March 28, 2005

Mar 28 2005 - Tokyo, Japan - "Crouching Tourist, Hidden Dim Sum,... and the Land of the Rising Costs of Sushi"

Okay, time for Act Three - Tragedy strikes our traveller...

Note: This is a long one, sorry.

After Australia, I took a quick 9-hour flight over to Hong Kong for a few days of good ol' Chinese fun. I arrived in Hong Kong tired and not at all sure of what to expect. I was amazed at how easy and inexpensive it was to get from the airport to my hotel, surprised to see Bank of America branches all over the city, and, later, dismayed at how difficult it was to find a place to eat in my neighborhood.

I stayed in Kowloon at a place called The Park Hotel, supposedly 3-stars, but I won't be recommending it to anybody. After I got settled and requested a room change (the one I was in had mildew growing on the shower curtain and the walls, the bath wouldn't drain, and the windows were completely blocked by scaffolding so you couldn't really tell a big difference between day and night), I headed out for some dinner to a vegetarian Chinese restaurant recommended in my Lonely Planet guide and only a 5-minute walk from my hotel! It turned out to have been closed down. Then I walked around to try and find another place to eat that might have something like just plain noodles or a sandwich, but either the menu was confusingly written in English and therefore dubious or there was meat in everything so I finally ended up going back to the hotel for a recommendation. They suggested another veg. Chinese resto in the area that also turned out to be closed. I ended up eating at an Indian resto recommended in the Lonely Planet. So much for authentic Chinese. As for my impressions of the city that first night - it was a lot smaller than I'd expected. You always here of Hong Kong as this huge metropolis, and it is a big city, but everything is sort of built on top of each other so that getting from one place to another on foot actually doesn't take very long. The only time during my whole trip that I took a train was to and from the airport. Otherwise I was able to walk everywhere or took a boat.

Also, there was neon everywhere! I never noticed if there were street lamps or not because every storefront or restaurant or sign was lit up like it was their sole responsibility to light up all of Hong Kong. This definitely gave it more of that Hong Kong feel I was looking for.

The next day I was able to find another of the vegetarian Chinese restaurants listed in my guidebook and I was really excited to finally get to try some Chinese food in China. As it turns out, there are quite a few vegetarian Chinese restaurants around HK because, according to the Lonely Planet, even meat-eating Chinese people like to go veg. every once in a while because they think it's good for their health and because a lot of them are Buddhist and they want to get in good with the Big Guy.

Here is where tragedy struck: I go to sit down at the table and I needed to scoot my chair closer to the table. I grab the chair seat and pull it forward and start to sit down. Unfortunately the chair was slightly broken and the chair seat was not fully connected to the front chair legs and my finger slipped between the chair leg and the seat as I sat down and was crushed between the two parts. At first I just thought, "Ow, that really %$^#*@ hurts!" But then my finger continued to swell and turn red throughout lunch. After lunch, as I was blowing my nose, I heard and felt my finger go "POP!" Even more "ow!" Now I was pretty sure that I had broken my finger - of course, in typical Miki-style. I can never break a bone when I'm doing something cool like snowboarding or hiking a mountain. No, I only break bones when I'm doing something really non-strenuous like walking down an escalator or blowing my nose. Great. So I went back to the hotel hoping that my new room was ready and that they had a hotel doctor who could look at my finger. When I got back to the hotel, not only was my new room not ready, but when I told the guy that I thought my finger was broken and could he please have some ice sent to my room, I got absolutely no reaction. A few minutes later, as I was about to return to my gross room to wait for my new (slightly less gross) room, I mentioned that I thought my finger was broken again. I thought that maybe the guy had not understood me, so I as I told him again that I thought my finger was broken I made the international sign for "I think my finger is broken", that is, I mimed breaking my own finger. The hotel guy looks right at me and says, "Yeah, I know, " and goes back to typing whatever he's typing. So I go back to wait (for 3 hours) in my old room for my new room and then iced my finger for the rest of the night. I ended up going to sleep around 6pm just because there was nothing else to do. Project for the next day: go the American consulate to look for sympathy and a doctor.

