some may ask, where are tom and joel these days? well here, you can find out.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Good Morning Vietnam! (now with bonus pictures!)

I know, the titles been done before...
vietcong tom/sammiad

Got into Ho Chi Minh last night in the pouring rain, and got charged the obligatory 1 time rip off rate for new tourists for the taxi into the city centre. Found our hotel, no air con, so went out into backpackers district for a little explore. Got lost pretty fast, but found a bar with deckchairs out front, so we just watched everything go by for a while.

After Japan, Vietnam, like with Dehli after London, is a massive smash in the face with a big ol' culture stick. What first hits you is the humidity, Joel and I are constantly sweating, and i think my jeans are going to remain at the bottom of the bag for the next two months. But it stops me from actually worrying about how sweaty i am, because everyone is in their own puddle of salt. Bikes are everywhere, more bikers (no leather) than pedestrians, recently the police have announced a crackdown on us walkers, which means if you get hit by something, you almost always get the blame. Especially when drunk. That hasnt happened yet.

our hotel

This morning we visited two of the biggest tourist hot spots, the Reunification Palace, and the War Remnants museum. The former was pretty drab, perhaps because we know nothing of Vietnam's history, and the tour guides all spoke no english, but even the building itself, sparsely furnished with dulling 60's/70's tables and chairs was increidbly repetitive, room after room exactly the same. Perhaps if you really knew what went on there, you could get more into it. Perhaps. We spent a lot longer in the remnants museum, where there was masses of excellent photographs taken in the Vietnam war, by photographers working with the Americans, South Vietnam and North Vietnam, so you could see each army without having a bias. Although some other parts of it were a bit more one sided, with a huge illustration of an American flag, cut up with barbed wire.

some bowls

Sorry for the lack of pictures, will try and get them up soon. ish. I feel much safer getting my fatty camera out in Japan, where everyone over 10 has one anyway.

Tomorrow, the water park just outside of town looks likely, and the day after, a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, to shoot off some AK's, and crawl through tiny underground holes. Typical Teenage Boys dream. Yay!

joel after 90m of PAIN (tunnels)

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Arigatō gozaimasu

We`re coming to the end of our Japan adventure now, and there are a few people who have helped us on a fantastic scale, so allow us a blog to give some gratitude:

To Ami, for showing us around all the hippest parts of Tokyo and making sure we didn't get lost in the immense crowds. The photographs were ridiculous but good times were had. Also thanks for getting drunk before us.

IMG_3975 Hooray!

To Toshikatsu and Sachiko for looking after us and showing us the amazing Fujino and surrounding areas. Not only was it the most relaxed and fun way to spend four days, we now know a little about pottery, calligraphy, food and even foresting. Although perhaps not golf.

IMG_3907 Even from the backs of their heads, you can tell they're impressed.

To Stephen, A.K.A. Don Kyoto, who made sure that our time in the world's greatest city was well-spent. The perfect guide, and an expert on all things Japanese - and I mean all, from the best temples to the best bars, as well as little gems like this:

IMG_4379 We went down this on a boat.

To Sanaé-san and the family Fujii, for taking us into their incredible home, which rivalled some of the museums and temples we've seen. We had a really lovely, authentically Japanese night. Not to mention the delicious food.

Everyone has made our time in Japan even more incredible, so to all of you: Arigatō gozaimasu

Friday, 18 April 2008

Tokyo to Kyoto

And so we arrive in Kyoto, after a reasonably pleasant 8 hour bus journey when comparing to the public transport in Nepal. Get to our hostel about 7am, when finding the front desk only opens at 10 we sit outside, joel sleeping sitting up and me trying to stay awake by dancing. Must have looked like a pair of mental tramps.

Hostel is very hostel esque, covered in a very interesting selection of brit teen posters, american pie style dvd case covers, and about anything else westernised you can stick on the wall. Is welcoming though, and the travelers we meet here seem to be much more friendly than the ones in tokyo, maybe the cream of the crop like to escape to a more relaxed place.

food market in japan

Which Kyoto is indeed. Every corner is beautiful, and the city still retains much of its old style architecture, although stephen pointed out this is changing fast. But in some of the beauty spots, they now are building houses with an old style exterior, and a modern interior, which is the best of both worlds.

a tree. curly.

