Wednesday 30 June 2010

Learning Japanese...

...I think I’m learning Japanese I really think so.

Language lesson 1. How do you say band-aid in Japanese? Bando-aido.

Apart from that I can say hello, goodbye, thank you, bill please, excuse me and do you speak English. But mostly I just nod and smile.

I did a lot of nodding and smiling on my tour, yesterday, of some of Tokyo’s cultural institutions. First up was the Imperial Palace – well, actually, the Imperial Palace East Gardens which are as close as the average Lady Traveller can get.

But the gardens are lovely, shades and shades of green,



with the occasional flash of blue or white.

It was warm and humid the whole time I was in Tokyo, but the grey sky was actually an excellent foil for the green.

Pretty lights,

Pretty pea-type things hanging from a pergola,


Pretty pishy. (My nephew calls them pishies and now I find it hard not to.)

Pretty magnolia.

From the Palace Gardens I walked to the Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to the Japanese war dead since the mid-19th century.

The trees all around it were festooned with lights, so it looked a little bit like a Bavarian biergarten on approach.

As I watched, a steady stream of people walked up the steps to the shrine, bowed, dropped money in a trough, then clapped their hands. Very solemn and quite moving.

The museum associated with the shrine is dedicated to telling the story of the people the shrine honours. That sounds like a worthwhile endeavour on paper, but visiting the museum was a distinctly uncomfortable experience, though fascinating too.

I don’t think any museum in Europe would be allowed to tell a story in such a way that glorifies war and its victims quite so much, or with so little objectivity. From the first gallery, where the Samurai spirit – and the honourable tradition of dying in battle – are invoked, through the reference to the ‘Chinese Incident’ in the 1930s and the ‘East Asian Conflict’ (World War II) to the gallery about the Kamikaze pilots, the museum luxuriates in the nobility and honour of dying in the service of Japan. It is an interesting insight into a certain mentality and does make you question Euro-centric depictions of these conflicts, but undoubtedly disturbing.

(I was told later that this is a private museum, so it in no way represents the official Japanese line on the history of the conflicts presented.)

Photography was forbidden, except in the entrance hall, where this plane, of the type that the Kamikaze pilots flew, is on display.

From there, I went to the Tokyo National Museum (cramming it all in) and the Japanese Collection. Again, no photos allowed but the best thing was seeing the Hokusais and Hiroshiges in their native habitat, including this one:

I finished the day by eating some of the best fish I’ve ever had in my life: sashimi, oysters big as wagon wheels, lobster tempura (!), but I didn’t bring my camera, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.

This may be the longest post I’ve ever written, so I’m going to stop now and go and soak my poor, blistered feet and apply the band-aids. You see! There was a point to that story.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Advice From Tokyo Rose

The first person to tell me from what song, from which musical, today’s blog title is taken will win a prize from Tokyo. NO GOOGLING! I will know.

Here are the things I’ve noticed about Tokyo (and, by extension, Japan), in the day or so I've been here.

Sinks are lower. So are tables. I can’t cross my legs when sitting down to eat.

Tokyo is very slick, very sleek: lots of tall buildings, mostly white or grey or even silver. Lots of greenery.

Everything very clean – even the subway. They could give lessons to other cities. (Except for the spitting. Walking along the street I passed an older, well-dressed man, who made some dreadful noises before launching a spitball in my general direction. I don’t think it was personal.)

Everything is beautifully presented. Food dishes are laid out at precise angles and the food in them looks like it’s been carefully groomed beforehand. Buying books in a bookshop was an experience: each one was wrapped in a brown cover before being tenderly placed inside a bag.

People are very eager to help. Today, as I explored central Tokyo, everytime I so much as paused to look around – let alone look at my map – someone stopped to see if I needed help. (Mostly I did). There’s also been the occasional person looking for something else, like the guy who followed me for a block, despite my best efforts to convince him I didn’t understand English.

This leads to my next observation: there are non-Japanese tourists, but not many. Looking around my metro carriage this evening, I was the only non-Japanese person in it. It’s a strange feeling, knowing that you’re marked out as a stranger even before you open your mouth.

The experience has strengthen my resolve to be kind(er) to strangers. Until you’re somewhere where you not only don’t speak the language, but can’t even work out the alphabet, you forget how helpless you can feel in a strange place.

It makes you appreciate all the help you can get – even from friendly passers-by like this one.

Monday 28 June 2010

The List


I don’t remember 1 or 2 but I think they were in Dublin.

3 might have been in Yugoslavia, when it was still Yugoslavia.

4 was probably in Dublin, so was 5.

6 was in Andorra: I got a toy sewing machine. It was awesome.

7 was, I think, in the Lake District. I had a yellow gingham dress. It was divine.

