Monday, September 27, 2010

China-Beijing Sept. 13th-18th I know this entry is long but its totally worth reading

Sept 13th: For those of you who are not familiar with couch surfing it is a social site where people offer a couch to crash on or to meet up for coffee if you are new to a city. We decided to give it a try in Beijing so we created a profile and sent out couch requests to a number of people. Damien, who is originally from Taiwan, was the only person who responded to us. He came with good reviews so Eden and I looked at each other and figured eh why not let's give it a go. We got on our plane from Tokyo to Beijing and ordered Kosher meals for our ride. Note to self: always order a Kosher meal on a flight. It tastes and looks so much better than the normal plane food.

When we landed we met Damien at a subway station not to far from his job and he was able to find us since I was the foreigner wearing a 20.5kg blue back pack. He welcomed us and he took us back to his place to get food and drop off our bags. He did not quite get the whole Jewish/Kosher thing so he figured taking us to the supermarket was where he would take us to get dinner. We headed towards the deli area where they make these wraps that start off looking like crepes. They pour batter on a hot spinning wheel that creates the wrap and then they brush plum and hot sauce followed by a large fried wonton and cucumbers. They then fold it up into a sandwich.

Now here is where the couch surfing gig got a little awkward. When we got to Damien's apartment his roommates are not familiar with couch surfing and the common area is just a kitchen and there is not really a couch or TV that they share. We did not realize that we would be sleeping in his bed while he slept on his couch in his small room. After sleeping there for 2 nights it was not awkward at all. Damien is a great guy and we appreciate him for letting us crash at his place for free.

Side note: Once we got to Damien's we realized that Facebook and You Tube is banned in China. Oh and so was blogspot which is why I am way behind on blogging. 

Sept. 14th: Damien let us sleep in and gave us the keys to his apartment. We woke up and left to see the Temple of Heaven. When you enter the garden looks like a spaced out labyrinth with temples and shrines in different corners. We went in took some photos and sat down on a bench near the 7 stones. There was a man and a woman dancing using what looked like a badminton racket and a ball. I decided to find a place for us to eat and chose a Mediterranean restaurant called Boccata. Lonely Planet told us to take a subway and get off and then take a bus. Sure that looked easy.

We got on the subway and got off the stop it told us to. We could not find the bus stop at first and didn't know what direction we were in so I took out my compass, yes I have a compass, and tried to figure out which direction we would need to take the bus from. We found the right bus however we had no idea which stop we were and the man collecting the bus fare was so amused by us trying to read where we were. Everything was in Chinese and luckily we realized that when the bus stopped there was an announcement in English and we then knew we needed to get off. The fare man just nodded and laughed at us, we paid and got off.

We ended up at a large shopping center and walked on the street where Bocatta was. Of course we got lost and tried asking for directions and no one spoke English. We were about to give up and go to a different restaurant but I noticed a Mediterranean looking restaurant and knew that had to be it. We found it! We sat in large lounge chairs, ate sandwiches and cous cous and drank fruity beverages. The weather could not have been more perfect. We stayed there and ate 2 meals and then left to crash at Damien's.

Sept. 15th: We booked 2 tours through Viator and today we were going to see the Forbidden City and Great wall of China. We also decided to let Damien have his room back and book a hostel and thought it would be best to run to the hostel first drop off our bags and then meet the tour guide at a different hotel where other tourists were getting picked up. Eden and I have no concept of time and we were not able to get to the hostel in time to drop off our bags so at 6:30am we were on the subway with and went straight to the hotel the tour guide was picking us up at.

Our tour guide name was Thomas and he said we could leave our bags in the back and that they would help us get to our hostel after the tour. We then headed towards the forbidden city.

Quick side note about the people of China: The Chinese have no concept of space, they are always in a rush, always need to be first, cut people in line, oh and they love to hock a loogie and spit even the women. To all my friends who are Chinese I apologize if this has offended you but this is what I experienced and you guys do not do this in the states.

Now back to the tour: The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing D. It is located in the middle of Beijing and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government. If you ever visit the forbidden city there is no bathroom here. The guide told us that the emperor did not build any bathrooms he had servants follow him with a pot whenever he needed to go. 

We then went to a silk and jade factory had some lunch and headed to the Great Wall of China. Unfortunately the sky was extremely foggy and dismal so we could not enjoy the view. We also did not realize how steep the climb would be. Eden wore a skirt so climbing the great wall was not easy so we decided to pick an easier route, took some photos, and walked back to our tour bus. Thomas, our tour guide, gave us money for a cab to take us to Peking Yard Hostel. 

