Tag Archives: Travel

Hunting for snacks on Hong Kong’s Cheung Chau Island

The best thing about travelling to Asia are some of the amazing food stands selling things you can’t find anywhere else. Whenever I go to a new city I can’t wait to sample all of the snacks from the street vendors. Sometimes these are as good as dinners in restaurants at a much cheaper price, and I can afford to try several different foods at one time.

I start by visiting the Cheung Cheuk island, only thirty minutes by boat from central Hong Kong. In many ways, the densely populated urban centre of Hong Kong is just one side of the region. The many small islands of the archipelago are another side of the bustling city centre of skyscrapers and car fumes.

The entrance to the tiny beach at Cheung Chau. Everything is small scale, incuding the signage.

Because the islands are not too developed, they can be walked around easily and the lack of pollution or road traffic means that they are ideal for a causal stroll without the constant stream of traffic you find in Hong Kong’s streets. Getting off the ferry gets you right to the heart of the island.

There are no cars of any kind on the island. Use a bike or hike to get around.

It’s time to try the snacks. You can’t miss the typical fish balls – they are everywhere. Pay 10 Hong Kong dollars for two of the balls of compacted fish paste. You can choose from a range of flavours such as plum sauce, bbq or curry. Watch the sauce doesn’t spill everywhere, and be careful not to scald yourself as they are served just below boiling. The taste is not as important as the texture, which has a slightly springy bite to it.

These gigantic fish balls are fun to eat, but quite filling.

Turn left from the harbour, past the McDonald’s, and you will see a guy with a grill and some dried squid and octopus. Make sure you try these as they are really unique, and go down great with beer. The squid are air-dried whole, then cooked on an open grill and coated with a soy based dip, then sliced into strips. Good as a healthy, low-fat snack.

The translation of the stall’s name is ‘Long Island Sea Street Snack‘.

Turn back to the main square, and you will see several stalls serving the aforementioned fish balls. You can buy ‘sa bing’ which is similar to bubble tea, and you can find a whole load of interesting flavours such as taro and sweet potato, for less than you would pay on Hong Kong Island itself.

Various flavors of sa bings.

Also in the Main Street is a guy deep frying ice-cream. This is something I learned to do at cooking school – as long as you keep the surface of the ice-cream coated, it will stay cold as the batter forms a protective seal around it. Unfortunately they use mass-produced ice cream so the effect is ruined.

The deep-fried ice cream

Many stalls sell Mochi and this is always one of the best sweets you can buy. Mocho is a Japanese dessert made of sweet rice flour which is stuffed with various fillings and served cool. I’m crazy about the gooey texture of the wrapper and the sweet fillings inside. They are so chewy and soft, and very light tasting, consisting only of flour and sugar.

Another dessert snack is the Chinese steamed red bean cake (see picture). Like a tart but without the pastry, its eaten on a stick like so many of the snacks here.

Steamed red bean cake

Other than the snacks of the main square, you can find any seafood restaurants along the harbor. You won’t be able to walk five minutes without being accosted by ladies wielding menus trying to drag you in. It’s not only Chinese restaurants here. You can find several International restaurants, such as Morocco’s.

I still prefer the quiet stalls inside the square. For a more substantial snack, I can recommend the freshly made sushi at Japanese tea house, which are made into temaki rolls with a range of fillings such as crab roe and sausage.

Getting there

Cheung Chau is easily reached from the central pier, number 5. You don’t need to book a ticket in advance, just turn up and use your Octopus card to go through the turnstiles. There are some hotels and guesthouses but most people tend to visit for the day and head back in the evening.

Flight of fantasy

The plane seemed to have been travelling forever. They had been in the air for a few hours, but the time seemed to be going more slowly up there. The plane had made it’s ascent from a London airport a few hours ago, at 2:30 local time. Now it was impossible to know where exactly the plane was, there was nothing outside the window to indicate the country they were flying over. Only two hours earlier, the food trolley had wheeled its way down the aisle and he had selected his meal.

