Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Six months back, and living the dream.

So, as you can guess by the absence of writing on this blog, I've been busy. It's now six months and two weeks since I've returned to Australia, and last week saw the final day of a role that I've been working in for the last six months:

As I mentioned, it's been an odd feeling working in the Camberwell Library. During high school, I was heavily involved in house music competitions, which could be described as a cross between Glee sectionals and the tri-wizard cup. My specialty was making a capella arrangements of pop tunes, somewhat resembling the Dalton Warblers. And we'd perform on the stage in the Civic Centre. The stage, which, strangely enough, is where the library's reference desk is now. Similarly, I recently organised an event in the Parkview Room for the Boroondara Literary Awards. The last time I was in that room, it was the Camberwell Theatre, and I was on the stage as the Pirate King. How times have changed.

I'm definitely feeling the wanderlust again, so it's somewhat fortunate that my work commitments have eased, and I've made plans to travel for a month in south-east asia in March - most because it's close, I haven't been to Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia before, and it's all that I can afford at this stage. My newfound extra time has also afforded me with opportunities to go to a week-long dance camp in Adelaide in January, and also perform a show at the Adelaide Fringe in February.

So, yes, I can honestly I'm living the dream at the moment - even if it's only for the next three months - devoting time to writing, performing, dancing, and travelling. It feels good.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Working Life and Being Home.

Since arriving back in Melbourne three months ago, I've definitely been blessed when it comes to work. However, when it rains, it pours. In the past fortnight, I have been worked off my feet. This morning, my housemate was shocked to see me, as I'd always been out first thing in the morning, and home late in the evening. I've been pushed to the point of being abrupt to colleagues at times, and stressing out over seemingly-impossible deadlines that I could only meet by working very long hours.

This is the working life. This is what I missed by being overseas and travelling.

However, I wouldn't change a thing. I'm currently doing all the things I want to be doing - it's just a case of it all falling in my lap at once and, because of my perpetual FOMO, I always say "Yes, I'll do that!"

One of those things was doing a book talk at the library, talking to an audience about a few books that I've read recently. One of these books was "The Art of Travel" by Alain de Botton. At one point, I talked a bit about the experience of returning from travel, and coming back to a familiar place, falling into familiar patterns, and before you know it, that "life-changing experience" of travel is seemingly irrelevant. which can be discouraging. Afterwards, during afternoon tea, a lady from the audience came up to me, and told me that she agreed with my comments about returning from travel, but she also felt that she should remind me that returning is also a wonderful experience, because it's only then when you can truly appreciate the joys and comfort of being home.

This left me a little perplexed, to be honest. I've moved home every couple of years, to the point that I don't associate home with being a particular place. To use a cliche, it's always been where I've hung my hat, and thus has always been a transitory space. This other idea of home - one of an ownership of space, of permanent settlement, is still one that I've yet to embrace, let alone experience. I'm not so sure that I ever will, really.

I figure that, for now, the city of Melbourne and its diversity that I love, will be close enough to this idea of home for me.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Competitions in life...

When I was just a lad, I spent a number of years singing in the choir at St Paul's Cathedral. On the wall in the choir-room, there was a giant board with everybody's name listed on it. At the top, was the head chorister, and at the bottom were the newbies. Each week, choristers would get a score on their performance. If they'd sung well, improved their singing, helped others out in the choir, they'd get a pass, credit, distinction or - the paragon of excellence - a double-distinction. These would correspond to a score, that affected their ranking. If somebody made too many mistakes in a given week, and just weren't trying enough, they'd get a "fail", and often drop down in the rankings. The choir even had its elite - the "Top Sixteen" who would perform at special events and functions.

Bear in mind that this was a choir - a musical ensemble - of 10 to 14 year old boys. It brought certain elements of stress and emotional trauma to what should have been a joyful, musical venture. However, there was also the expectation that the choir would provide quality performances on a daily basis - we sang in the cathedral for services six times a week. By rewarding excellence and punishing poor performance, it created a culture where we strove for improvement and perfection, which was reflected in our ranking within the mini-community that was the choir.

Moving on to high school - particularly, its final years - I was in an education system where our final mark that decided our future was not an empirical score based on how well we went, but rather a ranking - the Tertiary Entrance Rank - which told us where we stood in society in relation to every other graduate from that year. This embedded in us a culture where many aspects of life are a competition, and we need to learn how to be a contender.