8 was in Co. Galway. The sun shone, I remember that.

9 was, let’s see, in Ireland again, but 10 was in France.

11 was in Ireland; 12 was almost in the car (or sleeping on the beach) but ended up in St Tropez.

13 was in Claralaragh adventure centre, Co. Wicklow.

14 was in Germany, on a German exchange.

15 was in Italy.

16 was in Lake Tahoe, California (or was it Nevada?) and dinner in Carlos Murphy’s Mexican-Irish Café.

17 was partly in Norway, partly on a Norwegian boat. I remember a smorgasbord.

18 was in Dublin but 19 was a return to Lake Tahoe. All-you-can-eat gourmet brunch with a pancake station.

20 was in Hampshire.

21 was in Oxford: a garden party with a hats-must-be-worn dress code.

22 was in France with a ‘famous couples from history’ party.

23 was almost in the car (again) reading Mills and Boon, but thanks to a piece of breaking and entering ended up being in a sweet hotel in the Loire Valley.

24 was in Dublin, reading Harry Potter.

25 was in London, with an epic thunderstorm.

26 was somewhere on the Belgian/German border – I think perhaps we got the ferry to Germany for lunch.

27 and 28 were in London, 29 back in Dublin.

30 was London, fancy dress, karaoke, red velvet cupcakes, champagne.

31 is in Tokyo.

In honour of the occasion and the location, I have composed a haiku.

Birthday kisses from
Japan Capital City.
Lots of love, Eithne.

Sunday 27 June 2010

Shanghai Shabby-Bling

Well, here’s an important Hint to any Blogging Travellers out there: you can’t do it from China. Maybe there are ways around used by canny Chinese bloggers, but from Wednesday until today Hints to Lady Travellers had, to all intents and purposes, vanished into the ether. I’m glad to see it was only a temporary disappearance.

But if I couldn’t update the blog, I could take in as much as I could of Shanghai’s sights and sounds.

The defining sound of Shanghai is the car horn. Incessant, persistent, day and night. The air is warm, damp and smoky; the smog is thick over the city.

There are a lot of bicycles. I saw one lady riding her bike, steering with one hand and holding a pink umbrella aloft with the other. Otherwise, ponchos that cover you and your bike seem to be de rigeur during the rainy season.

There are people everywere: 21 million in the city proper, 80 million in the surrounding areas. I don’t know where you would go if you wanted some quiet time.

There are cultural differences aplenty: I ordered a croissant, it was served with a fork. I went into Starbucks and The First Nowell was playing. (I actually visited Starbucks every day while I was there. That’s four times more than I’ve visited Starbucks in the last year but the jet lag hit me hard and it was the easiest place to get my caffeine fix.) My favourite food emporium was the bread shop near where I was staying which stocked sweet and savoury rolls and buns with exotic names: ‘Reconcilitation Between Cross Straits’ (round, doughy, nuts on top) and ‘Pearis Hilton’ (long, squidgy, pears inside) were the best.

There are hints of Shanghai’s brush with Europe visible in the old buildings along the Bund and in the former French concession, and a few hints of its older history,

but mostly it’s a mixture of older concrete towers and newer concrete towers. And bling. Designer shops – Chanel, Dior, Calvin Klein – all over the place.

Chinese taste seems to run to shiny and glittery. It’s quite a contrast with the shabby apartment blocks and down at heel corner shops,

the crazy, crazy traffic and the bizarrely translated signs.

In honour of Shanghai’s unique style, I coined a name for it. You’ve heard of shabby-chic, now there’s shabby-bling. Sequins and down-at-heel slippers. I wouldn’t want to live in Shanghai, but it is an … invigorating experience, I think is the best way of describing it. It grabs you and shakes you and makes your head swim. Interesting times indeed.

I leave you with a picture of Shanghai at night:

(Well, actually the model of Shanghai in the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre.)

Friday 18 June 2010

Hints on Things Best Avoided

A Cautionary Tale from my little sister, LTLS

***

LTLS really had no intention of ghosting in HTLT again so soon, but events (and siblings) have conspired against her. Due to recent sad events, she has the following hint for Official Hints Day:

‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite. No. Really. Don’t. Otherwise you will be very sorry.’

Returning from Morocco, I brought home many presents: painted pottery from Fes, leather babouches from Rabat, a tagine from Marrakech. And bedbugs: yes, friends, despite my flatmate’s conviction that bedbugs are fictional, they pose a very real threat to Lady (and gentlemen) travellers.