Now he was well into the flight. He had taken his shoes off and was enjoying the in-flight entertainment system. The movie was about a father who had become reunited with his daughter after many years apart. What made it more moving was that the daughter only had a few months to live. When he got to the end of the film he felt like crying.  HE gazed around at the other passengers. They were all absorbed in their various activities. Some were trying to sleep, their neck pillows awkwardly positioned in the headrests. Others were looking at their laptops. They didn’t seem very interesting to him. HE wondered why so few people really cared about their journey, or where they were flying to. The flight attendants had served everybody in great time, and had poured the coffee as he was still eating his steak. He looked at his watch. Local time was 7:30 and he didn’t feel very sleepy. In fact, the coffee had given him jolt of extra energy. Sat in his chair, he felt restless, his body did not want to be still.

He decided to get up and explore. The plane was not entirely full. There were several empty seats around him. In fact, it was not often that there were so many seats on an international flight. There were usually several children and a crying baby that would stay up on the journey. Surprisingly, this time there were no children on board. In fact, most of the passengers were travelling alone and weren’t the usual holiday-goers. The other thing he noticed about them was they didn’t have much luggage with them. Usually travellers carried bags of duty free, they had bags of shopping and various carry on. But this flight was different. They had boarded with minimal luggage, and more to the point, they were exceptionally    quiet, which was odd for people going on holiday who would normally be excitedly talking about their destination.
The flight attendants were all female. He didn’t expect this to be so but it was always pleasant when they were, and occasionally he flew with other airlines and was shocked to find men serving amongst the women. 1

“Can I get you any drinks?”

Usually the use of ‘get’ in this way bothered him but right now he was enjoying the experience of being served by this woman that it was too much for it to bother him. The attendant had to lean over him to pass his glass of wine to him and the feeling of her apron against his shirt made him tingle with pleasure.

Would you like me to bring you something else?” she asked him?

He thought for a moment. There were lots of things he would have liked to get from her. She was wearing a bright red apron with embroidered patterns on it. Her dress was regulation length but he could see that she had good legs. Here height was at most 170cms (and he didn’t mind; he had never liked tall women anyway.

Then he heard an announcement over the plane’s loudspeaker.

“This is your captain speaking. We are currently experiencing some turbulence, Please stay in your seats and keep your seatbelt fastened.”

HE watched as the flight attendants quickly got back to their seats, which were somewhere at the back of the plane.

He hoped that the turbulence would be over quickly. As he fastened his seatbelt, he thought what a wonder it was to be flying. There was no other transport that came close. It was when he was in an aircraft that he felt he could relax properly, a place where no one could get to him. He enjoyed being up in the sky for several hours at once. Time seemed to stop. The plane started to shake violently. It must have been a storm that caused it to flap around so much. Whatever it was, he thought about the flight attendants in the plane. Where did they go at times like these? On a ten-hour flight, he only saw them during take-off and when they were serving the in-flight meals. There weren’t any seats back in economy for them to properly lay down in.  Unless there happened to be some private rooms tucked away, they must have been sitting in cramped seats no bigger than the one he was sitting in at that moment.

AS the plane began to steady itself, he waited for the seatbelt sign to be switched off so that he could move about on the plane. He also wanted to see where the special flight attendant was sitting so that he could talk to her again. Would she be wearing her high-heeled shoes? Or would she have slipped them off? Feet could swell, he knew, although he couldn’t imagine this would be a big problem for her. If she was relaxing, would she be sleeping, or was she required to stay awake for the entire duration of the flight? It led to other questions. Where did they change clothes? How did they use the bathroom, and where did they store their bags? All these were a mystery to him. So he decided to take a look for himself. It wasn’t too hard as there were plenty of seats at the back of the plane that were empty. He wandered back where the flight attendants were seated and thought of what he would say to them.

I’m wondering if you could pour me another drink, he asked her. I know drink service has finished but I’m parched and this is a long-distance flight so-“

“What would you like?”

“I would like a gin and tonic.”

The drink would need ice cubes, which had to be scooped out from the bowl at the bottom of the trolley. It was a good thing he didn’t mind waiting.