Which brings me to my main point:

One of life's lessons seems to be that, in order to be successful, you need to be winning. I've been recently in a situation where I've been job hunting, and thus engaged in that competitive process. In this competition, there is literally no prize for second place. You get the job, you win. There are situations where the competition is limited, and I've easily become a contender. There are ways to bend the rules of the competition to your advantage - i.e. networking, getting your foot in the door through casual / temp work at the organisation. And then there is plain "cheating" - i.e. get your dad to hire you. It's still one of my career goals to gain a highly-sought-after position through a fair merit-based recruitment process, and unless I do that, I'm not winning. But to get to that point, I need to work hard. I need to build my range of skills, and establish a strong track record of quality and success in my professional work. Because it's not enough just to enjoy the work as it comes, and cruise along whilst the going's good. Or is it? I'll come back to that point.

Last night, I entered a swing dancing competition - the Australian Jitterbug Championships. I've been dancing lindy hop for a bit over two years now. I took classes quite intensively for the first year or so, and at least year's championships, I did moderately well in the beginner / midstream categories. This year was a completely different situation, though. I only recently started taking classes again, after a nine month hiatus overseas. Furthermore, I entered the Open Jack and Jill competition - one that I was unlikely to win because, frankly, I'm still very much a beginner in the scheme of things. I danced with three amazingly awesome dancers - all of whom made it to the finals - and for that experience I was grateful. However, the feeling of competing, and doing my best, and not making the cut, has still left me with a feeling of disappointment. I'm at a point where competition is pretty much the only reason to work hard at improving my dancing, and unless I win - or even make the finals - how can I ever truly know if I've improved? It's all well and good to rock the social dance floor, but it's exactly that - social. You're there to be pleasant to each other, and enjoy each other's dance for what it is - not what it should be. It's only in competition where people are truly judged for how good - or lacking - their skills are. Without that, where's the motivation to technically and aesthetically improve one's dancing? Or, again, is it enough just to enjoy it for what it is?

So, there seems to be three options in life. One is to work hard, improve, compete, keep working hard, keep improving, compete, and repeat with winning as the ultimate goal. The other is to not compete at all; take on a job / dance / craft and enjoy it for what it is, with no aspiration to perfect it, but simply have as a moderately-skilled feather in one's cap that you can pull out for social engagements. Or the third option is to move onto something else. I definitely feel like I'm at a crossroads here - I'm doing okay with my current life choices, but I'm not winning. I don't feel that working harder is getting me any closer - I know a number of people who work much harder than me in these areas, and only end up more frustrated.

So, I think it's time to start enjoying these things for what they are, and focus my serious energy in finding new battles to compete in.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Two months in...

Well, it's been two months since I touched down onto Australian soil. I thought it was time I made another video. So, this is my average morning routine, travelling to work.

Every morning, between stepping off the train at Glenferrie Station, and arriving at work, I walk past two travel agents, and every time I am distracted by the images and latest deals in the window. I wonder when I'll next be travelling overseas. As tempting as it is to make plans to take off again in December, once my current commitments are over, I also feel like I'm starting to get some momentum again, career-wise. In my current work, there are definitely moments where I feel like I am making some headway toward where I want to be, and, honestly, it's refreshing. It's here, in Melbourne, where those opportunities will grow, and as much as I'd like to travel more, and see more of the world, I'd rather take some time to build myself as a professional, so that I have something to offer to that world further down the track.

Or I could go overseas in December anyway. It's a crappy time to be job-hunting. ;)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

One month back on the bike...

Before coming back, I'd read a little about the effects of reverse culture shock. I've seen it in friends who have returned to Melbourne after being away for extended periods of time. I dreaded it - the feeling of being tied back down to the banal everyday life that I once left behind; the feeling that all my previous experiences would be cancelled out by the act of returning back to where I started; the boredom of the familiar world, with nothing further to look forward to except settling down and being normal like everybody else, and desperately longing to fly away again.

The thought of having to go through this kinda scared me. Months before coming back, I desperately applied for heaps of jobs (not realising that they might want me sooner than I'd planned) just so that I would have something to keep me moving and progressing.

Well, I should be careful what I wish for. I returned to Melbourne on the 21st, with little idea what I was going to next. By Friday, I was getting a handover for a new full-time role starting the following Monday.

And it's been a full-on month.