Sept. 16th: This morning our tour guide was picking us up at our hostel. We woke up extremely early because they were picking us up at 7:40am to see the Panda Garden, The Summer Palace, and the Lama temple. The tour guide we had that day was named Jackie Lee. When we got to the Panda Garden we were at one of the sections of the Beijing zoo and we literally spent 5 min seeing the Pandas. Perhaps if I was a kid I could have appreciated the Pandas. Now off to the Summer Palace!

The Summer Palace is the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China. Its Chinese name, YiHeYuan, translates as 'Garden of Nurtured Harmony' or 'Garden for Maintaining Health and Harmony'. It was used as a summer residence by China's imperial rulers - as a retreat from the main imperial palace (or 'Forbidden City') - a pleasure ground in the countryside, yet near to the city.

We took a motorized boat that looked like a dragon around the summer palace and left for the pearl factory. At the pearl factory the women who worked here were extremely pushy they followed us around the shop and tried to force us to purchase something. We then ended up going to a tea shop afterwards and that is where I got tricked into paying $100 for Chinese tea. We sat down at a table made out of a tree trunk and sampled a number of different teas that either help with stress, digestion, eye sight, and for waking up. They had a tea for everything. At the tea shop they had this toy called the pee pee boy. You put it in hot water then cold then hot again and then the pee pee boy squirts water from you know where. Although I spent $100 on tea they threw in a free tea set and 2 pee pee boys and sent it to my home in CT. When we got on the bus to head back to our hostel Jackie Lee asks us " Do you remember how to use the pee pee boy?" and these were his exact words " hot cold hot pee pee." Eden and I looked at each other and I died; I could not stop laughing.

When we got back to the hostel we made plans to head to the train station to purchase tickets for Hong Kong. At first we were going to go to Shanghai but nothing was available until Monday. We were not fans of China and the people and the experiences we were having so we said lets just head to Hong Kong. We got our tickets for the next day and headed back on the subway.

Now let me tell you about the subway: Again let me reiterate people here do not care about personal space. They push you and cut you to get into the subway. When your stop comes people will push you to get out and you need to get out fast or the doors shut. Eden and I were having a discussion and I realized we were at our stop. I quickly jumped out and saw the doors close on Eden. We waved to each other laughed and she went off to the next stop and I sat and waited for her to return. Yah I know we are ridiculous.

Sept. 17th: Eden and I woke up early to get ready to leave for Hong Kong. We had breakfast and then booked it to the supermarket. We rushed back, hopped on the subway, got out and took a cab to the train station and ran around the train station trying to figure out where our train was that was leaving in 5 min. We finally asked some lady where we needed to go she shook her head and told us we were "way late." She told us to get into line 17 to exchange our tickets. Ugh we missed our train!!!!

We got into line 17 and realized that the next train to Hong Kong was not until Sunday, 2 days later, and there was nothing we could do. So I am standing patiently in line waiting for my turn and I watch people behind me cut the line. I can only stay the nice Jewish girl for so long until the sassy Latina side comes out; I was not happy. I look around and see the only non-Chinese guy in line 16 and I tell Eden to talk to him and ask him what the deal is. She came over and told me that he said to come to line 16 and exchange my tickets but she did not have the guts to cut and push people and told me to go for it. I get to front of line 16 and cut everyone and tap the non-Chinese guy, his name is Frank and he is from Germany, he told me the woman at the desk here speaks English and I watched him reach over a metal bar pushing people to exchange his tickets. There was a Chinese woman in front of me so I made hand movements and told her to cut the line and reach over the metal pole so I could go after she was done. She gets her tickets and here I come with my 20.5kg bag and my little arm reaches over the pole and I stick my little arm closer to the ticket window. I have 5 Chinese men's arms on top of mine trying to get their tickets and when the last arm was off mine I shoved my way through and stuck my hand through the window. This Chinese man tried to push my arm and I flung his arm back and stuck my tickets through the window. He looked at me and I looked at him and I said "what?" good thing he was amused; he just laughed and stayed out of my way. Tickets were exchanged and we walked to the subway with our new German friend Frank.

We decided to return to the Peking Yard Hostel and stay for 2 extra nights until Sunday. We did not do much that night all we did was hang out at the hostel and chill. I decided to chat with a group of German guys that were also staying at the hostel and Eden and I played a horrible game of pool with them. We were up playing pool and drinking beers till the hostel closed down at 2am. I learned how to say great and I am thirsty in German that night.