The next morning I was all pumped to get to the American consulate, where I imagined some nice middle-aged American woman would look at me with kind eyes and put her arm around my shoulders and say, "You poor thing, don't worry, we'll get you an appointment with the Consulate doctor right away." So I walked down to the ferry docks and hopped on one of the famous Star Ferries to go from the part of HK I was staying in to go over to HK Island, where all the governement and business offices are. The boat ride was pretty cool and you could see all the buildings on the other side of the harbor. The ferry ride, upper deck, only cost about 25 cents. The best bargain in HK. So long story short, there was no nice American lady to greet me at the consulate with an immediate appointment with the consulate doctor, but, at least, the security guard at the entrance was very nice. I eventually asked another American in the waiting room if she lived in HK and if she knew of any English-speaking doctors. She was super nice and got me an appointment with her doctor for that afternoon, so I thanked her profusely and headed over to the doctor's office. The doctor didn't think it was really necessary to do an x-ray as the treatment would be the same with or without an x-ray and confirmed that I had probably fractured my finger. I was told to just tape the broken finger to the finger next to it as a kind of splint and that it would take about 4-5 weeks to completely heal.

I spent the rest of the day sightseeing in Hong Kong Island. I went to the top of Victoria Peak. Then, I rode the world's longest escalator, which was actually pretty cool. They put this escalator in to cut down on all the traffic that was occuring with all the people who live high on the mountain that is HK Island. So the escalator runs vertically along the mountain and goes in the down direction from about 7-10 in the morning and then runs up the rest of the day. So I took the escalator all the way up and walked back down, passing some open markets and Starbucks. HK was a lot like any other big city, but it was also very different. There are definitely times when you can see how this city is straddling the first and third world. On the one hand, the Central district is full of huge skyscrapers, the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton hotels, a huge freeway overpass system for pedestrians, Louis Vuitton and Valentino shops, etc., but then you walk maybe 10 minutes east of this area and there are the huge old apartment blocks and shops piled on top of shops piled on top of shops and the number of other foreigners in the area becomes noticeably smaller.

The next day was my last full day and I had been debating whether to take the 1-hour ferry over to Macau, the former Portuguese colony handed back over to China in 1999, or to explore the islands surrounding HK. In the interest of time and money, I decided to visit some of the other islands that make up Hong Kong. First I visited Lantau to see the 26-foot outdoor bronze Buddha at the Po Lin monastery. The first thing I noticed was how small the seats in the bus were. I'm definitely of average height by American standards, but the rows were so close together that even my knees were touching the seat in front of me. It was really funny to see these two really tall German guys trying to squeeze into the seats. They were sitting in a row with three seats, so they both had to turn sideways with their knees touching in front of the middle seat so that they could sit "comfortably" on the bus. The Buddha itself was interesting, but to be honest, in my opinion, once you've seen one giant, outdoor, seated, bronze Buddha, you've seen 'em all and this one was only slightly less interesting than the other one that I've seen in that this one was built in the 1960s, so it makes the effort just slightly less impressive due to its newness. It was cool to be able to eat at the Buddhist (read: vegetarian) monastery restaurant. I had noodles with 3 different kinds of tofu. The one that turned out to be my favorite was also the one that looked the most unappetizing, I swear, the sauce looked like it was made from blood and soy sauce. But it was tasty and chewy! The most interesting part of the visit for me was seeing what the comparatively uninhabited island looked like. It's hard to imagine anything natural in Hong Kong because there are so many buildings and so many people just everywhere, so visiting these islands was a way to imagine what Hong Kong must have looked like before the 20th century hit. On Lantau and Cheung Chau, there are people who live there, but the towns are small and there is lots of greenery and natural landscape to see. The other island I visited was Cheung Chau. Although the main town that you arrive in by ferry seemed to have a lot more people and was more bustling than the town where the ferry lands in Lantau, there were way fewer foreigners here than in Lantau. I definitely got more stares here. But it was also a more residential place and had a stronger neighborhood feel - like everyone walking around knew each other, which they probably did. I did half the walking tour outlined in the guidebook and took some interesting pictures. Unfortunately a lot of them were out of focus, I don't know why. Probably one of the most interesting sights on the "tour" was the fishmonger's stall in the market in Cheung Chau. It looked like what most Western aquariums would look like. There were several kinds of shellfish that I had never seen before. And, did you know that clams can swim?? I didn't until I saw it happen at this fish stall! And they're really fast too! I literally stood there open-mouthed, shocked at how much different stuff there was at this fish stall... I think the fishmonger thought that I was a little slow.