Heard the sharp hiss of the carbon dioxide in the tonic water rise out of the bottle. The flight attendant was so tall that she had to lean over the drinks table. He thought she looked extremely sexy in her uniform; her stockings shimmered in the dim light of the cabin whilst her face took on an air of studied concentration as she measured the gin and filled the glass.

Waiting for the drink was part of the satisfaction, and when it finally arrived he was more than ready for it.

“ would you like something to go with it?”

He thought for a moment.

“I’ll take some nuts if you have them.”

She picked up some nuts and put them on a steel plate, handed them to him, and took hold of the trolley again.

Stop a minute, he told her. Why don’t you sit down with me? If you have time I mean.

She looked at him, assessing the situation.

“Well, I don’t suppose that would be a problem for just a few minutes…”

The flight attendant squeezed into one of the seats (she really was tall) and he got in beside her. She was like a praying mantis with her legs perched up high towards her arms.

A minute later they were talking about how she got to being an airline worker; whether she liked the job or not.

“It’s funny, when I was younger I never went on holidays. I was always afraid of flying and for that reason I decided to overcome my fear, and this seemed like the best way of doing that.”

Yes, they said that if I took a stimulator first it would allow me to experience the feeling of being in an airplane without leaving the ground.

The noise of the plane’s engine started to get very loud and it felt as though it was moving faster now. Just as he finished his drink the plane began to move upward some more and he felt the pressure in the cabin increasing.

“I want to learn how to pilot a plane one day, when you’re in control of the plane it must be a wonderful feeling to be taking people on a journey somewhere exciting.”

He looked around at the passengers. They were all sitting by themselves and he noticed that there were no children on board either. He started to feel strange and he wondered why this was happening.

“ Where is this flight going?” He asked after a gap in the conversation.

“It’s not going anywhere, we’re flying for an unlimited time until passengers decide they want to leave.

“Then what happens to them?”

Usually when a passenger has grown tired of eating all the food we send another jet to come and collect them and get them to the nearest airport.”

So the rest of the passengers are not really flying anywhere?

“Exactly. Most of our passengers are perfectly content to stay on board as long as two weeks. They have everything they need on board anyway, and they are much safer up here than on the ground.”

“But don’t they get bored?”

You would think so, but many of our passengers have been coming back for several years. “

He looked out the window. Whether it was day or night was impossible to tell. The air he was breathing in was neither fresh nor stale. Every hour the cabin was refreshed with new “air” from the tanks, to stop the air becoming stuffy and to minimize the spread of germs in the air.  

He read somewhere that time moved slower at the top of a mountain than it did on the flat land. In that case, was time moving at all when you were flying in the air, when it was only night for a few hours until it became day again?

 It was a strange way to spend a holiday, never visiting anywhere; but people did all kinds of crazy things on holiday.

“Well, how long do you think I should spend up here?”

“That depends. Did you wish to speak to any of our flight attendants? You can arrange to have dinner in the private dining area if you want to.”

Suddenly the idea of being alone on the aircraft was starting to get improve.

“Would it be possible to have dinner with you?” He already felt comfortable with her even though they had only been talking for twenty minutes.

I’m having dinner

“Yes that will be fine. But will you let me tell you something first? I usually say know when people ask me to have dinner with them. “

“they must really ask you a lot then.”

“They do. But that’s not why I turn them down.”

 Im aware that men look at me in a certain way, maybe they have a fantasy about me based on my appearance, but it’s not how I am in person. I would hate for you to get the wrong idea about me.”

He picked up his bag and went to the washroom. There were the usual assortments of toiletries, hairbrush and toothbrush for him to use. He thought about changing his clothes but then he decided he was fine the way he was. Actually, he was feeling confident and he probably could have changed into the dressing gown and been ok like that. He wouldn’t normally have been so confident, of course. But the fact she had said yes, just like that, made him feel so much better about things. 

Lena was wearing slim-fitted black jeans that matched the colour of her hair. She had paired her top with a sexy patterned scarf and black choker. She looked much less formal than when she was in her flight uniform, but he was just as attracted to her now, if not more.

They were sitting in a small back room in the plane, with a large table and several chairs positioned around it. The usual hum of the plane’s engines could not be heard and the room was hushed and quiet.