LTLS is an archaeologist, a member of a proud, strong-willed and friendly race. Unfortunately it is also a race that is ever teetering on the brink of penury (from which her kind parents occasionally pull her back. See below). So when LTLS and LTLSBF (you can work that one out) travelled around Morocco for a week, seeking to economise, they did not stay in the most salubrious of establishments. This was a mistake. We thought the squat toilets were the worst of our worries, but when we got back to our respective houses earlier this week, after a brief discussion, it was realised that the strange bites on our bodies (they don’t look at all like mosquito bites, but a bit like pink warts. Nice.) which had mysteriously appeared (bedbug bites may not become apparent until nine days after impact) were in fact bedbug bites. Having travelled in India, LTLSBF has experience of these things. To be honest, if you’re staying somewhere that has bed bugs, it’s hard to know how you could avoid contracting them - your best bet is to stay well covered at night, but even then, you could easily carry the buggers back in your clothing (like me). Wikipedia says to look out for the tell tale signs of little squashed brown bodies on the sheets, but if you’re not paying attention, you could easily be unlucky. Then again, if you’re staying somewhere that has strange brown stains on the furnishings for any reason, it might be wise to rethink your holidaying priorities. I certainly have.

Here began the onset of acute paranoia. Extermination firms were called, surveyors dispatched to estimate the extent of the infestation (eeew). Bedbugs, it turns out, are tenacious house guests. It can take up to 6 weeks to remove them fully from the property, and while treatment is being carried out, every wardrobe and drawer in the house must be emptied of clothing and soft things, the contents put into plastic bags. The contents cannot be put back into the wardrobes and drawers until the treatment is complete. Then, everything that can be washed at 55-65 degrees Celsius must be washed. Anything that can’t be washed must be dry-cleaned. Anything that can’t be dry-cleaned must be thrown out. All of my belongings are currently in bin bags in the front garden, and my dreams at the moment take their inspiration from the end of The Velveteen Rabbit, but on a more apocalyptic scale.

The whole process is also extremely expensive (this is where the very nice parental bodies step in), stressful, and unlikely to engender feelings of love in one’s flatmates (especially if they get bitten). Avoid.

***

Hints to Lady Travellers adds: Between LTLS sending me her sad story this morning and me getting home, some good news arrived from the front (courtesy of the man from bedbugs.co.uk). Following his inspection today, it seems that earlier reports (courtesy of the man from the opposition fumigators) were greatly exaggerated and Lui's flat was not, in fact, hosting bedbugs. And the bites? Hard to say. Still, as our mother points out, this has been a valuable lesson for all would-be travellers and counsels us all to bring plastic bags to wrap our belongings in when staying in accommodation that looks anyway less than pristine.

Happy endings are the best.

O'Connell's Crypt

The Official Hint for today will be coming a bit later. In the meantime, here are pictures from my last visit (for the time being) to Glasnevin Cemetery. Máire Áine and I decided to complete our experience by going on the guided tour. You pay €5 and, overall, the tour’s not bad (not amazing, but not bad). However, the money is completely and utterly worth it because as part of the tour you go inside Daniel O’Connell’s crypt. (O'Connell in a nutshell: Irish politician, orator, leader of movement for Catholic Emancipation in 19th century, known as The Liberator.)

O’Connell is supposed to have said that when he died to send ‘my body to Ireland, my heart to Rome, my soul to Heaven’. I’m really not sure about the second and third part but after some negotiation his body was sent to Ireland from Rome for burial in the Cemetery he helped establish. Funds were raised to build the huge round tower that now stands by the entrance to the Cemetery and his body was put in a specially decorated crypt at the base.

It has been refurbished and it looks amazing. More roundels, shamrocks, gold and curlicues than you can shake a stick at.







The coffins of various relatives are in a room to one side:


The bands around the walls list O'Connell's major achievements.


The O'Connell family crest is a reoccurring motif in the decor:



Supposedly it's lucky to touch the coffin, so of course we did. Máire Áine claims it was especially lucky for her since she and Daniel O'Connell share a birthday. When we emerged from the crypt, the sun started to shine so maybe she's on to something.

Thursday 17 June 2010

The Best Street?

A few weeks ago I was (briefly) in London. My friend Jenny organised an amazing treasure hunt around the city to celebrate her birthday – such a good idea and we all got very over-excited by the challenge. It was a great way to remind me how much I love London: it’s like a beautiful, interesting, constantly-changing shop window. Like this one, in fact.

By happy chance, the beginning and end of the hunt were at a pub on Lamb’s Conduit St. This is my nominee for Best Street in London.

It has a vintage pub, a bona fide National Treasure. It has one of the best - and surely one of the most stylish - bookshops in London, Persephone Books.


It has this adorable deli.

It has a fabulous 1950s-style Italian restaurant that does excellent veal parmigiano and where you can order avocado pear as your starter.