That night I arrived back in Hong Kong with just enough time to do a little of the famous HK shopping. I headed to the Night Market, so called because it's only open at, you got it, nighttime. There my coolest purchases were a bargained down to $3 camera case for me and a Beijing Olympics t-shirt 3 years early for my dad. I considered buying a fake desiger purse, but then I thought that I'd better not just in case I got stopped at customs... more on that in a minute. That was pretty much it for my HK trip. I spent the rest of my time there packing up that night and getting to the airport three hours early the next day, I didn't want to take any chances in leaving HK and getting to my home away from home, Tokyo.

Okay, so here's the customs story: I get to Tokyo with my brand new Japanese passport with not a stamp in it, that I got in France last year from the Japanese consulate. So, here I am, my Mexican-looking self, extra tan from my month in Australia, hair extra frizzy from the five hour flight from HK, and I walk right up to the "Japanese Citizens" line at passport control. I got some confused looks from the passport ladies when I said, "English please." Then, when I got to customs, a very nice young Japanese woman, whose broken English was definitely better than my broken Japanese, proceeded to ask me very nicely if I minded her looking in my bags. She went through everything, even my dirty laundry, to see if I had anything bad, and asked me specifically if I had any counterfeit items - luckily, I did not. So that's a lesson to you all, if you're ever flying from HK to Tokyo and you look Mexican but are really Japanese-American but you got your passport in France where you don't live and it has no stamp showing that you were ever in Japan and you actually live in the United States, don't buy counterfeit designer purses, because you might get stopped. And frisked. I think her actual words were, "May I touch your body?" Hahahaha. I love my people.

But, seriously, folks, Tokyo was great. I got to see my aunt's new condo, where you can see Mt. Fuji from the balcony on a clear day. I also got to practice my Japanese with my completely non-English-speaking grandmother. That was an adventure that I think scared her more than anything. Haha. I couldn't stop laughing at how bad my Japanese was, especially after I had had a few minutes to think about something I had just said to her and realized that it completely wasn't what I had meant to say and made absolutely no sense. She probably thinks that her poor American granddaughter has special learning needs. In the end I was only able to spend 3 full days in Japan because I had to come home early for a family emergency which is now all sorted out and taken care of. But I had fun while I was in Tokyo and it definitely confirmed that I want to live in Tokyo again someday. Next time I'm there, hopefully it'll be for a while and you can all come visit.

So now I'm back in California, searching for a job that won't suck my will to live, and living off the memories of my month and a half adventure. Hope you're well and planning your own adventure. Can't wait to hear the stories!

Anyway, as the cartoon says, that's all folks!!

-Miki :)

March 2, 2005

Mar 2 2005 - Tasmania/Melbourne, Australia - "A devil of a time"

I survived Tasmania.

This is a deceptive statement because Tasmania is actually not that hard to survive. It's not the wild, untamed land swarming with scary devil creatures that usually comes to mind when one hears the name "Tasmania." In fact, the landscape looked a lot like rural California, including the boring small towns that make you think that suburbia maybe isn't too bad. But, ultimately, it was still a lot of fun and different enough - I mean, regardless, everyone has an accent there, right? - and I'm very glad I visited.