It's definitely been the most challenging job I've taken on yet. Like pretty much every other library role I've worked in, I've been required to hit the ground running, and take ownership of everything before anybody notices that I might not entirely know what I'm doing yet. It's had its emotional highs and lows - the excitement of working with new technology and helping people in the library, and the lows of having a million things to do and feeling like there's not enough time to possibly get it all done.

And then add the fact that I'm doing this after nine months of occasional work (but mostly travel) and previously six months of part-time work.

But you know what? It feels good. Sure, I've almost burst into tears, pulled my hair out, considered quitting my job, and felt utterly perplexed at how I can possibly make it through all my work. On numerous occasions. It's been hard, but one month on, I'm pulling through and surviving. And I'm getting better at it. It feels like I'm learning to re-learn how to ride a bike, after not having ridden for years, and then being told that I have to compete in the Tour de France (see, I'm topical). 

I'll get that yellow jersey soon enough...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Return to Oz...

So, two weeks ago, I touched down at Coolangatta airport.

Initial reactions:
1. ZOMG I am back in Australia.
2. Everybody is really loud and rude.
3. Customer service is pretty awful.
4. Is it just me, or have things gotten more expensive?
5. *switch on tv* Why is Kyle Sandilands still a thing?

The next day I caught the bus and train to Brisbane. The bus arrived about 3 minutes before the train was due to leave from Robina station, so I rushed to the service counter, paid for a full-fare ticket to Fortitude Valley. The guy gave me a ticket, and told me to run because the train was about to leave and there wouldn't be another for half an hour.

So I ran, with backpack, suitcase, satchel and laptop bag in town, and just made it. Then I looked at the ticket. Although I'd paid full price, the guy had given me a concession ticket. The hour trip that ensued consisted of me thinking "ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap I hope no inspectors board the train..."

And then the inspectors boarded the train. They fined some people but never got around to checking my ticket. Then they got off at Roma Street. Then I anxiously awaited the possibility of being checked when leaving the station, but the attendant just gave it a casual glance and waved me through at Fortitude Valley.

Fortunately, the next few days were more relaxing. They consisted of:
1. Coffee and brunch at trendy hipster cafes in garages and warehouses.
2. Craft markets with all manner of cringeworthy t-shirts, fudge, and handmade ornaments.
3. Sunshine and long walks along the Brisbane River.
4. Wholemeal bread, vegemite, and vegetarian food.
5. A weekend of social swing dancing at the Brisbane Lindy Exchange.

And then, on Monday, I was back in Melbourne...

To be continued...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Last day in Tokyo...

So, I had one day left in Tokyo. It was a clear and sunny morning, so I decided to hire a bicycle and ride around the city, via the Tsukiji Fish Markets, Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara.

Along with the beautiful weather, I came to appreciate how flat Tokyo is - much like Osaka - which made for a pleasant day's riding about town.

And then, it was finally time to leave. It was a strange feeling, after almost nine months living in Japan. On one hand, it felt a little too soon, as there was still plenty that I hadn't seen yet. On the other hand, I was feeling the need to move on and get back into full-time work in the industry. It's been a memorable and challenging experience, in which I've learnt quite a bit about the world and about myself. However, I'm not getting any younger, and there's so much I need to contribute to the world.

It's scary, moving on, especially without a strong idea of what's coming next. Every time I try to control my fate, the throws something completely different in my lap. However, I'm trying to learn to be less indignant about not getting what I want, and opportunistic in making the most of what I have in front of me. It's a hard lesson, but I think I'm getting better at it.

So, on to the next adventure...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Day in Disneyland

So, when planning our weekend in Tokyo, it was suggested that we spend a day in Tokyo Disneyland. I must confess that I baulked slightly at the idea, thinking that it seemed something of a waste when there was probably heaps of other cultural places that we could be visiting, and that it would be expensive and tacky and crap. However, I eventually decided to go anyway, figuring that in life there aren't that many opportunities to visit Disneyland, and that it'd be an experience either way.

I am so glad that we went. It totally lived up to the hype and delivered in almost every way. The parades were astonishing huge, energetic and full of joy. The rides were as diverse and interesting as they were thrilling - I didn't even mind waiting up to an hour for some of them. My only disappointment was that the day wasn't long enough to do everything!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

From capsule hotel to capital city...