Stephen has showed us a fantastic range of Kyotos highlights, from huge buddhist temples to tiny sake bars to old walk in kilns bigger than small houses. Today we explored some more of Kyoto on our own, finding an enormous castle in the city centre and what seemed like an everlasting botanical garden which had a beautiful contrast of some parts being nurtured to create lines of pristine rainbow coloured flowers, and other parts more jungle like, with moss crawling up the trees and mud beneath your feet. Could have spent a whole day there, but got hungry for a Mos Burger, probably the most fantastic, fresh, juicy burger chain in the world. Been trying not to eat too many of them.

i'll have a garden like this one day.

AND...we did karaoke. Brilliant. Need to find one in Leamington.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

It's a bit like a cross between MC Escher and Super Monkey Ball

I know this is blogging mania, but we're leaving Tokyo in a couple of hours so I thought I'd mark the occasion with some non-Flickr photos.

mmm sake.

I see's...beautiful...

mmm pumpkin pudding


mmm Sushi.

See you in Kyoto x

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Back Attack

Yes yes Y'all.
We're back in Tokyo for a few strange days. Saying goodbye to the Fujino area was sad, as it is such a beautiful place:
Toshikatsu, Sachiko and pretty much everyone else we met were so kind and generous to us, they made travelling round the world much easier than it probably should be.
Yesterday we met up with Duncan from old Blighty, who's here in Japan doing a language course. We went back to Kiddyland, the incredibly large and lovely toy shop in Harajuku, and made our way to Shinjuku for the Fast Reaction gig (a top Brum band coincidentally in Tokyo the same time as us). The gig was in a fairly small underground venue down a Shinjuku alleyway, of which there are many. The band had just done a signing in HMV, which was strange, and it was even stranger to see a Japanese crowd singing along to their songs. Anyway, rock n roll fun was had by all.
Shinjuku at night is a strange place - not only because of the dodgy curtained doorways and shady men in big coats, but there is SO much lighting on the sides of the buildings, so much neon advertising and lit-up billboards, that even in the middle of the night it looks as bright as daytime.
Photographs were taken, they'll be floating around the internet eventually so watch this space. In the meantime, here's a photo of a tea farm on the side of a hill in Fujino.

...Oh, go on then. Here's me winning Mario Kart:

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Food in Fujino


I've come to a personal conclusion of what makes exquisite food. Not just good food, not food that you enjoy in a restaurant, perhaps to go to that same restaurant again and maybe try something else, but the food that makes you return to that restaurant just for that dish, to eat over and over again. I've been experiencing a lot of it recently, but the food we ate last night in a restaurant in Fujino finally made my mind really realise how a dish can be more than just, well, food.

This wasn't just any old restaurant in Japan. This is Shu, a local place set high in the mountains of Fujino, hidden away from the tourists (like us) of Tokyo, and so the atmosphere is truely Japanese. Toshikatsu tells us they often have live jazz bands there. The beer came in foot long glasses, the way good beer should, and the white wine went down incredibly easily with the six courses of salmon, caviar, juicy pork and fresh organic vegetables grown directly outside the restaurant. Unlike many salads, where the dressing overpowers everything else because its been bought from a shop, and the vegetables are too mild and meek to stand out for exactly the same reason, everything here stood out in your mouth, begging your tastebuds to focus their attention on each individual greenery. Unfourtunately I don't have the culinary experience to tell you the names of every vegetable we had, you'll just have to come and experience it for yourself.

The final dish, desert, something that i usually disregard, was the icing on the cake, or in this case, pumpkin pie. The only times i've tried pumpkin pie i've literally spat it out in disgust, pumpkins in my opinion were for making ugly faces with, whether eating or cutting them up. But eating is was final reason for writing this blog, it is a perfect example of my idea of superior grub. I believe the trick is to work in opposites in texture, taste and flavour in one bite, and for it to work well. Holding one mouthful of this pie on your tounge you could feel a very slight tickling powderyness, but at the same time the moist flavour enveloped everything. At first the pumpkins mild sweetness calmed and cleared the palate, though one bite of a hidden pumpkin seed cut straight through the sugar with a slight bitterness.