First, let me add on to the last email that I sent in which I forgot to mention one of the coolest things I did the first 2 weeks in Melbourne and completely forgot to put in the email... I saw koalas! Even better, I got to see the CUTEST, little baby koala, he was only 10 months old. So tiny and cute and I was really tempted to take him home. This, however, would have been a very difficult thing to do, because you're not allowed to touch the koalas and they have super long sharp claws that he probably would have used against me had I tried to hide him in my backpack. Anyway, I took a day tour from Melbourne to a place called Philip Island to see the nighttime Penguin Parade (more on this in a minute). We first stopped at a cattle farm to have "Devonshire tea" (it was gross and I'm sure totally different from what a real Devonshire tea would be like, though I've never had Devonshire tea so I don't really know... I just think it wouldn't be this inedible) and to pet the kangaroos. I didn't touch the 'roos at this place because they looked dirty and not well-cared for and it was just sad... definitely not the highlight of the day. Then we visited the Koala Conservation Centre, which was, of course, the best part because I hadn't up to that point seen any koalas. They really are as cute and adorable and stoned-looking as one would expect. The koalas at the Centre live in their natural habitat where there are these high-up boardwalks about 15 feet above ground to see the koalas closer up, where they are perched up high in the trees. It was a really hot day, so most of the koalas were sleeping and not moving and hating the heat - much like I wished I could be doing. There I saw the baby koala, he was eating some eucalyptus leaves with his mom. Very cool. Very cute. Last we visited the part of Philip Island that is marked off for the penguins. These are Fairy Penguins, the smallest penguins in the world. Every day they go out to fish in the ocean all together at sunrise and then they all come back in together at sunset every night. So we were there to see them all coming back in at night. The idea with them all going together is that there is safety in numbers. They have natural predators that they are all on the lookout for as they run up the beach in groups of 5 or 6. The problem for us was that not that many of them came back in since the breeding season is pretty much over and most of the chicks were out in the water too so the moms and dads didn't all need to come back in to feed the babies. So, it was a disappointing parade, but the penguins were very cute. It was actually a lot more interesting to see the penguins walking back to their burroughs (holes that they dig in the ground). There was one penguin who was so full of fish that his belly was practically touching the ground and he kept sort of falling forward because it was so hard for him to waddle home with his stomach so full. So that was Philip Island.

TASMANIA (a.k.a. Van Dieman's Land)
I traveled Tasmania as part of a tour group. The tour company specializes in backpacker's tours so we did most of our own cooking and cleaning up. We stayed in their hostel accomodations, thankfully they divided us up boys and girls. Nothing against boys, but everytime I've stayed in a mixed dorm during my other travels, I never got any sleep because there are inevitably two guys that get into a snoring competition in their sleep. Anyway, it was really fun and felt a lot more like we were roughing it because we had to do so much of the stuff ourselves and it keeps the cost of the tour down. There were 21 people on the tour, so it was pretty small and we were all in our 20s or early 30s, except for this older Japanese couple who were probably in their 60s and whom I felt bad for because they ended up not doing a lot of the stuff that we did. There were 8 Japanese, 1 Australian, 1 English, 1 American (me!), 1 Czech, 3 Germans, 1 French, 4 Danes, and a Finnish guy. We were a pretty international group. And, yes, I did practice my French with the French girl. I was actually surprised at how easily it came back to me. Luckily her English wasn't great, so I did get to speak French quite a bit. Plus there was our Tasmanian tour guide who was dressed a little bit like the Crocodile Hunter, except he had on a big hat with feathers in it.

So, I arrived in Tasmania the night before the tour started, in the northern part of the island, in a town called Launceston. This is the second biggest city in Tasmania... and it felt like a ghost town. Apparently there are about 100,000 people here, but I can assure you that most of them have severe agoraphobia and don't leave their homes because there was hardly anyone on the streets, in the restaurants, in the shops, in the parks, anywhere... and this was a Friday afternoon/night! The tour I joined started Saturday morning. We started first at a place called Cataract Gorge. This is a deep gorge with a river running through it and nice views. We had to cross the gorge on a suspenson bridge that wobbles and moves like the rope bridges at Disneyland. Slightly scary, but not too bad. Then we drove to a small city called Ross that has a famous, convict-built bridge and a famous bakery that was used as a model in some Japanese anime films. By the way, when I say small, I mean like 5 houses, a church, 2 bakeries, a convenience store, and a bridge. This place was small. A couple of the Japanese girls on the trip were impressed by the bakery because of the movies it was used in, but since I have not seen the movies, it just looked like a bakery to me. Then we drove some more over miles of bumpy road and past LOTS of sheep to get to a long waterfall, where we made lunch at a campground-type place, complete with a flushless toilet that is only periodically cleaned out by rainwater but which smells surprisingly not horrible. After lunch, during which I impressed my fellow travellers with my burrito-folding expertise, we headed to a wildlife refuge where we got to see Tasmanian Devils. They don't really look like the Warner Bros. cartoon version, but they do sound like that, though maybe even a bit more vicious. We got there around feeding time, so we were lucky enough to be around to see and hear the Tassie Devil eat. The jaws of the Tassie Devil are the second strongest in the world after the Great White Shark, according to our tour guide. The proof was in the pudding, so to speak, as you could practically feel the power of its jaw as the devil crunched through the meat and bones of whatever raw, dead thing it was eating. The reason the Tasmanian Devil is called the Tasmanian Devil is for its horrible growl or whatever that sound might be called. And it only communicates in one volume: loud. When European explorers first came to Tasmania, they heard the growls and thought it sounded like how the Devil would sound, so they called them devils. They bite whatever comes near them or bothers them, so they're fairly dangerous to be around. We really wanted to hear what the devil sounded like, so one of the sanctuary keepers jumped into one of the Tassie Devil's pens and started playing with it! We were all shocked because normally Tassie Devils will bite whatever they can, but this one had been at the sanctuary for 3 years, since it was a baby, so it knew the keeper and was play-biting and making its horrible sound. Believe it or not, it was actually really cute when it was playing with the keeper, though I must admit, I didn't have quite the same urge to take it home with me that I did with the baby koala. In the rest of the sanctuary, there were koalas, wombats, kangaroos, snakes, and kookaburras. Some of the female kangaroos had joeys in their pouches, but none of them came out. We spent the rest of Saturday on the beach.