So, it was a weekend of firsts. On Friday afternoon, after work, we headed in to Osaka, and checked into a capsule hotel. I'd heard plenty about them, but had never experienced one and, to be honest, it was more comfortable than I expected. I was expecting something more cocoon-like, like out of the Matrix, and was surprised when it was big enough to stretch out in, and even sit up in. The television and alarm clock were a bonus, too. That said, I wouldn't want to be any taller - my feet were touching the curtain at the foot of the capsule.

Staying the night in Osaka meant that we could get an early start the next morning, jumping onto the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Again, I'd never been on the famous Japanese "Bullet Train", and it was a much more comfortable and swift journey than my Seishun-18 journey in late March.

Arriving in Tokyo a mere 2 hours and 33 minutes later, we took in some of the obligatory sights. Our hostel was in the shadow of the Tokyo Sky Tree, along with what could best be described as a giant golden turd. Given the available of lucky golden turd charms, it wouldn't surprise me if that was exactly what it was. We then headed off to the Yebisu beer museum, which unfortunately only provided tours (and beer sampling) in Japanese, but it was an otherwise very nice little museum. From Yebisu, we walked up to Shibuya, viewing the famous crossing, then through Harajuku, and finally to Shinjuku, for the Spring Jazz Festival, where we saw the evening out with some swing dancing.

Next: Tokyo Disneyland!!!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Onward to glory...

If you want to get a feel for contemporary Japanese culture whilst travelling, one thing one must do is step into a Japanese department store. At the upper end of the price range, there is Daimaru, Loft, and Tokyu Hands. However, one of my preferred places is Don Quijote - which is far more affordable.

Here's a quick tour of the Umeda store in Osaka...

As you can see, there's a lot of crazy stuff on offer, and one must exercise caution - prolonged exposure can lead to severe sensory bewilderment!

And yes, I love matcha-flavoured stuff. I can't get enough of it. :)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Beijing Lindy Exchange and My Swingiversary!

So, continuing where we left off...

Friday night marked the first event at the Great Wall Swing Out - the 2012 Beijing Lindy Exchange. The evening kicked off with an amazing dinner, featuring the famous chinese dish - Peking Duck. I thought I'd had Peking duck before, but this was something else! This was followed by the dance in the basement of the Worker's Museum, featuring a live band, and a 1920's & 30's feel.

Then, on Saturday morning, we headed off to Tianjin, a couple of hours away on bus. After a lunch of Tianjin's famous dish -  Gobuli Baozi - we visited a few of its more famous and cultural areas, with another enormous dinner and dance at one of China's last still-fully-furnished opera houses.

Finally, on Sunday morning, we trundled onto a bus and headed for The Great Wall of China. Of course, I'd seen photos of it, but that had hardly prepared me for beholding but a small section of the 6000 km long fortress. What's more, we had a section next to the wall that was perfect for swing dancing, and we were contractually obliged to do the Shim Sham on the wall itself. After returning to Beijing, we saw the evening out with more dancing at a local club, with a 1950s feel and a kicking local rockabilly band playing. All in all, I would have to say that this has been one of the most enjoyable exchanges that I've been on - with an extremely friendly scene, great venues and bands, a good balance of dancing, socialising and cultural experiences. I'd definitely consider going back again next year.

Speaking of swing dancing - today is May 6th, which marks two years since I went to my first class with Swing Patrol. I never imagined that learning the lindy hop would lead me to dance in so many wonderful places, from Melbourne to Hobart, Perth, Sydney and Canberra - to Kuala Lumpur, Osaka, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing, and the Great Wall of China!

Happy Swingiversary to me!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


So, after a couple of days in Shanghai, I woke early and went to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, to catch the fast train to Beijing. This railway station was enormous - the biggest station that I'd ever been to - and finding my train was no mean feat. However, after some abrupt customer service at the information desk, I managed to find my platform with plenty of time to spare.

Several hours later, I was arriving in Beijing! I was, unfortunately, suffering quite a painful foot injury at the time. However, with the help of the hostel, I found an international medical clinic nearby, and it didn't cost too much to see a doctor, who prescribed some anti-inflammatories, and told me to rest my feet for a couple of days.

So, the next day, I decided not to travel too far. Fortunately, I was just down the road from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, both of these involved a lot of walking. Both were quite an amazing site to behold. I was ever-aware of the police presence, which added a level of solemnity when wandering through the infamous square. And then the Forbidden City was something else - you could walk around it all day and still not see everything. I spent a good four hours there, before deciding to seek out some good street food, and braving the stinky tofu.