Sept. 18th: We decided to take it easy today so after breakfast we went into town and found a yoga studio. The yoga class was amazing and taught by a woman from Singapore. We then treated ourselves to a spa day and got pampered. We had some Thai food for lunch and went shopping and headed back to the hostel to meet up with the German guys and go out.

We ended up be friending our new hostel mates. 2 guys from Ireland and Mark from Boston. It was Eden, me and 6 boys getting ready to go out and party. Luckily one of the German's cousin, who was also girl, joined us as well. We ended up at a street with a bunch of bars for tourists and every bar was all about Lady Ga Ga. We finally picked a bar and when you order a certain number of beers they give you free fresh fruit and snacks. I was exhausted and tired of the smell of cigarettes I ended up going home and calling it a night.

I was woken up at 4am by one of the Irish guys who was a little fresh but I pushed him and put him in his place and I was safe and nothing bad happened. At this point Eden and I were done with China and ready to get out of here.

We were looking forward to going to Hong Kong!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Last days in Japan Sept. 11th-13th and Sumo Wrestling

On the 11th we ended up meeting up with the 2 German girls we met in Hiroshima and meet for lunch. The subway stop they were staying out really did not have much going on but it was near the rainbow bridge which I wanted to see all lit up at night. We had lunch at this bakery and thought I would be safe with 2 pieces of pizza ummm nope underneath the cheese they hid the pork. Sorry mom and dad I took the pork off but still ate the pizza and then had a croissant with salmon which they put out after I already ate the pizza.

Eden and Luca both bought this banana chocolate pastry which was extremely difficult to eat with utensils. They just don't do knives here just forks spoons and chop sticks. Luca was still hungover from the night before and Eden was just ridiculous so it was amusing to watch them both struggle to eat their lunch.

We were heading towards the rainbow bridge and Luca was not feeling so well so we stopped at this mall that had this thing called a mega web where you can test out small cars or hybrids around an obstacle course. We wanted to do it but had to find Luca a bathroom before it was too late. She did her thing and felt much better so we walked towards to rainbow bridge.

Once we got there we didn't realize it was a beach. We walked down the beach took some photos and headed towards the subway to get to where Luca and Cari were couch surfing. Ah couch surfing. So this is how Eden and I found out about couch surfing I will let you know what happened in China.

Anyways we went to the supermarket and this nice Japanese man was nice enough to help me order 5 pieces of salmon sushi. The rolls that were out were all pre made and I could not eat most of them. I grabbed some edamame and we headed to I think his name is Shunsku's apartment where the girls were staying. He was nice enough to let us in and eat our dinner there. We then got ready to go out to a bar called Speak Easy for foreigners in Japan. This is where things got amusing.

So we take the subway to the bar, Shunsku, Eden our German girls and I, and meet up with the girls friend Oscar. He is Columbian and from Boston we immediately had a discussion about the red sox and yankees and then dropped it. The bar was packed with foreigners no AC and it was so small you could not move.

We made friends with an Israeli named Zohar who met us at the bar I also told Abram who a friend from home out me in touch with since he lives in Tokyo to meet up with us as well. We were also crashing at Abrams house that night since our hostel was full. So we meet Abram for the first time and he gives us the low down on Japan and his story about living here for 6 years. He is originally from California and he sells sneakers and teaches English. We were talking outside of the bar and noticed these 2 African men who were hassling and sexually harassing the Japanese women at this bar. At that point Eden and I had enough of the cramped bar and decided to head home with Abram. We said goodbye to our little German girls and left with Abram.

Once we got out of the subway Abram took us to this hole in the wall bar near his apartment. Its run by one guy and its basically a one man show. He is the bar tender and chef and he is open till 6am 6 days a week. Abram"s friend Taka joined us and they started to talk about basketball while we ordered food from the eccentric menu. I ate the most delicious food I have ever tasted and it helped to know what I was eating since Abram created an English menu for the bar. Eden had 3 glasses of sake and also ate sting ray. I started to stick to water at that point.

At 4am we walked back to Abram's place. Eden attempted to ride Taka's bike after drinking sake and she was wobbling twisting and turning down the street. We thought she was going to crash it. Abram was nice enough to give us his bed while Taka and him slept on the couch. He has a crazy sneaker collection or I should say inventory since he sells them and a number of fish tanks. He has sold used jordans for $1,000 bucks its nuts!

The next morning, well I should say we woke up at 12:30, and this was the day we were seeing the Sumos. Main matches started at 2 so we needed to head out. However first things first must eat breakfast. Abram and Taka took us to this family owned ramen place around the corner. Best bowl of ramen I have ever tasted and the broth was soy sauce based. Thank you to *bram for letting us crash at your place and showing us a good time with good food. You rock! We then headed to the Sumo stadium.