Sunday was the big hiking day at Wineglass Bay. About a third of the people in the group were really experienced hikers who climbed to the top of Mt. Amos. Most of us just hiked halfway up to the lookout and then down to the beach. It took me about 35 mins to hike up to the lookout and then about 45 to hike down to the beach where we ate lunch. The hike back took a little bit longer. Needless to say, I was pretty tired, hot, and sweaty afterwards, but I was glad that I did it. It was my first official hike where I had to bring along water and food and walked for a couple of hours total, so that was fun. After Wineglass Bay, we stopped at a place called Kate's Berry Farm and had the most amazing homemade ice cream. The ice cream was great and refreshing after the hike, and the farm was interesting because I guess it's on some list of "100 things to do before you die" for Dutch people. I'm not sure why. But, if I were Dutch, I'd be able to cross at least one thing off the list. Then we drove some more (A LOT of driving over bumpy roads on this trip) to a rainforest walk, where we got to see tree ferns that were several hundred years old and smell sasparilla leaves - the plant used to originally make root beer. I don't remember too many of the facts our guide told us about the rainforest as I was still recovering from the Wineglass Bay lookout hike - as in feeling really sleepy - and was starting to come down with a cold. Then we drove some more. We eventually arrived at our hostel accomodations for the night in Port Arthur. The hostel was clean, comfortable, big, and beautifully situated next to... a graveyard. This was made even more exciting by the fact that 10 of us were going to be leaving soon to go on a night ghost tour of Port Arthur, a horrible convict prison settlement established in the mid-1800s and closed down in the late 1870s. This place would have definitely invited scrutiny by human rights organizations if it were still in operation today and is said to be the most haunted place in Australia.

The ghost tour was great! I didn't necessarily see any ghosts, but we think that two of the girls from our group got photos of ghost-like things. They're going to send their photos to Port Arthur and we'll see what happens. I don't know if I believe in ghosts or not, but it's still fun to think what might be out there. Nothing creepy happened on our tour, but we got lots of good stories of weird things happening on other tours and we got to visit some of the buildings at night, with no light but what was provided by 3 kerosene lanterns. It turned out that our tour guide is a descendant of a murderer that was already a convict at Port Arthur when he killed another man with pick-axe! The next day we went back to Port Arthur to visit the rest of the buildings and at each place I asked the attendant if they'd had any "experiences" of their own. Each of them said they had and told me their stories. They all were really sincere and seemed to truly believe what they were telling me. In the Comandant's house, I asked the attendant about her experiences. She told me that once, when she was giving a night ghost tour, there was a very skeptical German man who demanded to see a ghost. Right after he demanded to see a ghost, the tour guide felt someone grab her shirt sleeve and basically throw her out of the building, but there was no one there! When she finished her story, I jokingly said, "I want to see a ghost. I demand to see a ghost!" Then I looked around me to see if anything would happen. Nothing did, of course, but then the attendant said, "Okay," turned off the alarm, took my friend and I to a back bedroom and let down the guard rope that keeps people from touching all the furniture and told us to go in. This was the room of one of the nannies. The attendant told us that if the ghost wants us to know that she's there, we would be able to feel unexplained cold or warm spots. So we waved our hands around in the room and somehow both managed to find the same warm spot near the end of the bed. It felt like if you put your hand over someone else's arm and you could feel their body heat. We both agreed that we're not sure that meant that we really experienced a ghost, it could have just been that we wanted to feel heat, so we psychologically made ourselves feel it. Who knows...