‘So is this where you do your flight attendant work?’ he asked her?

“We do most of our safety exercises and procedures here.”

“It sounds so interesting. I’m sorry that they don’t do the pre-flight safety demonstrations any more. I used to enjoy watching those, it was always interesting seeing their expressions as they mimed the use of an inflatable safety vest….”

“We find that most passengers prefer to watch a recorded video instead of focusing so much on a flight attendant. The eye contact makes them feel uncomfortable and they don’t know where to look.”

“Maybe I understand, but it’s going to take me some time to get used to this new way of doing things.”

“What is it you miss about the way it used to be done?”

“The amount of dedication they had for their craft, and they way they could perform with a sense of theatre.”

She smiled.

“Did I do that when I poured your drink just now?”

“ you really put all your effort in to it.”

“Besides, air travel has changed in so many ways. The way passengers board the plane, the safety requirements and the lack of space.

DO you know how much the standard seat width has shrunk since the 1960s?

He looked at his glass of wine and admired the slender stem. They had clearly thought a great deal about the tableware they provided. It wasn’t just that they were nice glasses, but that they were the perfect shape for the table and could hold just the right amount of liquid.

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, it’s a lot. Standard seat width for a commercial flights is now thirty inches. Many of our customers request seats with extra legroom but we can’t offer them anything unless they sit in the emergency exits, or First class. Well, we’d like all passengers to have the same standard of comfort but unfortunately that’s not always comfortable. So we can only give them these reduced-space seats at the back of the plane.

“Well, let’s see what we have for dinner. Are you hungry?”

He looked at the menu which was printed in extra fine font on slightly crinkled paper.  It was the usual mishmash of international food. For the appetiser they were offering seared prawns with simmered avocado qenelles. The mains looked more interesting. The fish was red snapper, grilled and served with a hot wasabi dressing. Meat was a loin of pork with grapefruit jam and chorizo.

It was the kind of food that would be difficult to reheat without losing all the texture. They must have had an amazing team back there in the kitchen if they could produce this kind of food.

“I will have the prawns, followed by the pork. That’s it.”

It was nice eating in a plane; you only had two options and either one was likely to be as good as the other so that he never felt any misgivings about his choices.

‘You know something,” he said to her as she was pouring the wine; ‘I’ve never had a bad meal on a plane.”

“Really? I’m happy to hear it, but you don’t have to be so polite with me.”

“No, I’m serious. Everything has always been fresh, served at the correct temperature, well-presented…. You’d be amazed by the number of restaurants that can’t get that right.”

“We just want everything to be just right for our guests.”

‘But now I think about it, there’s not much they could do if I did’t like the food. I suppose I could try asking for another one. But it’d be exactly the same anyway…”

“Yes, we’d only be able to offer you the same dish cooked exactly the same way.”

The plane carried on flying cruise control. It was almost as if it was following a pre-determined course.

“Do you ever get tired of flying? He asked her.

“Why do you ask me that?”

Just being stuck in the air. Only seeing the airports and never going anywhere exciting.”

“Well we get three days off after every ten. That usually gives us some time to do something exciting.”

“What about when you’re on the plane? All those stupid passenger requests and screaming babies. It would be enough to tip me over the edge.”

“That’s why I’m only working these planes.  I only serve single passengers like you. Besides, we get used to serving difficult passengers after working a few weeks.”

“Do you? That’s interesting….”

He didn’t know what to say next. He admired the curvature of her neck. It was amazing how unique a woman’s body was; there were always different body parts that drew to his attention. As well as being aroused by the whole package, he was able to be stimulated by very specific features as well. Lena’s ears were long, shaped like treble clefs, and her mouth was so enticing he felt that he could fall into it.

“Aren’t you ever afraid of the plane crashing, or having engine failure?”

“Of course, it goes through my mind. We have the best safety measures in place, but there’s always the possibility that something may go terribly wrong. If it does, then we would need everybody off the plane as quickly as possible.”

“You would let the passengers off the plane first, or would you rush past them to the emergency exits?”