So here is the deal with a sumo wrestling match: 2 big dudes in a circle and you have to push one of the guys out of the circle or push the guy all the way down to win. So we sit down and watch the sumos in their colorful diapers that leave nothing the the imagination so you are basically looking at large massive men push each other. Here is the system: a little guy stands in the ring and sings the announcement, then the two sumos enter the ring, they then drink some water and take some flour and sprinkle it on to the ring, they go in the circle and squat down and lift one leg up then the other and back to a squat, audience applauds, they get up to go back to the flour sprinkle some more on into the ring, get back in and the ref says something in Japanese and they fight! Now little did we know that the actual fighting part lasts for about 2 seconds which was shorter than the sprinkling of flour everywhere. They slap each other and hold each other up by their diapers and give each other massive wedgies. When one falls or steps out of the circle its over. That amused us for 3 hours and we left to go back to the hostel and pack for China.

Luckily when we got back to the hostel Zohar, a vegetarian Israeli, was sharing the dorm with us. Zohar is awesome and he appreciated our humor and crazy stories. See you in Tel Aviv next year!

The next morning we headed to the airport to head to Beijing in China.

Update coming soon once I get to a computer in Hong Kong

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mt. Fuji- The ultimate climb. Day 16-18 Japan

"When you are on a journey, it is certainly helpful to know where you are going or at least the general direction in which you are moving, but don't forget; the only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment. That's all there ever is" E. Tolle

We arrived at K's hostel in Fuji on 9/7 it was 8am in the morning and we wanted to attempt to climb up that day but we were on 0 hours of sleep from our overnight bus. So we decided to wait till we were caught up on sleep and go the next day. Unfortunately the next day we were rained in caused by the typhoon so we decided to stay one more night at K's and wait to see what the whether would be like the next day.

We wanted to be productive so we sat and researched our trip to China. Tickets are officially booked and we leave for Beijing on the 13th. After our next destination was booked we lounged around in the living room reading books and we met Bill who is originally from NJ but lives in Chicago. We amused him by telling him about our adventures so far and who we have met and the temples and shrines we visited. The conversation then lead to relationships and family and personal life. After the conversation Eden and I took some time to take it all in and wonder about life and our futures. For the time being we are going to live in the now and keep on traveling.

We ended the night with a couple of beers and played some drinking card games with Bill. I also ended up befriending this girl Andrea, from Canada, and she was waiting for the rain to pass to hike up Mt. Fuji and found out she was staying at the same hut as us.

I wanted to be extremely prepared for this trek up the mountain so I packed my camelbak back pack, brought a first aid kit, food, headlamp, hiking boots, hiking clothing and a knife. 

The original plan: Take the bus from Kawaguchico station to Mt. Fuji 5th station, Climb up to Mt. Fuji Summit to watch the sunset, climb back down to 8th station Gansomoro hut to sleep, wake up at 2:30 am to climb back up to the summit to watch the sunrise and then climb back down.

What actually happened: The bus dropped us off at the Mt. Fuji 5th station and we started the hike up to the summit. At first we figured that it was a pretty easy walk heading up to the 6th station. Well we thought wrong. After the 6th station there are jagged rocks and you are pretty much climbing at your own risk. There are no stairs and there is barely anything to hold on to.

Once we reached the 7th station Andrea, Eden and I befriended these 2 British men Robert and Pete. Robert was a cocky "peculiar" (inside joke) fellow but he was funny and amusing. Pete was more of the silent type but you could just tell he was a good guy. They had reservations to stay at the hut that was further up from ours but once we reached Gansomoro hut at the 8th station they decided to cancel their reservations and stay with us. We took a quick break and started back up to the summit to see the sunset.

I don't know what happened, but I think an old lacrosse wound made its back way to my knee or I can thank my father for inheriting his weak knees, but after we passed the 8th station my left knee was done. This pain was just unreal and I was having difficulty walking. I kept having to take numerous breaks. Robert was waiting for me to see if I was ok and we ended up sitting and cutting up a glove to tie around my knee to put some pressure on it. It really did not do much but hey we tried. He also thought it was amusing to call me JLO when I put on my designer sunglasses that I got at century21 and made fun of me for having a peg leg. Thanks Robert. He called me JLO for the remainder of the trip.

Anyways I told them all to continue up the mountain and I would do my thing on my own time. I kept taking breaks and each rock I sat down at I kept looking up and making goals for myself to get to the next rock. I was determined to reach the summit.