Finally, the tour was coming to a close. Of course, after Port Arthur, we drove some more. We stopped for a short time at Remarkable Cave, which wasn't what I would have called remarkable, but which was still interesting for it's split interior. Then we drove some more and eventually ended up at our final destination, Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. Before we were dropped off at our various hostels, we drove to the top of Mt. Wellington and got great views of the bay, islands, and peninsula. We also got to fill our bottles from a little waterfall of fresh rain water that is so pure they don't even need to filter it before they bottle it up. I was both surprised and not surprised to find that Hobart was only slightly more active than Launceston had been. Here there were at least some people out at night on the streets, but not nearly as many as you'd expect of the largest and capital city of Tasmania. Overall, I'd have to say that Tasmania is a remarkable, beautiful, vast, sheep-filled, roadkill-covered, gently wild place to visit... but I wouldn't want to live there. However, if I could be guaranteed a ghost-sighting, I'd definitely go back.

More to come next week when I head to Hong Kong and possibly my first venture into mainland Asia...

February 24, 2005

Feb 24 2005 - Melbourne, Australia - "Melbourne, part 1.5"

Okay, so it's only been a few days since my last, extraordinarily long email, but I actually wrote that one over the course of several days and I promise I won't do the same this time. All in one go or not at all.

So, picking up where we left off, I'd just arrived in Melbourne, right? Well, I've completely lost my sense of time here because every time a friendly Aussie (pronouced "ozzie," for those who didn't already know) asks me how long I've been in Australia, I have to sit there silently doing the math in my head, which for me, most of you know, can take a while. Anyway... hang on, gotta figure out the math... yeah, I've been here in Melbourne now for exactly two weeks, fourteen days, a fortnight, quinze jours, however you want to call it in whatever language or country you're in. My first few days here went by really fast and were spent basically being adopted by the NICEST "Brady Bunch in real life" family. I came to Melbourne with my dad to attend his friend's wedding. The friend's name is Richard, his bride's name is Geraldine, their family is called the Negris, and they're all SUPER-frickin' nice. There's absolutely no other way to put it, their niceness automatically comes with an expletive.

Anyway, Richard went out of his way to welcome my dad and me, and his whole family was falling over themselves to do whatever they could to make our stay great. The day after the wedding (which was great, by the way - the chaplain was Richard's old school chaplain who he'd had to track down and ask to perform the ceremony, which was held in the chapel of Richard's old school, Melbourne Grammar, which is like the Eton of Melbourne, so I've been told. Also, I've decided that I want the same kind of reception they had, which was great! Very laid-back, but I won't tell you what it was like so that whenever it happens, it can be a surprise for you all...

Okay, back to the story. After the wedding weekend, my dad left Melbourne for Tokyo and I moved my stuff over to my (American) friend Andrea's apartment. Mind you, I had only met Richard the day before the wedding and Geraldine AFTER the wedding, so it wasn't like we were best friends before I got to Melbourne. But, the Negris invited Andrea and I over to their house for a Sunday dinner/post-wedding BBQ and that's when we really discovered that the Negris are super-FRICKIN' nice. One brother offered to help Andrea go car-shopping, his wife told Andrea that she now has family in Melbourne since hers is so far away, one sister couldn't stop telling me how glad they were that my dad and
I had come to the wedding, etc. Anyway, Andrea and I were shocked at how nice they all were and how well they got along, and even the little cousins (ages 4, 5, 6) never fought once the entire weekend. No, I don't know what planet they come from or how we can visit it.

During these last couple of weeks, I've enjoyed the lovely sights that Melbourne has to offer. If sydney is L.A., then Melbourne is San Francisco. There's a great outdoor café culture here, lots of stylishly dressed people, lots of good restaurants ("restos" from here on in, I'm too lazy to type out the whole word), and it's a very walkable city.