“We would be required to make sure that everyone was able to reach the doors first, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing our jobs. But I’m sure that some people would not be so altruistic as that.”

“You’re damn right they wouldn’t. It would be everyone for themselves; but that’s not what always happens on flight disasters, with many heroic examples of bravery from members of the cabin crew, I’ve come across so many.
And that’s not all.”

“We don’t have to talk about this any more. That’s a hell of a dress that you’re wearing.”

“Would you like to go somewhere else to talk? There is a room out back which is much quieter for us, and would give us more privacy. I can go there with you if you like, and we can continue the conversation.”

They went into another room that was even more luxurious than where they had been before. There were gilt tables with decorated wine glasses on them and pictures of celebrities who had flown in the plane before him.

“Would you like to hear some music?”

He thought it seemed like a good idea. He had never been on a plane when they were playing music and he thought it seemed such a good plan.

“What are you going to play me? Something ambient like “Little fluffy clouds?” Or music for airports?”

“Who is that by? Brian Eno? I don’t think I know that one.”

“Whenever I’m flying, I always imagine something very ethereal and almost ghostly like Enya or something very solemn and funereal.”

“Ghostly? Hmm, I think I know what you’re getting at. But we don’t like our passengers to be led down such a path where they could be depressed, or think about the supernatural.”

She went over to the music system and pulled out one of the discs.

 As soon as he heard the opening bars, he identified the music.

“A little Night music?”

“Yes. Very well known but it adds something when you hear it on a plane.”

Indeed, it sounded so light; the strings were pulling him higher in the air.

“Do you want to know something about the other passengers?”

Like what exactly?

“Haven’t you noticed anything a little unusual about them?

“They look like typical business passengers.” And it was true, they did.

“What if I said that they are in fact all aliens, travelling back to their own planet after a long time abroad.”

“I’d say that you were crazy. I would never believe you in fact.”

She laughed.

“yes, I knew you wouldn’t believe it, because they look so normal. That’s why we chose them. They blend in perfectly, don’t they? Nobody would ever know.”

What am I doing here? Am I the only human here?”

“No of course not. There are all of the other attendants. As well as me.”

He looked at her carefully.

“That’s a relief.”


“So what happens now? Does the plane travel far? Couldn’t that take a very long time?”

“Do you want to go back home, is that it?”

“Eventually, sure.”

“You can leave any time you want. Just open one of the doors.”

He looked around himself. There’s no way I’d make it alive, he thought to himself.

“So are you going to stay on the plane after all?”

“It’s not so bad. I can get all the food I need here. And the in-flight entertainment that you provide leaves little to be desired.”

“You’re ok about the aliens?”

“They just look like normal passengers.”

“Yes, they’re really harmless. Like good-natured tourists.”

“Well, most of them are. We haven’t had any problems so far. We try to give them what they want, that way everyone’s happy.”

The plane kept on going. The alien’s home planet was thousands of light years away and it was months until they landed. As it happens, he’s still on the plane, somewhere, someplace, some time.

Observations of Japan. March 2019

Every trip I make to Japan I start to see new things that I hadn’t really thought about before. For example, the level of politeness. I always knew that Japanese have a sense of courtesy to others that is at a higher level to other Asian countries. But the extent to which they use politeness can make life less easy when it comes to practicalities. For example, it’s quite hard to express strong disappointment or to say something negative here. (I know that it’s not common to complain about bad food or service). For example, I noticed when I was in the Izakaya that they added a 500 yen cover charge to my order. And because I had drunk alcohol, I think they added another tax. This was on top of the 8% service charge that I had already been charged. So the final bill was a good 1,000 yen dearer than I had expected. Of course, I really wasn’t happy about these stealth charges, but at the time it was easier to pay the total amount, rather than argue about it. Is this why there are so many extra charges in restaurants, because no one wants to speak up and complain? The fact is there are many restaurants which don’t engage in stealth charges, but you won’t know this until you receive the bill. Whilst Izakayas are no doubt the worst offenders, I have found myself paying well above the odds in many places. For example, at a maid cafe, where I expected to spend 500 on a coffee but was charged more than 1000. The dreaded cover charge, again. The frustrating thing is the money they charge like this does not have a possible reason for being there except as a way to wring as much money out of the customer as possible.