Friday morning began with venturing down some alleyways in the area, looking for where the locals were eating. I was staying in Nan Luogu Xiang, which has many food places, but they're not really the early-morning breakfast kind of places, and the ones that were open were kinda pricey. Fortunately, I found a place, and then played the try-to-order-food-and-get-something-completely-different-but-still-awesome game. After a couple of days of seeing the ceramic yoghurt jars around the place, I decided to try some as well. It was a little odd, as it was thicker than normal drinking yoghurt, a little bitter, like greek yoghurt, and served at room temperature. Still, as a staple breakfast food, it did the trick!

The rest of the morning / early afternoon consisted of more wandering around the area, visiting the Beijing Drum and Bell towers, and Jingshan Park, which is the highest point in Beijing, overlooking the Forbidden City. I then ventured to the Poly Art Museum, which holds four of the bronze figureheads of the Zodiac Fountain which was looted in 1860 when the Old Summer Palace was infamously destroyed during the Opium Wars. 

Next: Great Wall Swing Out 2012 - the Beijing Lindy Exchange

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Catching up and Shanghai

So, the last time you heard from me, I was about to head off to Camp Swing It 2012. CSI was awesome, and then the next morning I flew to Shanghai, and was all ready to tweet / blog about it. Except I completely forgot about one vital detail about electronic communication in China...

So, now that I'm back in Japan, I can catch up on blogging my travels in China. Here's what happened the next day..

I have to confess that Shanghai wasn't my favourite place. I'd badly hurt my foot, to the point that walking around town was painful, I had to miss social dancing on Tuesday night, and I was worried that the rest of my trip would be ruined. Shanghai was also (unsurprisingly) very humid, and overwhelmingly busy and commercially overstimulating. That said, I had probably my most comfortable stay in a hostel, and it was cheap to get around. If I'd been there a little longer, I'm sure I would have adjusted to the culture and climate. However, I was also keen to get onto a train and move on to Beijing...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My first public bathhouse experience...

On Friday, I had a few hours to kill before heading off to Camp Swing It 2012 (which, incidentally, was amazingly awesome) and I decided that I had to check out a Korean spa and jjimjilbang. Now, I have a complicated relationship with the idea of public bathhouses. In Japan, I admit that I haven't indulged in the much-loved institution of the onsen and sento. I've seen them, and they seem a little too intimate for my liking. But that's just my comfort zone.

However, on reading up about the Korean's equivalent, I decided to give it a go. And I was not disappointed. It was more like a huge public pool than an intimate washroom. There were five spas - four hot and one cold, with a small swimming pool and three saunas of varying temperature. I never got the feeling of being even remotely up in anybody else's space, nor they in mine. It was more like going skinny dipping than having a group bath. It was thoroughly relaxing.

And then there was the coed area - the jjimjilbang - where we all put on our special clothes, and lay around on heated floors, "sweating rooms", a cool room, and, if desired, a semi-private sleeping capsule. There were many people there, young and old, lying around, watching tv, reading books and newspapers, or simply sleeping. There was even an internet PC room for those who wanted to get online. I did, however, half-expect somebody to come up to me and ask "Would you like a treatment?"; it was somewhat Dollhouse-esque.

I've heard that, in Japan, the interest in onsen / sento has been rapidly waning, especially amongst young people. However, this approach is attracting people in droves - especially young people who can get a little being of canoodling done in the corner of the jjimjilbang, away from prying eyes. As for my personal hangups - it's been a step in the right direction. Perhaps I'll be brave and give it a go in Japan...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Careering through Korea...

So, I've finally landed in Korea. The plane trip was a little bumpy going up into the air, and coming down again, but it was a swift flight with swift service. Followed by a swift taxi driver who drove me to my destination at 120kms per hour on the wrong side of the road. Well, it felt wrong anyway, speaking as somebody who has only ever inhabited the left side of the road.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to explore Busan, but I easily found an express bus to take me to Seoul, and was there by mid-afternoon.

So, I wandered around Seoul for Wednesday afternoon and all of Thursday. I've eaten all sorts of wonderful street food, and have an odd hankering for dduk bokki (or however you spell it). I discovered the swing dancing scene, which is huge here and super-friendly. And, as you can see, they occasionally break into choreographed pop-song routines. It's a pretty awesome city.