In the interest of expediency, here's a summary of what I've done so far:
  • Visited the Old Melbourne Gaol (jail), Melbourne's most haunted building - at night -- this was somewhat spooky considering there were all these empty, unlit solitary confinement cells on the ground floor and at one point I had to squeeze in next to another lady so that I could have my back against the wall and not before one of the open cell doors, a tempting target for a ghost!
  • Eaten my way through Little Italy (where Andrea'a apartment is) -- there is an amazing Italian coffee/pastry café called Brunetti near Andrea's apt., which is both a good thing and a bad thing for obvious reasons; and an amazing vegetarian resto literally across the street from aforementioned amazing coffee/pastry café, again, both good and bad for obvious reasons.
  • Gotten several blisters - blood and all - on my feet from walking around the city (I've officially regained my gross traveller's feet, in case you were wondering, which, although, not very attractive, makes me feel like Í'm a rough-and-tumbling traveller! Also, compared to some of the seriously scary hooves I've seen on other backpackers, my feet practically look freshly pedicured!).
  • Saw 'Ocean's Twelve' at the Royal Botanic Gardens -- this was so cool because it was like a drive-in without the drive. You go to one of the lawns in the gardens where a HUGE screen has been set up. You can picnic before the movie starts, put down blankets and rent bean-bag chairs for the movie, and then watch the movie outdoors. Plus, there were companies there trying to promote their stuff, so we got free popcorn and Bailey's Irish Cream drinks. There were bats flying around the screen, but I didn't realize that at first. I thought they were just birds, but then Andrea was kind enough to point out that they were, in fact, bats. Amazingly, i was not too creeped out. They weren't low-flying rats, but rather high-flying rattish things, so it was okay. Actually, pigeons are much worse and much more detestable. P.S. I liked the movie and Brad Pitt is still beautiful.
  • Driven part of the Melbourne Grand Prix track -- not in a Formula One car, but it was still cool to go through the Start/Finish line, even though I was just a passenger.
  • Had afternoon tea at The Windsor Hotel -- the food has been amazing all over Australia, but I have to say this was one of the few disappointments. It was good, but the scones here are more like American biscuits and the cream wasn't really clotted cream, but more like whipped cream. I have to admit, I missed the packaged scones from Franprix, my Paris grocery store.
That's all I can think of right now because, as I said earlier, I've lost all track of time. Mostly I've been hanging out with Andrea, whose 2nd bedroom I have taken over with my mess which she has been kind enough to overlook. Anyway, tomorrow I'm leaving for a 3-day tour of eastern Tasmania. I'll let you know how that goes when I get back. After that, Hong Kong (6-10 March... anyone gonna be around?), then Tokyo (10-25 March, most likely... again, anyone gonna be around?). Hope you're all well and enjoying life wherever you are.

Noguchi out. ;) (p.s. this is a lame "American Idol" reference for those who don't get it.)

February 20, 2005

Feb 20 2005 - Melbourne, Australia - "Miki in Melbourne"

Hello again-

I've been in Melbourne for a while now after having spent most of my second week in Australia on the road with my dad driving down the southeastern coast from Sydney to Melbourne, going part of the way on the Princes Highway, a sort of Pacific Coast Highway - type road. We made several stops along the coast, starting with Jervis Bay. It's known for it's white sand beaches and clear blue water. This combination was a little a bit deceiving because the ocean looked like the Caribbean but felt like Alaska! The water was FREEZING cold! It took me a couple of days to get used to the water. Needless to say, I've got my summer tan going early with all the sitting around on the beach rather than swimming in the water.

My dad and I went on a dolphin watching tour and saw quite a few dolphins in the bay, went kayaking, and slept and read on the beach. It was very nice. I also learned how to drive on the other side of the road. Huskisson is a town so small that it doesn't even have a traffic light, so this was the perfect place for me to grow accustomed to having everything in the car switched around. We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast where they served us the BEST tomatoes in the entire world. I actually don't really like tomatoes, but these were amazing. I know, weird.

After Jervis Bay, we continued down the coast to our next stop, Pebbly Beach. There weren't really very many pebbles, but there were several wild kangaroos grazing on the grassy area by the beach! They seemed pretty used to having people around them, so they let us come pretty close. I didn't try to pet any of them though because they have the ability to punch you really hard and then claw you up pretty well with their paws. I took lots of pics, but with my regular film camera, so sorry, no photos right now. Then we walked out to the giant white sand beach where there were maybe 10 other people. Crazy! The whole trip was like this with these miles long white sand beaches and only a few other people on the beach besides us.