Again, when I was checking in to my hotel, I found that I could not get the wi-fi working. This could have been a really simple problem, but it was exacerbated by the fact that the receptionist was completely unwilling to acknowledge the fact that I was unhappy about the situation. In fact, when I attempted to talk with the manager, she attempted to deflect this by telling me that she didn’t understand English. I’m beginning to wonder if anyone actually says what they think when there is a problem?

Then when I was waiting for my JR rail pass, it was at least an hour’s week to get it printed. And by the time I had joined a separate queue to enquire about a booking, I was told, rather incoherently, that a tree had fallen on the line and there were no trains. This was actually sorted out and I was eventually able to take a later train that got me to my destination at the exact time I needed to, after waiting uncertainly for two hours. Another point is the issue of reserving a seat for a train journey. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sitting on an assigned seat, but if half of the seats are usually empty, is there really a need for having allocated seating? Especially when people board and get off the train at different times anyway, so the whole idea of having reserved seats seems a bit pointless.

The other funny thing that I’ve seen happen is bill sharing. Actually I don’t really mind this one, but it’s interesting to see that even on occasions where it might be sensible for one person to pay the bill, it’s still split evenly based on who ordered what.

All this is to say that I really do love Japan a lot, I really do. But there are times when it can be difficult to understand the reason why things have to be the way they are.

What’s so great about travelling?

What’s your favourite travel destination? Is it climbing the Himalayas? How about the Grand Canyon or The Great Barrier Reef? If you prefer cities, do you go crazy for New York, or get dewy-eyed when you picture Paris? Perhaps you’re like me and you want to go somewhere different. Or maybe you just don’t like travelling.

The Great Wall of China, one of the many ‘must see’ places I have no interest in seeing.

Frankly, the idea that travel is always able to offer up endless opportunities for growth has started to strike me as totally bogus. Yet, for all the frequent disappointments of travel, it seems we can’t get enough of it. Although travel agents are no longer providing a useful service, these days anyone can become their own travel agent by using Google. Whilst the hotel business is suffering, the likes of Airbnb are turning the rules of hospitality upside down. The biggest change to airports has been the amount of low-cost airlines which have surely doubled the amount of flights, having a deleterious effect on the environment in the process. Still, you rarely hear people thinking about the planet when are they looking at how much money they can save.

These days, it’s not enough to simply travel, one must have an experience. There are now as many offers for experiences on airbnb (ranging from architecture tours to cooking classes ) as their are rooms and houses to rent.

The experience of a lifetime? Airbnb think so.
Spiritual seekers or just looking for cheap thrills? These days backpackers are ruining everywhere from Barcelona to Bangkok.

The idea that frequent travel can broaden the mind (I am not denying the possibility) has not been challenged enough. How is the backpacker with a beard and tattoos able to become more enlightened by simply visiting a country than someone who has spent their time actually learning about a place from a book? It’s time to face an unfortunate reality: too much of travelling is wasteful, expensive, and often just boring.

Why would anyone spend hours queuing to see the pyramids, Mona Lisa, climb Mount Fuji or look at a museum when nearly all of them can be done for free online? There’s not a single place in the world that has been improved by commercial travel, and even countries that have in some way benefitted from the tourism industry have begin to have second thoughts. I know that I am supposed to feel thrilled by the idea of going to places which I must see before I die but I just don’t.

I have travelled to over 20 countries and I would only go back to a couple. I am in love with Japan (or maybe just the idea of Japan) yet I have no desire to see such a beautiful country despoiled by the selfie-taking hordes, the bloggers and the clueless adventurers in search of the next big thing. There are two things I like about travel: getting on the plane and then going back home. For me my dream travel experience would to be to travel first class, flying for hours without actually going anywhere.

There would be other travellers, but only those who understand that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. As luck would have it, I can now experience this if I travel to Tokyo, where First Airlines https://www.lonelyplanet.com/news/2018/02/23/first-airlines-japanese-virtual-reality/are offering the world’s first virtual flight, with the best things about flying (sexy flight attendants and snacks) and none of the worst (queuing, going through customs, delays and screaming children). Where can I sign up?