Next: My first jjimjilbang experience...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fukuoka and Ferries

So, on Monday I continued my journey to Fukuoka, as my plan was to travel from Kishi to Seoul without flying. There's something about taking the slightly-slower path that helps gain an appreciation for the distance that you're covering, and you often notice things about the landscape that you wouldn't notice from five miles above the ground. The big thing I noticed when catching the train from Miyajima to Fukuoka was the moment the train emerged from the tunnel between the two islands... the cherry trees were in full bloom. It was my first time, and now I understand why it's such a big deal!

And once I arrived in Fukuoka, they were everywhere. Parks were full of them, and the Castle Ruins park had about 1500 - which the city illuminates at night-time, with hundreds of visitors each night. So I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Fukuoka, marvelling at the cherry blossoms, and eating fresh strawberries, which were considerably cheaper than in Kansai. I also had street stall ramen, which was great, but not as awesome as the ippudo ramen that I had the next day. Anyway, once I got home that evening, exhausted and overwhelmed, there was an email waiting. Informing me that my ferry, scheduled for the next day, had been cancelled. Panic ensued, but I was able to buy a plane ticket at short notice.

And then came the biggest storm in western Japan since 1959. Naturally, my plane was delayed. A lot. Finally, at 10:45pm we touched down in Busan.

Next: Busan to Seoul.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hiroshima and Miyajima

So, early on Saturday morning, my latest adventure began. We headed off, seishun 18 ticket in hand, boarding non-express trains headed west across Honshu. It took a while, but we finally arrived in Hiroshima. It's hard to walk around the city and not be mindful of its tragic past, and we spent some time at the Peace Memorial Park and museum, before heading out for Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.

Sunday came, and we headed over to Miyajima - famous for its enormous "floating" O-Torii. After visiting the island, S had to jump on a train back to Kansai, but I returned and hiked up Mount Misen and down again. The view at the peak was amazing, and whilst it was unsurprising to find a soft drink machine there, there was also a guy selling cold beer, which was well appreciated. And then, one final return to the floating gate in the evening provided a most stunning sunset.

Next: Fukuoka and Hanami!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A day in Kobe

So, tomorrow I'll be heading out west, through Hiroshima and Miyajima, to Fukuoka. To make this trip affordable, I bought a JR seishun 18 ticket, which allows the holder unlimited travel on JR lines for five days, or five travellers for one day, or a combination thereof. The ticket has five spaces for stamps, and one stamp allows one person to travel for the date on that stamp. It costs 11500 yen (about AUD 130) and can definitely save you money if you've got the time.

Anyway, I realised that, with my plans, I had a spare stamp space left on my ticket. So I decided to head in to Kobe, and visit the places I hadn't been to yet. The beauty of this ticket is the ease by which you can just hop on and off trains, where you'd otherwise have to buy a ticket for each leg.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shamrocks and Sumo

So, the other week, we headed in to Osaka for the Grand Sumo Tournament, which is a 15-day event held every second month in Japan, but only once a year in Osaka. We went in on the 17th of March, which was also St Patrick's Day. The St Patrick's Day festival wasn't as big as Oktoberfest in Umeda, but people were still definitely getting into the spirit of it...

The final winner in the video was Hakuho, who is the Yokozuna (grand champion) and also not Japanese (he's Mongolian). It was interesting to see that there were a noticeable number of European and Mongolian wrestlers, and encouraging to see that, at least here, there is a substantial level of internationalisation in what is one of Japan's most traditional and pure traditions.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A weekend in Nagano

On the weekend, we travelled to Nagano Prefecture - famous for its snow resorts and the 1998 Winter Olympics, amongst other things. It was also, for me, the first time outside the Kansai region (other than my first day in Japan). We met the bus in Osaka at 11pm on Friday night...

It was my first time snowboarding. As you can see, I was far from being the embodiment of grace, poise and timing, but I did manage to stay balanced for a sustained period of time. I almost made it all the way down the slope without falling off. Almost.

And then, on Sunday, we travelled to Jigokudani Park to see the famous Japanese Snow Monkeys. These are amazing creatures, who live in the mountains and come down to the valley during the day to feed and bathe in the hot springs. I was amazed at how close we could get to them, without causing any distress or alarm. They were generally indifferent - possibly due to the knowledge that, if they wanted to, they could re-enact certain scenes from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. They were certainly big enough, and had the numbers...

Then, it was back on the bus at 2pm. We arrived at Kishi at 11:30pm. Despite it being a long trip, and the fact that every muscle in my body is sore from snowboarding, this weekend has definitely been a highlight of my time in Japan.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bring on the Spring...