The next beach was at a place called Mimosa Rocks. Almost all the beaches were parts of national parks, so we were basically national park/beach-hopping down the coast. Anyway, at Mimosa Rocks, there really were rocks, so we could only visit one beach really. We set up on the sand to eat lunch and wait for the sky to get sunnier. While we were waiting, I read and my dad slept. About an hour later, I looked up and the 4 or 5 other groups of people who had also been on this big beach were all gone! We were the only ones left and the sky looked like a bad storm was coming. So we explored around the tidal pools a little, saw a lot of crabs and small fish, then took off for the little town that was our stop for the night, Merimbula. Here I met a very nice Rottweiler named Bella - she made me think that maybe these kinds of dogs aren't so bad. That night there was, in fact, a pretty strong storm and Bella was barking all through the storm - apparently, she's afraid of thunder! We also had a bit of nature inside. A huge tarantula was on the window INSIDE our room. The host of the bed and breakfast said that it was harmless though and just shooed it out with a broom. The next day there was another one on our car!

Okay, next and last stop before Melbourne was yet another national park called Cape Conran. This place was so remote that most Australians have never even heard of it. We stayed in a cabin run by the national park service. I wasn't really sure what we would find, would the cabin be a filthy box with 4 walls, a roof, and plenty of bugs and gross things? I had no idea. Well, turned out that the cabin was super nice and clean and had a full kitchen, flushing toilet, hot water, and showers. So, rough it we did not, but live a little outdoorsy (e.g. didn't shower because we decided to wait for the nice Hyatt hotel showers that awaited us in Melbourne), we did. To keep with the theme, we ate canned beans and chips - and diet coke. While we were getting ready for dinner, guess what we saw... a kookabura bird! It was really cute and looked like it was used to people feeding it as it kept opening up it's beak wide, but I didn't give it anything to eat... we were eating beans, for god's sake! Also, earlier in the day, on our way back from a hike, we spotted 2 adult wallabies standing in some tall grass right as the sun was setting. It looked like a postcard with the light behind them, but as we pulled the car closer to take pics, they took off. Seems they're not as people friendly as the kangaroos at Pebbly Beach.

Okay, so I've been in Melbourne for about a week and a half now, but I think this email is long enough, so I'll stop here. Sorry no pics, will try to send some along later. Take care and sorry if this email was too long!

miki :)

February 3, 2005

Feb 3 2005 - Sydney, Australia - "Miki on the road again"

Hi all-

I finally decided whether I would go on this " 'round Australasia" jaunt and now here I am in Sydney. I arrived here yesterday after having spent a 2-day layover in Honolulu. My sister took me to the beach near where she used to work at a luau and where the show "North Shore" is shot. The beach was really pretty and empty and the water was calm - the beach is not on North Shore.

Now I'm living it up in Sydney with my dad and staying on the 28th floor of a really nice hotel with a view of the Sydney opera house.


I arrived in Sydney Wednesday night and was so tired I just went straight to sleep when I got to the hotel. Yesterday I was able to tag along with my dad's business group for a harbor tour and a private tour of the opera house. They were both really interesting. Unfortunately I won't be able to see any performances at the opera house, but at least I got to see the inside. Last night I had big plans to go find a good restaurant and wander around a cool area of Sydney, but my "quick" nap before dinner ended up lasting 2 hours, so I just went back to sleep for the rest of the night when I realized it was almost 10 o'clock when I woke up from my "nap". Today I'm going to explore an older part of Sydney called the Rocks and then maybe another neighborhood. I'm passing up on Bondi Beach since I can't go to the beach by myself and swim - no one to watch my stuff while I'm in the water. However, I did get a nice view of the nude beach during yesterday's harbour tour.

I'll send updates from the road if I can. My dad and I are leaving Sydney Saturday morning for a road trip down the east coast to Melbourne on a road similar to Pacific Coast Highway. My plans are not quite determined after arriving in Melbourne, although at some point I'll be stopping in Hong Kong and Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka).

Hope you're all well and if anyone is in the area, let me know!

- Miki