Injured knee or not I was making it up the mountain and I did it!!! I got up there just in time to watch the sun set. We took pictures and shared some whiskey. Now let me tell you once the sun sets on the mountain the temperature drops big time and it turns dark like the snap of a finger. Andrea was getting really cold so she decided to head out earlier while Eden and I continued to celebrate with the Brits and whiskey.

Eventually we needed to work our way down from the summit back to the hut. You would think that the walk down would be easier than the hike up... think again. 1. It was dark and we could not see very well. 2. the rocks are slippery and if you are not careful you could seriously injure yourself or die. We all had flashlights and skidded down the mountain. It took us 2 hours to get back to our hut were chicken curry and tea were waiting for us. We sat and ate our meals and Robert and Pete were nice enough to buy us beers which were insanely expensive on top of the mountain everything was really expensive up there btw. But anyways we had a good victory meal, we laughed, the Brits made fun of us and we made fun of them. I laughed so hard I cried. Good times.

Now let me tell you about this hut. You basically sleep like you are in a sardine can. It looks like there are 2 large wooden shelves and they cover the top and bottom with these fur blanket. There are a row of people sleeping next to each other on the bottom and a row of people on top. You literally are packed up tightly next to the person sleeping next to you. They then give you a small pillow that is covered in plastic that felt like it was filled with beans and a warm blanket. We decided to dominate one of the top bunks and I had difficulty sleeping thanks to the awful pillow and my knee started to swell. I took some pain killers and we all decided that we were not going to hike up the mountain again to see the sun rise. Once you go up there you realize how much work it is and time just to get to the summit.

With little sleep we were woken up around 4am at the hut to watch the sunrise. We walked outside and it was amazing to realize that we were above the clouds watching the sun come up with everyone from the hut. What a beautiful and magnificent site it was unreal. We then headed back to bed and were told we needed to check out by 8am. We woke up at 7am to eat our breakfast which consisted of salmon, rice and a packet of stuff. Inside the packet was beef and it looked and smelled like dog food. Eden saw my face and knew I would not eat it so luckily I had a leftover pb&j sandwich and paid for a $4.00 dixie cup of hot chocolate.

We packed up our things and headed back down to the mountain. When we reached the bottom we said goodbye to our British friends, hopped on a bus back to the hostel, took showers, and then got on another bus back to Tokyo. We are now staying at K's hostel Oasis in Tokyo. Its a Friday night and we went out for burgers, doing laundry and heading to bed. What an amazing day and experience. Good night!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stayed in a Buddhist Temple with Buddhist Monks, visited a graveyard, and arrived at K's Hostel near Mt. Fuji. Japan Day 13-15

While we were on the bus to Osaka we made a conscious decision to stay a bit longer in Japan in order to experience a Sumo match which occurs on the 12th of September. We ended up staying at Koma's backpackers hostel in Osaka and we decided to go to Koyosan and stay overnight in a Buddhist temple near Oku-no-in which is an enormous graveyard filled with stone monuments.

Preparing for our journey we decided to go to a nearby coffee shop that looked like the Japanese version of Denny's. I worked with our waitress to figure out if it was possible to get a pizza with no meat since they like to put ham or bacon on everything here. It was possible and when my pizza came I did not realize it was going to be the size of a pizza you see in a lunchables package. But whatever food is food and it was actually quite tasty.

At Koma we met a guy named Brad who is also from CT and taught English in Korea as well. He high fived us both for 1 me coming from CT born and raised another for Eden for teaching English in Korea. He was extremely helpful and pretty much mapped our journey through South East Asia. So kudos to Brad and good luck on your journey to Korea and India!

We headed out and got on a train from Namba station to Koyosan. When you head to this temple they stop at the station before you get to Koyosan. From this station you need to take a cable car up the mountain. Once we reached the top it started to rain and it smelled so fresh like a rain forest. We got on a bus that dropped us off in front of Rengejo-In Temple.It is so peaceful and beautiful here. There is a zen garden, cherry blossom trees and the place smelled like incense.

We were greeted by one of the monks and he explained the rules to us. He brought us to our room and we had a small table with 4 chairs and after the 5 : 30pm mediation the monks come into your room to set up your beds which are flatter than a futon and a pillow that felt like it was filled with beans. You were allowed to help yourself to as much green tea as you wanted and help yourself to a little red bean cake which Eden knew I would not like based on the face I made when I bit into it. So Eden and I both realized that when the older monk was explaining the rules to us this younger monk came into the room and yes I kid you not we both thought he was too hott to be a monk. Now I am not into Asian guys, no offense to the Asian men, but this monk was hott and he had really nice muscles. Ok ok I know we came here to be enlightened and meditate not check out hott monks.