So yes, thought i might make you all a bit more jealous. Me and Joel were talking about how my ideal job would be a Travel Food Photo-Journalist, so i thought i might give the writing part of it a try.

Other things that have happened:

Went to the hot springs, got naked and enjoyed the naturally heated 42 degree water from 1km underground.
Ate more sushi
Teed off into the moutains of Fujino, certainly made golf a lot more fun
Met some local potters who gave us some umbrellas
Had our first experience at the laundrettes (In Nepal they did it all for me)

view in the morning

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Spontaneous Japanese Daytime Woodland Rave! and other stories

Konnichi wa!

On Saturday we intended to go to Harajuku, but we got a bit lost and ended up in a very posh, very expensive place where we clearly didn't belong. However, this prompted a very nice walk around some hilly places and past a HUGE cemetery (where, bizarrely, people were having picnics - I think just because there were some more blossoms there). Eventually we walked our way to the Imperial Palace, where we weren't allowed to go because the Emperor lives there, but it looks very impressive anyway. Next to that were a couple of museums - one with some very cool dolls and the other was the Science Museum - and I think all that needs to be said about how cool science is can be shown in this photograph:

This museum was amazing. It was all designed for children, in fact we were the only adults there without them, but since we couldn't understand anything anyway there was no need to get bored. There was a machine with a piano and drum pads that showed visual representations of the music you were playing on a screen, and a machine that took your photo with four cameras in time to music, then repeated the photos on lots of screens so that it made a real-time dance video. Oh, and we spoke to a robot. Let me say that again. We spoke to a robot. She couldn't speak English, but she recognised the Japanese that we spoke and replied to us.
We left the museum about five, which in this part of town is apparently when everyone starts jogging. We were on a looooong road and in the distance we could see something that looked like the Eiffel Tower, so we decided to walk to it. This was a long walk, but on the way there were more playgrounds (loads of playgrounds in Tokyo...). We arrived at the Tokyo Tower amidst some skyscrapers but also some Buddhist shrines, which is nice to stumble upon. We didn't go up the tower as the queue was too long, but quite near it were some more people having blossom picnics for supper, so we stopped and had some octopus.
Yesterday we met up with Ami, an old friend of Tom's who lives in Tokyo. She took us to the real Harajuku (very near where we were, actually) which was very crowded and full of hip young kids. We had some sushi, which was both very delicious and very cheap. So far there is no evidence that Tokyo is expensive - almost everything has been cheaper than in England, except perhaps accomodation and beer. Then we walked to Shibuya, which is the famous area with the very busy crossing and the two-story TV screen (Scarlett Johannson goes there in Lost in Translation), that was very bustling but still relatively calm and happy. We went to an arcade, looked in some strange shops and then made our way to the Shibuya park, where there were more blossom festivals. Loads was going here and it's a really nice park, and while making our way through it we stumbled upon a rave. Spontaneous Japanese Daytime Woodland Rave! We danced under the trees into the evening, until the speakers broke so we moved on through the rest of the park, where several other raves were going. We climbed some trees, went through some more playgrounds and then finally got some pizza and the subway home.
IMG_3626In a huge toy shop, I met Totoro!
IMG_3659Shibuya crossing - lot and lots of people
Even in the busiest and most crowded areas of Tokyo, the atmosphere is very upbeat and happy. I suspect this might be because it's spring, but the city itself is so interesting that it's hard not to enjoy it.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Heavy Petals

Joel here.
Just another quick note to announce that I met up with Tom without a hitch - in fact, I woke up this morning to find him standing over my bed. Very surreal indeed.

Today we went to Ueno to look at the spring blossoms in a big park, and went round some markets under a railway bridge, and went to Tokyo National Museum to look at very, very old paintings of people looking at spring blossoms like they are still doing today, which was lovely. Tom took loads of photos so hopefully you'll see those when his camera has charged.
So far Tokyo is pretty much the best place in the world.
Our hostel has very uncomfortable beds but free internet access and a great location, and they're having a party tonight down the road so we might pop along.

I saw some more small dogs today. I even saw a statue of a small dog.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

a quick note to say...

singapore airport is BEAUTIFUL. its like one of those prototype drawings that retail architects do, before they actually build it. you know, the ones where for a second you are like, "Is that a photo? No, its not a photo."