First Airlines in Japan are offering virtual travel, as well as the things people actually enjoy.

My trip to Fukuoka

I took a short trip to Fukuoka just the other day to see my girlfriend for Christmas. I got there on Christmas Eve Eve. We stayed in Nishi ward the first night.  I wasn’t impressed with our Airbnb stay at all. Firstly, our host kept us waiting for twenty minutes in the cold. Then we found that there was not any food for us or any place to cook.

The next day was better. We went back to Hakata which has several big department stores. I find the service in these shops to be first rate and you can eat dozens of free samples if you are so inclined. We went to a doughnut shop I had read about online called Canezee’s. It was nothing like Krispy Kreme at all and the doughnuts tasted natural and fresh, as healthy as it is possible to get.

There was a Christmas market opposite Tenjin station with traditional stalls and a J-pop band performing. It was pretty funny to watch as the fans were made up of 40 year old men copying their dance moves and singing along.

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We took the bus from Hakata to Tokurikikodanmae, a district of Kitakyushu. When we got there it was raining but our lovely Japanese host was there to pick us up. She drove us to her house where we were staying for the night.

It was an incredible experience which exceeded my expectations. We stayed in a large bedroom with a balcony overlooking the misty mountains.  Then a couple of hours later we sat down to eat a delicious Christmas dinner that Kimi and her mother had prepared for us.

First we had a kind of chicken pie with puff pastry topping. Then they bought out roast chicken with several plates of vegetables. I was getting full but we had tomato pasta (the first time I have eaten pasta since leaving UK three months ago). There was bread to follow which the guests really enjoyed dipping into olive oil.

 

Throughout the meal I drank sake which I had purchased that morning near the Dazaifu shrine. The other guests were not drinking much but they drank plenty of non-alcoholic beers and sweet plum cocktails.

I was especially excited to try the Christmas Cake. Unlike the traditional English rich fruit cake served at Christmas, which has marzipan and sugar frosting, it’s traditional to eat a cream roll cake with strawberries. It wasn’t very sweet but it was wonderfully light after the rich food we had just eaten.

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I took a bath with my my girlfriend and then we slept on wooden beds with thick futons. The next morning our hosts gave us breakfast of toast and black tea before driving us all the way to Kokura station.

We walked around the castle and then spent time in the museum looking at costumes and swords from the Edo period. It was more fun than I expected and we spent a long time there.

Kokura
A nice souvenir from Kokura castle

The museum has the largest diorama in Japan – a recreation of Kokura town with 5,000 dolls and to scale buildings. A funny experience was the theater, where they had a robotic doll who came on the stage and narrated a video presentation about the Gion festival.

Kukora Castle

We stopped off in a branch of Coco Curry, ordering a scrambled egg with curry sauce. I’m always impressed by the Japanese way of ordering lunch alone. It’s totally different from the Korean style of sitting on a table in a large group. We had to leave soon after to get the bus back to Tenjinm.

I nearly missed my flight because the bus was delayed in traffic. Thanks to the kind actions of an Asiana worker, I was rushed through security and I made it to the departure gate minutes before boarding the plane.

I can’t say anything bad about Fukuoka. In fact I enjoyed everything we did here. Just doing simple things like going to a 7 eleven, which is their convenience store, is better than anywhere else.  You feel comfortable taking the subway trains because the seats are made of soft upholstery, similar to the old-style London tube trains.

I will try not to use Airbnb on my next trip. I don’t like the extra charges they add (for 1 more guest, cleaning charges, cancellation). Couch-surfing is often better because you can have a deeper interaction with your host and really learn about them. And isn’t that what travelling is for?

The real Korea

I realised recently it was naive of me to think that I could go to Korea and make all my problems disappear. cause when you move to a new country, you replace your old problems with new ones.