 Here was our schedule for the night and next morning : 5 :30pm meditation ceremony, where we sat in Indian style and meditated for 40 min., 6 :00pm dinner time, which was a vegetarian meal of tofu, vegetable tempura and noodles, 6 :30-10 :00pm you were able to take a bath, where Eden and I both got into our birthday suits, took a shower sitting up followed by a hot bath and then lights out at 11pm. At 6am we had to wake up for mediation. The gong woke us up 5 min. before mediation and Eden and I barely got any sleep, we scrambled to get ready for mediation and we were 5min late but they still let you enter the mediation room. Breakfast was at 7am which consisted of another vegetarian meal with white rice and sweet tofu.

We went back to our rooms and checkout was at 9am..... well Eden and I thought it would be ok to nap a little bit more and I kept hitting the snooze button to my alarm. All of a sudden we realized that we had overslept and we were 30min late past check out. Luckily the monks did not have an issue with it. We then headed out to Oku-no-in to see the graveyard. This was unlike any graveyard I have ever been too. ''Any buddhist worth their salt in Japan has had their remains, or just a lock or two of hair, interred in this cemetery to ensure pole position when Miroku Buddha comes to earth.'' Thank you Lonely Planet. We are lead into the temple on a cobbled path lined with tall cedar trees and thousands of tombs. While we entered the cemetery I watched a mosquito land on my arm and decided to have a conversation with it. I said " Oh yah you think you are going to get me well think again!" I smashed it with my hand and covered myself with bug spray. Thinking that I outsmarted the mosquitos later that day I noticed that a mosquito worked itself up my pants and now I have a mosquito bite on my butt. Note to self will now put bug spray everywhere including the butt.

We then walked around Koyosan and saw other temples and shrines. Attached are some photos.

Back on the cable car, back to Namba and we head out to Osaka station to get on our 10pm bus to Fuji!!

When we got to the station we got lost trying to find our bus stop we also had no idea where to buy or pick up our tickets. We went to 3 different information booths until finally someone helped us. We got lost again and this American guy who spoke Japanese and he noticed we looked extremely lost. He took us to another information booth and he showed us where we needed to go.

We then tried to shove both of our heavy bags into a small locker. We tried to pay for our locker but could not figure out the machine, pushed a bunch of different buttons in Japanese and realized our things were stuck in the locker. This woman tried to help us and she ran to get a guard. Luckily we eventually figured it out. Lol seriously!!! Oh no wait it gets more amusing so we go to this cafe to eat dinner before we got on the bus and again language barrier issue happens again. There was a variety of sandwiches to choose from and I wanted one with no meat since you all know everything has pork. So I tell the guy no meat and he thought I was saying more meat so the more I said no meat he kept showing me sandwiches that had more meat than the last one he showed me. So we played the game of no meat more meat. I gave up and chose a wrap with salmon followed by a sweet potato that I found in the food court area. Wanting to waste more time before our bus ride we went in search of a bookstore that sold books in English and walked by a subway, you know the eat fresh kind of subway, so we bought some books and grabbed some sandwiches and got on the bus.

When we got on the bus we were amazed. They give you a bottle of water, a blanket and slippers plus the seats had soo much space between them. It was like the Jet Blue version of a bus... more leg room. We both looked at each other and said DUDE! However, Eden and I were both unable to sleep and so on a bus from 10pm to 8am we were on 0 hours of sleep and we arrived at Kawaguchiko and are now preparing for our trek up Mt. Fuji.

Wish me luck!!!!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hiroshima...Some History, Germans and Plum wine. Day 10, 11, and 12 Japan

We arrived at Hiroshima around 7pm and realized that we needed to get to the other side of the station to get to another K's hostel. So Eden and I have come to the realization that we have awful sense of direction and our 2 brains combined cannot figure out our destination. We found a cross walk and crossed over and stopped in front of a restaurant and this little old woman noticed we were lost so she tried to help us. Thankfully this other woman walked by and she offered to take us to our destination. We have decided to tell some people that we are from Canada specifically from New Brunswick we just seem to get better responses when we say we are Canadian and the Japanese get excited. So the woman brought us to K's hostel and we thanked her and said good night.

