ lunch.

We even managed a swim in the coral sea in Cape Tribulation – the whitest sands you have ever seen – sea like glass and about 27 degrees. This is where the rainforest mets the sea and its almost cheesy its so picture card beautiful.

A river cruise where we saw crocodiles, pythons, all sorts of bizzare birds and plants ended a truely fab day – no mistaking it, we certainly couldn’t have confused our day trip with a day in the Wexford mudflats.

What is so incredible is that
“civilization” and this wildness lives side by side.

From Sydney to the rainforest

On our last day in Sydney we left the city, rented a 4×4 and headed up the Blue Mountains. I was confused for awhile as we drove along – it felt like we were in the mountains, the houses were suitable for mountains, there was lots of pines around……but no mountains :) Turns out the Blue mountains are actually a plateau. It was all gorgeous – fab views, waterfalls and sleepy villages. It weirdly felt like Cape Cod…..certainly American rather than Australian.

Our flight to Cairns the next day was uneventful and only 3.5 hours.
The minute we got off the plane you knew you were somewhere different — the walkway off the plane had opeen sides, with lush vegitation everywhere. The smell was wonderful and it was about 25 degrees.

We are staying in an apt. In a resort – and it’s like paradise. Its also rather nice to have more space than a hotel room…..its also nice to cook again (yep, evidence i am losing my mind – choosing cooking over eating out).

We chilled by the pool for our first day – then Monday we took a cable car over 7km over the top of the rainforest. We took a horse trek through the forest (only thing in the whole trip Cora cared about) – adam and cora were great.
We then took an old, “steam” train back down.

I wasn’t completely bowled over by the forest – it’s the dry season, so it all actually was like a European wood – just bigger. There was very little mention of the animals living in the area, which was weird. The rainforest village at the top of the cable car was a complete tourist trap, with little to do other than eating and shopping.

We chill again tomorrow and then go to the barrier reef on Wednesday. That should be amazing.

The Rocks and The Botanic Gardens

The weather was gorgeous today – although the sydney siders are wearing jackets, scarves and Ugg boots – its 20 degrees!

We stayed outside all day – we spent the morning and lunch in The Rocks, the old, convict part of the city – quite European looking with one alley only 1 meter wide – i was reminded of the snickerways in York.

The afternoon was spent in The Botanical Gardens – its right on a harbour and beautiful – although not as packed with specimens as the Irish version. Seeing European plants and herbs billed as exotic was fun!

We saw 100’s of fox bats in the trees in the garden – they are the size of crows and have red fur and are really active – creeped me out a bit actually.

Great day!

Shanghai to Sydney

So, this was our first day without a set agenda and without our guide, Terry. We took his advice and headed off to Nanjing Road – the main, upmarket shopping st in Shanghai. We went by foot and started to melt by step 3! The humidity was incredible. The street was exactly what we expected – lots of western looking department stores and huge, Chinese neon signs. This was also where the trendier Chinese younger set hung out – i was beginning to think they didn’t exist. We headed out to the airport in the afternoon for our flight to Sydney.

Natasha mentioned that food came up and lot – and she is right. I had arrived in China concerned that i wouldn’t be able to get enough into the kids over the holiday – adam was fantastic, after a few days of just eating fried rice, he began tasting other things and is now a big fan of Chinese cooking – even the hot and spicey stuff. Cora was a different matter – she was only eating boiled rice …so, every second day we took her to what passes for western food here – bad, American fast food…..pizzahut, kfc and mcdonalds. She did lose weight on the Chinese leg – we all did actually. But in our case, it had more to do with sweating and fluid loss than anything else :)

The flight to sydney was a 10 hour job and was over night. Quantas have individual entertainnent systems and the kids acted like Santa had actually moved in to live with us! The psp’s were dumped and the systems put through their paces! The flight was beautifully uneventful and the kids slept for a good bit of it.

Hotel in sydney is lovely – and compared to the rooms in China, they are vast. Its right in Darling Harbour, which is a gorgeous Marina, shopping, restaurants and playground. The playground was immediately used by the kids – running off excess energy. We then headed for a couple of hours nap and slept straight through 14 hours, waking up on Tuesday morning!

Our spaceship landed today…

Our spaceship landed today in the form of The Oriental Pearl TV Tower. What an inexplicable building! We went up to the top “ball” and the viewing area at 264 metres to look out at the weird and wonderful skyline of Shanghai. There seems to be massive competition between the buildings to create the most unusual shapes and heights – i guess it comes as close as possible to an architects playground, where the sense of fun and the optical illusion is everything.

We also went to see The Childrens Palace – i had assumed this would be some plastic, playground monstrousity purpose built to bring on parental migraine! I merely proved that i still haven’t gotten China! It was a arts, crafts and general betterment “school”….teaching children from aged 2 logical thinking, musical instruments, Chinese opera and caligraphy. I was truely impressed by how disciplined the kids were – certainly if compared to mine where a 30 sec ad break in SpongeBob can lead to melt down!
Must admit i was a little uncomfortable visiting the school as it felt a little like intrusion. Saying that, 2 students aged about 12 year spontaneously gave us a musical recital on the piano and a local stringed thingie.

We lunched in the biggest shopping centre in Asia (everything here is biggest, highest, fastest etc.)….felt immediately at home here :) Ciaran tried to buy some shoes, but they only stocked up to size 8!

We headed to the Shanghai Museum and looked at priceless porcelain, furniture, traditional costumes, jade and ancient sculpture. All very impressive and beautifully displayed – but as usual, 2 hours in and feet were sore, legs hanging off and the ability to retain info had reached crisis point!

After dinner we walked along the Bund and looked at the lit up night sky – sadly ever to be associated with Tom Cruise and MI3. I think everyone in Shanghai was there – it certainly felt like 24 million people.

We have a day to ourselves tomorrow before heading to the airport at 4pm to fly to Sydney – we are thinking to the Jade Buddist Temple.

I have had a wonderful time in China, but must admit to looking forward, just a little, to being somewhere i can read signs, menus etc. I’ve also been really suprised by how much general attention Adam and Cora have received. We are asked for photos constantly and feel a bit like a tourist attraction ourselves!!!!

A jigsaw of nightmare proportions

I have never seen so much rain in my life- it certainly rivals our June in Dublin…..it’s rained buckets continuiously since last night.

Still – that didn’t dampen our spirits today. We spent the majority of the day gaping in amazment at the terra-cotta warriors. Rows and rows of soldiers lined up in pits deep in the ground….with carts, horses, archers and generals. Some even had some of the original paint intact.

They were found smashed into 1000’s of pieces and have been carefully glued back together – a jigsaw of nightmare proportions! Buried, newly baked in 2200BC, they were smashed during a farmers uprising in 2000BC. They had a very short time whole.

We also visited a neolithic village – which was a good site, but more “typical” an archeological find for us than the warriors. The Chinese are excited about this site though as its only 1 of 3 neo sites they have in the whole, vast country. Interestingly, the neo society was a matriarchial – as it should be :)

We had our lunch in a traditional Teahouse – this was fantastic and offered 14 types of tea. No ceremony, but very pleasant.

We arrived back in the hotel very damp and tired – but, like the end of an Enid Blyton story, very happy.

Up early tomorrow to fly to Shanghai.