When i was living in London, I though that everything about Korea was good but now I live here and can see it up close I am aware of all the problems. And, and I can see all the good things about London that Korea doesn’t have. Like basic human rights and customer service….. Or at least, the standard of human rights is lower here. visitkorea

It sounds harsh but Korea still feels like a very undeveloped country in many ways. The technological advances don’t change the fact that Korea is still a very backwards country in many ways. Luckily I’m not a woman but I still get some of the negatives living here. A case in point: I’m supposed to stand up if an elderly person needs my seat, even if I was on the train first, or I’m tired.

Or i should respect old people no matter what (why)? I guess people don’t usually want to mention how conservative Korea is (but they should!) because they are too busy mentioning the good things.

The train system is not the only bothersome thing (although I recommend taking the bus instead). Like why do I have to order an anju every time I want to go out for a drink? And even though I haven’t found any places that explicitly ban foreigners, there are many places that will do whatever they can to stop them coming in (which is bad, if not worse). Recently I went to a restaurant but they wouldn’t let me order anything because they said I was on my own. The next time i was with a group of Koreans so it was fine. The point is it shouldn’t have happened at all.

Koreans travelling outside their country would expect to treated fairly but it’s naive to think that foreigners will receive fair treatment at all times. I’m seeing a lot of campaigning for tourism in Korea but if the government wants more visitors they’re  going to have to do a hell of a lot more to get people to come here. Like improving service in shops and restaurants. And making sure that there are adequate signing in transport areas. Otherwise, people will go to Japan instead and who can blame them?

 

Chateau Life-eze, Japan

I’d like to tell you about a really cooI place I stayed in during my recent trip to Japan. I was looking for a room on the Couchsurfing website and I came across an International Share house in Kanagawa just outside of Tokyo. The building itself is very unusual and I was glad I found it.

Firstly, its designed in a chateau-style which stands out dramatically from the grey concete of modern Japanese buildings. Secondly, It’s in a very picturesque location: perched very high up at the top of a steep hill and next to a dense forest, it’s a bit like being in the Swiss Alps.

It’s called Chateua Life-eze and they really run with the concept. The kitchen has been fitted with wooden beams and the doors are decked out with wrought iron handles.

The rooms are fairly small (for a single person) and the beds are western style (my mattress was on the firm side). Each one comes with a wardrobe, TV and desk.

The house has a third floor for women only and although I wonder if this is necessary, it might be a consideration for some people. I didn’t find out whether couples can sleep on a different floor but there are larger rooms for up to 6 guests.

There is a kitchen on the 2nd floor with excellent cooking facilities. It was so spotless that I was afraid to use it, although I did made dinner on two separate occasions. Japan has become very strict with regards to waste recycling and seems to have a problem with cockroaches. I was told to wrap all food waste in plastic bags before throwing it away.

The main purpose of my visit was to provide a cultural exchange for the mostly Japanese residents who want to learn about other cultures. I was a bit unsure what this would involve but it was mainly fine, although it took a while to break down barriers (the Japanese are at least as awkward when meting strangers as English people). They wanted to talk to me about my impressions of Japan and the differences between Japan and England. I shared some food with them, but people seemed to cook their meals separately (it’s a share house but people definitely don’t share their food).

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Overall I did enjoy my stay at the Chateua but I would have liked to have spent more time with the other residents, and I would have enjoyed the opportunity for more activities. It was also a little strict (I was told not to leave any belongings in the bathroom) and I didn’t feel that I could relax completely while I was there, but other more clean and careful guests who don’t mind sticking to rules will be fine.

The people

The house is managed by Mai and Nagi. I got on well with Mai who was very charming but I really wasn’t sure if Nagi was being rude or simply didn’t appreciate me being there. Each morning she asked what I was planning to do (implying I should go somehwhere). There were two other members of staff who I spent some time with in the evening, but most guests were at work most of the time I was there). There were 7 guests who came to the cultural exchange. I thought the book of short biographies for each guest was a nice touch.

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About the area:

Yomiuri is on the Odakyu line (express trains from Shinjuku take 15 minutes). There is shrine near the house and an amusement park not far away (Yomiuri Land). Tokyo Women’s University is also nearby. The Chateau can be booked through AirnB and Couchsurfing.