Next morning our plan was to head to the A-bomb dome and Peace Memorial Park. Now first things first we needed breakfast and caffeine. We walked down to the entrance of the hostel and started talking to these 2 German girls who were on the same breakfast mission. So the hostel told us to go to a cafe which was close to all of Hiroshima's sights. Eden, the 2 German girls Luca and Cari, and I got to the cafe and we all chose this thing that looked like a half of a grilled cheese. We all sat down took a bite of what we bought and were all disappointed it was this sweet pastry thing with sweet cheese and was not satisfying at all. Breakfast has been a difficult meal for me here they don't do egg and cheese on a bagel and everything has bacon or pork in it so no dice for this Jew if I want to try to keep kosher.

Anyways we made plans to meet the girls later for dinner and Eden and I headed to the sights. We first went to the A-bomb dome which stands as a reminder of the destruction visited upon Hiroshima. In 1945 the U.S. ordered the atom bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima without warning. This building served as the Industrial Promotion Hall until the bomb exploded almost directly above it. Numerous people were killed or badly burned and others suffered harmful side effects from the radiation. This building is preserved as a memorial and is a symbol of the city's tragic past.

We then walked to the children's peace monument where there is a collection of origami paper cranes. Story has it that if you create a 1,000 paper cranes you make a wish and it will come true. This is inspired by a girl who was exposed to the radiation of the bomb and developed leukemia at age 11 in 1955 who folded 1,000 paper cranes and wished to recover. She died before reaching her goal.

Next was the Peace Memorial Museum which tells the story and the history of Japan, the wars and what lead to the drop of the atom bomb. We were in their for about an hour reading all the panels without getting too much into it what is mentioned is that after Pearl Harbor the UK and U.S demanded that Japan sign a peace treaty. They refused to sign it and this is what lead to the tragedy of the Hiroshima bombing. It was noted that the U.S. dropped the bomb without warning and their were a number of documents advising against that decision. After the bombing there were a number of protest against nuclear war and the use of nuclear weapons. When you walk further into the museum you get to see the aftermath of the bomb. Hiroshima was completely destroyed and their were stories of children who made it home to their parents burned and died shortly after. Their burned clothing is displayed as well as examples of illnesses people experienced. I walked out of the museum depressed and a bit ashamed to be American.

Even though we were a bit somber we needed to eat lunch and we went to a restaurant called zucchini a tapas place recommended by Lonely Planet. We both ordered paella but mine was vegetarian. The meal came with a glass of sangria and ice cream for dessert this was the best western meal we have had since we have been here.

After lunch we headed to Hiroshima castle. There was not much to see but we got to see samurai garments and weapons. There was also an area where you can play dress up. Eden dressed up as a samurai while I put on the kimono and we played dress up and entertained this couple while they took ridiculous photos of us. We then made our way to the bus station to try to get tickets to head up to Mount Fuji we had no luck and again ran into the language barrier thing we gave up and went to meet our new friends for dinner.

Luca and Cari were waiting for us and Jonathan joined us who is also German. Luca and Cari are 19 and Luca and I totally bonded and realized she is the German 19 year old version of me. I saw myself in her... she is silly, makes mistakes but is learning from them, tries to be a good listener, is a flirt and is boy crazy and her bday is also in January. We were walking around Hiroshima looking for a bar and we stumbled upon a small bar where you mix different flavors with beer or liquor. I had my first experience with Japanese plum wine and soda. It was like drinking a wine cooler but after 5 you are done! The bartender told us to go to a restaurant down the street to have Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Yah try to say that word 5 times fast I dare you! It is a patty or noodles egg meat and sauce. You can add fish, mochi and cheese or other meat to it. Normally they all come with pork and egg but they were nice enough to make one without pork so I could sample it. The restaurant was an awesome experience you had to take your shoes off and sit on pillow on the ground in your own private room and they give you a buzzer to press for service. Great thing about Japan is tipping does not exist here... Little side note.

So we all got drunk off beer and wine and headed out to a 7 eleven which are everywhere and bought some more beer and wine. We then walked to a playground near the river to swing on the swing set and go down the slide. Jonathan and Cari went closer to the river and Luca, Eden and I waited for this sketchy guy on a bike to leave the park so Eden could find a place to pee without being seen. He rode his bike closer so us and we exchanged a number of oys and he almost got off the bike to talk to us. Eden and I called out for Jonathan. Luca projected "Goodbye!" And he got the hint and left us alone. He was a really sketchy character. We attract a lot of attention since we are not Japanese and guys think its amusing to say hi and give us high fives.

We decided to go back to the hostel since Luca and I were covered in bug bites. We continued to drink and lounge. These 2 French guys joined us as well. Luca picked up a guitar and we started to sing while others amused themselves by having one of the French guys speak French. By 4am it was time to pass out.