I was walking along at dusk on a Sunday evening so everything was closed, but it was still magical.

There are other beloved streets in London, but I really think this might be my favourite.

The Lady Traveller's Itinerary


On Monday I fell under my to-do list. It’s taken me until today to climb back out and wrestle that thing to the ground. I have a backlog of pictures to post and, I’m excited to say, my sister has volunteered a guest post for tomorrow’s Official Hints Day. Her hint is an extremely important one, the value of which she has learned the hard way (it involves fumigation).

It occurred to me that, since I’ll be departing these shores on Tuesday, I should update the blog as to my whereabouts for the next six months.

The first stop is China, though only for four days. I’m sure that’s nowhere near long enough even to get a taste of the place, but I’m hoping it’ll be long enough at least to get a taste of Shanghai, which is where I’ll be. I’m interested in the East-meets-West history and also fascinated to see the Expo which I’ve been assured is cramazing.

From Shanghai I fly to Tokyo, thereby fulfilling a long-held ambition. Not to fly that particular route, you understand, but to go to Japan. I will be in Japan for a week and have been reading Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan in preparation, so expect excerpts to be flung at you.

From Japan I fly back to Shanghai (for three hours) and on to Singapore (for 28 hours). Mostly I plan to sleep in Singapore.

The next leg is Singapore to Sydney to visit some very dear friends and their three adorable children. This will be my third visit to Australia and the third time I’ve visited in the middle of the Australian winter. Yes, I’ve heard summer is delightful there – one day, I hope to experience that for myself!

And from Sydney I’m going to Melbourne where I will be living for four months; teaching and doing whatever other work I can find.

Sometime towards the end of the year, I will head back to Ireland via New Zealand and North America, but that part of the trip is still a bit fuzzy.

And then – well, after that I have no plan, so we’ll just have to see. By the end of it all I will have visited every continent except Antarctica (and if you let me cheat and claim ‘The Americas’ is one continent). ANY suggestions, ideas, itineraries, contacts for any of the places I will be would be most gratefully received.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Such Devoted Sisters


The Guardian book blog had a piece about sisters in literature the other day. I read with interest since I happen to have two fine specimens of the species myself, one older and one younger. As Diana Wynne Jones pointed out in Howl’s Moving Castle, this should mean that the littlest sister (LTLS) will win the day and marry the prince, while GK’s Mama and I will come to NO GOOD.

Little Women is mentioned several times in the article and prompted me to record this confession. Any literary-leaning young woman worth her salt is supposed to identify with Jo I'll-wear-it-in-two-tails-till-I'm-twenty March (see here, for example.) But, to be honest, I always found Jo a bit much, too sentimental and oblivious to the charms of Laurie (fool! fool!) I went through a brief period of wanting to be Beth, beloved by all, uniting the family around my (SPOILER!) death-bed. But once I got over my masochism, I realised that my favourite sister was Amy. Amy was laughed at for incorrectly using long words (I still have the scars), got in trouble a lot (I can relate) – that whole pickled limes incident was TRAUMATIC reading. But she knows what she wants and she gets it – and also becomes better at reconciling her own wants with the needs of people around her.

And yes, she ends up with Laurie and I have to ask myself if I’m betraying my feminist beliefs by sympathising with her because she catches the man. But Jo also gives up her independence for a man (even more sentimental than she is) and goes on to inspire the soppiest piece of drivel known to humankind, Jo’s Boys. In the Winona Ryder film version, Professor Bhaer is played by Gabriel Byrne, but then Laurie is played by Christian Bale, so honours are about even.

I daresay you won’t rest until you decide for yourself Which March Sister Are You, so I googled and found a test you can take (you knew there would be one, right): Which March Sister Are You?

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with travel or hints but I couldn’t set off for the Far East without getting this off my chest. And, come to think of it, Amy did go travelling, so this is totally pertinent to the main theme of my blog.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Road Closed



We are CLOSED today owing to dentist appointment. Pray for us.

PS isn't this photo hilarious? I wish I had taken it but I found it on the interweb. And even though I'm trembling with trepidation, it made me laugh.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Imaginosity

Did The Adorable Nephew like Imaginosity, the children's museum in Dublin? Since he shrieked and kicked when I took him away from the museum, I’d have to say that the evidence points to yes.
We spent two hours in the museum, during which time Gregory pressed every button, took apart everything he could,


peered into every nook and cranny.


He liked the Yellow Submarine,



the supermarket (the tongue stuck out in concentration is a family trait, I do it myself, as does Gregory’s Mama and his Mamó),
and the diner.

He kept a watchful eye on the pishies,


and took excellent care of this baby:



He’s going to make someone a wonderful big brother one day.