Rather worried about trying to find this place now. I suppose it will be day. and stuff. Yeah. I'm tired.

Apologies for the awful quality of blogging.


here is a picture of the canyon we bungeed. the rest of the photos are on flickr. i bought an overpriced video as well, which eventually i will upload to youtube or whatever.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Joel here

Enter the Blackledge.
That's right, I give Tom a month's head start and I STILL manage to get to Tokyo before him. Typical.
Right now I'm in Asakusa, a pretty awesome part of Tokyo.
Yesterday I left Heathrow at 1pm, and on the 11-hour flight I was given my own little screen and lots of music, films and TV to enjoy. Knowing that this would be my last chance to sit and enjoy so much pop culture for a while, I gorged.
Arrived in Tokyo around 9am this morning. At least, they told me it was 9am. Frankly I counted the hours and I don't think they're being honest. At the airport there was a long line for everyone to give Japan their fingerprints and have their picture taken. Customs thoughts I was suspicious, they told their dog to give me a sniff and Customs Lady had a look in my bag, and asked me simple questions in a strange manner, I think she was trying to catch me out. Anyway, I convinced her that my sleeping bag wasn't a bomb and on I went to the train station. I stood before the ticket desk for a few minutes, walking this way and that, trying to get my head round the Tokyo rail system. But, as hard as I tried, I just couldn't make it complicated. I've only used it today, but it seems very easy; it's designed so you pay what you want for the ticket and then make up the rest when you arrive or have to change. Very helpful for travellers. Also, the station names are in Roman script as well as Japanese. Nice one Tokyo.
There were a couple of a 'is this my train? it's probably my train. i'll just get on it' moments, but the fact that I didn't get lost shows how easy it is to use.

Once I arrived in Asakusa, I had a couple of hours before I needed to get to the hostel so I went for a bit of a wander. This place is pretty indescribable, I've never been anywhere like it. It looks like a big city; there are lots of tall, impressive buildings, wide roads and many different people. However, the atmosphere is so calm that you occasionally struggle to match up the visuals with everything else. There's such a sense of space here, like all the little alleyways could just go on forever (and I suspect that they do) and everyone rides bikes on the PAVEMENT. This alone makes me want to move here. No one really seems in a hurry, and little market stalls stand next to gigantic office buildings.
So there I was on my wander, looking at various markets when I came across a HUGE temple. Note the capitals. This mother was big. Surrounding it were various lesser temples, shrines and tacky candy floss stalls. I didn't go in the temple, as I thought with my huge backpack I might knock something over but I was walking past it and found 100yen on the floor. I suppose I should throw it in the pond (another thing there's plenty of, although they ask that you don't throw coins in as there are fish).

Anyway, I was getting pretty hot and achy with my big bag so I decided to amble down to find my hostel - 'amble' is the operative word here; I still had a while, so I just decided on going in the general area, and letting my sense of direction do the rest. After lots of wandering through small alleyways (even smaller than those other ones) a man on a bike came over and tried to give me directions. However, he spoke no English and I speak no Japanese, and my map seemed to be the most confusing thing he'd ever seen. He got the attention of another guy who spoke a little English, who phoned up the hostel on his phone to ask for directions. Of course, it's never that simple. The hostel, you see, is in fact three hostels. Mine is the 'Annex', and I only had the phone number for the Guest House. After a bit of walking round and talking about how nice Asakusa is, the man decided that he didn't know where we were going and left me to it. I thanked him and I literally turned round the corner for a woman on a bike to offer me directions. She seemed to know where the hostel was, although her English wasn't great and her directions consisted mainly of '1,2,3' and hand gestures. She cycled alongside me, though, and we found it. Except that wasn't it. This was the 'Smile', the OTHER hostel of the three. Rather than hurt her feelings, I thanked her and waited until she rode away until I started down the road in the other direction.
I eventually found the hostel, which is where I am now, and this i actually the scariest bit - I can't just walk around with a vague purpose anymore, I have a place to stay.
Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes.
Hopefully Tom will find his way here tomorrow.
Joel xxx

P.S. I saw the smallest dog in the world today. I'm not kidding. It was tiny.