So, it's March the 1st! Apparently it's going to get warmer soon. Meanwhile, I'm keeping myself warm and fighting the war on boredom...

No, I swear I'm not going crazy here...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Waiting for Umeshu...

So, last week, I headed to the Osaka Temmangu Shrine for the Umeshu (Plum Wine) festival. There was waiting involved, and then an extremely large assortment of wine to choose from.

Unfortunately, I ran out of time before I could make it to the second tent, but I went back the next day, and the other tent had all sorts of other non-ume-based drinks - including mikan, ichigo, pineapple, lemon,  cherry, yoghurt, and even mushroom flavoured wines and spirits! Fun!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Return to Koyasan!

Well, it's been snowing in Kishigawa, but it hasn't been cold enough for the snow to stick. So, we decided to head up to Koyasan to see a bit more snow...

It was eerily quiet; there were areas in Okunoin where we were the only people in sight. Still, even for a third trip, Koyasan never ceases to enthral.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Three months left!

So, it's February 14th, which means only one thing - I have three months left in this country before I leave on the 14th of March.

Flights are booked, and setting a deadline has forced me to think carefully about how I spend my time. In addition to my previous post's list, I am also aware that living in Japan also provides other international travel opportunities that I wouldn't normally have. So, I've made the following plans.

1. Catch an international ferry. I'll be catching a ferry from Fukuoka across to Busan.
2. Visit Korea. I'll be visiting Korea in April, and attending Camp Swing It in Seoul.
3. Visit China. I'll spend a couple of days in Shanghai, and then head up to Beijing for the Great Wall Swing Out.
4. Stopover in Malaysia. Air Asia's flights are some of the cheapest between Australia and Japan, so long as you're prepared to take a little time travelling. And I've got heaps of it. So, I'll be stopping over for a day in KL - just enough time to head into town for some warmth, laksa and tau foo far, before heading Down Under.
5. Return to Australia. But I'm not heading straight back to Melbourne. No, I've booked my tickets to Queensland, to attend the Brisbane Lindy Exchange, and try to appreciate some warm weather before plunging from a Japanese winter to a Melbourne winter.

The three month deadline has also meant that it's soon time to seriously start applying for jobs again. I still feel like I've got enough time to be fussy, but I now have a keen eye for my next dream job to come my way...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Before I leave...

So, now that it's confirmed that I'm leaving, it's time to make a list. A list of things that I want to do in Japan before I leave. In no particular order.

1. Ride on the Shinkansen.
2. Visit Hiroshima and Miyajima.
3. Go to Nagano to see snow and Japanese Macaques.
4. Visit temples in plum and cherry blossom season.
5. Go to Taiji, visit the whale museum, and rescue dolphins avoid being mistaken for an activist.

6. Go to Tokyo, have my obligatory photo taken at Shibuya crossing, and go visit Harajuku, Akihabara and Tsukiji Fish Market.
7. Spend a day at Universal Studios Japan.
8. See Mount Fuji (unfortunately, I won't be around for climbing season.)
9. Watch a Takarazuka Revue show.
10. Go to a Sumo Tournament.

Anything else that I should add to the list that I possibly haven't done yet?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Return to Oz...

Well, after returning from a month of travelling, I'm feeling the itch to get out there again. I've bought tickets to Korea (by ferry) and back (by plane), which should be a fun adventure in itself. And, in other news, I've also bought tickets to come back to Australia in May. It feels weird, because I hardly feel like I've settled here in Japan, and yet I'm already planning to leave. I guess that's how it works when it comes to 1-year contracts. Still, an end-date gives me something to work towards, both in preparing to return to the "real" (i.e. professional employment) world, as well as making interim travel plans for Japan. There's still much that I want to see...

Speaking of sights - on the weekend, we went to Kushimoto, which is the southernmost point on the island of Honshu, for the Fire Festival.

Basically, they set an entire field on fire, with other traditional festivities, including some dance and mochi-throwing (which is a bit of a chaotic free-for-all) and fireworks. Fortunately, there was a good breeze, blowing away from crowd, which got the fire burning nicely.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Back to Kyoto...

So, this week I visited Kyoto for the third time. I was there for two days, which finally gave me a chance to check out some of the more popular sights...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A week back in Japan...

We ate burgers. Then it snowed on my house and on the train.