In case you were wondering we figured out our Mount Fuji plans and are on a bus heading to Osaka. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Updated with more details...Nara and Kyoto day 8 and 9 in Japan

Eden and I have been staying at K's house backpackers hostel and we woke up early to go to Nara where the largest Buddha lives. We went to the Kofukuji temple, which are 3 and 5 story pagodas, and the Todai-Ji temple. The temple is Nara's famous Daibutsu the Great Buddha is housed in the Daibutsu-den hall of this great temple. It lives in the largest wooden building in the world. As you circle the statue towards the back there is a wooden column with a hole in it. Popular belief maintains that those who can squeeze through the hole, which is the same size as the one of the Buddha's nostrils, are ensured enlightenment. I went through first and then Eden went after and we both were able to fit through therefore we are both enlightened. We walked through all of Nara where there were a number of temples and shrines and there were deer everywhere. This trek took the entire day. We went to the Nigatsu-do hall and Sangatsu-do hall which are sub temples of Todaiji and we went to the Kasua Grand shrine but we did not want to pay to get in so we just walked around it. You have to pay 400 to 500 yen just to go into these sites and the costs were adding up. On our walk down we sampled delicious fresh juice. I had mango and Eden had grape and the man in the store informed us the grapes are from fuji.

When we returned to the hostel we got ready to meet up with Hiro for dinner, who I met through my old Australian roommate Matt, who happens to live in Kyoto. The hostel switched us into a cheaper room with 8 beds in the dorm and we happened to be the only girls in the room. There was a French Jew, a German, and 2 Mormons Levi and Robert. At first we didn't believe them and we started asking a number of questions and they are legit mormons. Of course my big mouth gets the best of me and sometimes I do not think before I speak and I asked both of them if they were virgins. Yes they are. Robert was not offended Levi on the other hand not so thrilled about the question. Sorry :(

Anyways, Eden and I headed out to meet Hiro for dinner and he made reservations at this restaurant that is known for their fish dishes and the food was amazing. Good choice Hiro. We had sashimi, steak, steak and potato patty, the neck of a fish... I know that sounds weird but it was soo good, tempura, 2 different types of tofu and drank beer.... ahhh the good life. Our bellies were happy.

The next day our plan was to go to Osaka and Himeji to see castles but unfortunately the castle in Himeji is under construction and Yoshi, hostel guy, said Osaka was not worth it. So he said to venture out around Kyoto to see more shrines and temples. We went to the Nijo -Jo castle and the famous Golden Pavilion. We also visited the Ginkakuji temple which is the silver pavilion. we then walked down the "Path of Philosophy" that the Yoshi suggested and passed by what we think was the Zenriniji temple. We headed towards the main road and hopped on a bus to Gion to see the Geishas.

We got off the bus to Gion and walked down Shimbashi which is one of Kyotos most beautiful streets according to Lonely Planet. We walked by a tour group where a woman was talking about the history of the Geisha we decided not to pay for a tour and find them on our own. Now here is the deal with trying to see a Geisha: you are not guaranteed to see a Geisha and if you do happen to run into them, while they are going to work, you are not allowed to stop them, get in their way or ask to take a picture. This woman actually did the unthinkable and asked to take a photo so while she was taking a photo I actually decided to take one as well. I SAW A GEISHA!! We also saw a couple of apprentices as well. We decided to treat ourselves to Starbucks, which are everywhere in Japan just like NYC, and wanted to find another one but that was all we were going to see for the day. We headed back to the hostel for dinner which was food I cooked that lasted us for 3 days just some chicken, veggies and pasta.

After dinner I started talking to this guy named Peter, who we ran into earlier in the day, who is from San Fran and is pretty much doing the same thing I am. He worked for 3 years in investment banking and decided to quit and travel throughout Asia and has been to most of the places we will be visiting. I enjoyed listening to his stories about his travels. Eden met up with me shortly and we had the munchies at 3am. I said good night to Peter and Eden and I treated ourselves to frosted flakes and went to bed.

The next morning we packed up said goodbye to the Mormons and I said bye to Peter and we headed out to catch a bus to Hiroshima. We couldn't find our bus and people kept sending us on a wild goose chase. There were no signs and no one spoke English. Again my phone came in handy and I called the emergency hotline who called the bus driver to wait for us. We found it and Eden realized that she had asked that bus driver twice if this was the right bus and he crossed his hands at her which I guess was his way of saying no or he doesn't speak English. We were sweaty and not happy but whatever it is what it is and we made it. We will arrive in Hiroshima at 8pm.