Now I'm in Kyoto, and it's snowing here as well.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Returning to Japan!

So, as you may have surmised from my previous post, I am back in Japan. The cold has taken a little getting used to again, and today we reached a week-long high of 10 degree celcius. I hear that it snows once or twice a year in Kishigawa. I suspect that day might not be far away.

Meanwhile, here are the final days of our December-January trip. We arrived in Hong Kong a couple of days before the HK Swing Festival began, and so we first sought out Yum Cha, then spent the rest of the day at Ocean Park, and watched the light symphony on Victoria Harbour in the evening.

Then, the next day, we sought out more Yum Cha, and took the Peak Tram up into the hills overlooking Hong Kong. On the weekend, between workshops and social dances, we went on a double-decker tram tour, and went shopping in Mong Kok.

But before we knew it, it was time to catch our plane back to Japan. I wasn't very talkative that morning.

So, time to plan new adventures! I'm off to Kyoto for a couple of days tomorrow, then to the Kushimoto Fire festival this weekend. Soon, we'll be heading to Koya-san - yes, we've been there twice, but this time there'll be snow. Speaking of snow, we'll head to Nagano for skiing and snow monkeys. And finally, in April, I'll be heading to Korea, via Hiroshima, Miyajima and Fukuoka.

So... stay tuned!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

I realise this is a little late off the mark, but I was at a dinner gathering last night, and each of us took turns going around the table, responding to what our New Year's Resolution was.

I cheated a little, and said something about taking the opportunity travel more around Asia.

But really, that was only part of it. Something's been bugging me lately, and it's the realisation that I've been pouring a lot of my energy into doing things that I feel like I'm *meant* to be doing, in spite of the fact that some of these things are far from my strong point and make me downright anxious. They are things that I promised myself a while ago that I would let go of, and yet I still feel like letting go equates to giving up.

On the flip-side, there are things that I know that I'm really good at, and make me happy, and I know that I would excel if I only devoted my time and energy to them. What's more, it's these things that I want to be doing with my life, and I've already paved enough of my way on that path to make them a reality.

So. Here is my New Year's Resolution. Which is really more of a plan for the next six months of my life.

1. I will read as much as I can, review everything I read, and rebuild my skills as a reviewer.
2. I will write. Songs. Stories. Poems. A show. Whatever it takes to find my voice again.
3. I will dance. A lot.
4. I will travel and see as much as I can within my available means, and share my experiences of the world.
5. I will connect with people in meaningful ways, build friendships, and generate creative partnerships.

I won't distract myself with other ventures - I've had time to faff around and see what else I could be good at. Now's the time to focus and be awesome at the things I know that I can be awesome at.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Goodbye Malaysia

Well, we're in Hong Kong now... so far, it's been the land of high-rise buildings and efficient pedestrian traffic. We'll be hunting for some dim sum tomorrow morning, though...

Meanwhile, here's some highlights of our last few days in Malaysia.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Travelling through Malaysia

So, after we left Singapore, we travelled North through the Malaysian Peninsula by bus. Our first stop, Melaka, for a couple of nights, was followed by KL, where we spent New Year's Eve with a spectacular fireworks shows under the Petronas Towers.

Then, on the 2nd of January, we got onto another bus, bound for the Cameron Highlands. My slight cough manifested itself into a full-blown headachey-fever  monstrosity, which unfortunately coincided with the windy bus trip into the highlands. However, once we were there, the cool weather was a nice relief from the heat and humidity in KL and Singapore.

After a few days in Tanah Rata, we travelled east to the seaside town of Lumut, where we caught a ferry across to the little-known island of Pulau Pangkor, where we've been enjoying the last few days by the beach / pool, and doing a little exploring around the island.

Now, it's time to pack, and get a bus to Penang!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Travelling to Singapore...

So... we've been making the most of the holiday season, and escaped the Japanese winter to travel closer to the equator.

On the afternoon of Friday 23rd of December, we flew out of Kansai Airport, arrived at the LCCT terminal at KL, and caught a bus into town, arriving at about 1am. At 9am, we boarded a train for Singapore.

Singapore was definitely a popular location for Christmas. We were particularly lucky with the weather, although it was still hotter and more humid than I would have liked at times. Along with the highlights in the video, we also took the opportunity to see The Muppets on the big screen. I want to see it again, but last time I checked, there wasn't a release date in Japan...

Next time: we travel to Melaka and KL!