Uluru Adventures

24 04 2011

Term 1 School holidays: Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park, Kings Canyon, West MacDonnell ranges, Alice Springs. Almost 5000km covered in a week.

Final day in Kyoto

17 08 2009

We had two more ‘essential’ sites to visit on our last day in Kyoto. It was still hot and humid so we took it easy. We made pancakes for breakfast, slowly left the apartment, caught the train to the eki, bought a day bus pass and waited for a bus to Ginkaku-ji. However, lots of other tourists seem to have had the same idea and the sightseeing bus was crowded. We waited 20 minutes for the bus, then it took 30 minutes to go a few stops and it was totally packed with standing room only. So we changed plans, decided to head for an early lunch first and then go back to Ginkaku-ji. We caught a local (non-sightseeing) bus to our lunch destination and it was almost empty (hint number 1:use local transport, not tourist transport). We ate a lunch set at Sunny Place which was cheap and delicious.  Soy chai, brown rice, fried gluten chicken and millet burger,  various salads… lots to eat.

After lunch we caught a bus (not full) a few stops to Ginkaku-ji. We walked up the hill, following the path of the ‘Philosophers walk’ for a while until we reached the temple grounds. The main building was going to be covered in silver but never was so maybe the name ‘silver pavillion’ now refers to the silver sands in front of the temple. The gardens were lovely and mossy. We wandered out and past the shops with sweets, souvenirs and yukatas (cotton kimonos for summer). We refreshed ourselves with a traditional Kyoto cider. Lara bought a dark yukata with pink flowers and a yellow and grey obi (belt).

It was getting late in the day so we caught a bus to Nijo-jo (Nijo castle), stopping off on the way to see if Vegie Sweets was open (it wasn’t). Atsu met us and we wandered around the palace on the nightingale floors (floors that squeek to alert the residents of intruders) past all the wall paintings. We wandered the gardens, past honmaru which is flat and quite different to other castles built as tall defences on mountain tops.

Then we bussed to Gion to try to find a sweets shop. We wandered past the giesha district which seemed very touristy with every second person holding up a digital SLR and hoping for a photo of a geisha. We left quickly and headed for Nishiki markets. We found a suitable sweets shop before we even made it to the markets and ate lots of samples and drank green tea before buying a stack of traditional japanese sweets (wagashi). Most of the Nishiki markets were closing by the time we wandered past. There was one shop that advertised tofu doughnuts. We got excited but then found out that they use egg. We bought some tofu and vegetable slices for dinner and went on our way, catching the bus number 11 back to Uzumasa.

We ate forest rice and the tofu slices for dinner, then enjoyed leftover chocolate pudding and hot soy chai for dessert while watching funny tv on the computer.

Returning to the old capital

15 08 2009

Again we were asked to leave the house early – today was Indian Independence Day and our host had things to do. So we were on our way to the subway by 7am, having had some fruit and sugary bran cereal for breakfast. We caught the subway following by the JR train to Kyoto where we caught another train to Atsu’s lovely new apartment
(he had just moved in).

We rested in the morning, enjoyed Atsu’s hospitality then he showed us the local  train and walked us to the bus stop. We left him behind and headed out to lunch to Vege Note. They had a very generous lunch set with fried croquettes or fried battered carrot plus they had a decadent chocolate cake with fresh fruit for dessert. A little boy sitting at the table next to us dropped his glass cup and it shattered under our table and landed on my thongs. Although I wasn’t hurt we continue eating until they had said ‘sumimasen’ 100 times and left the restaurant.

We picked up some flyers about the Vegan Festival in Kyoto then headed off with our one-day bus pass (bargain value for Y500 it gives unlimited travel on city buses in Kyoto which really saves money if you are seeing lots of sights in a day since buses charge a flat fare of Y220 per trip).

So we caught the bus up to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavillion. It was busy with tourist group tours but we managed to glipse the famous temple covered in gold leaf and then wander around the gardens for a while. Then we caught the bus down to Ryoan-ji, a zen temple famous for its dry rock garden. It had a huge pond and nice gardens to walk through but lots of people were sitting on the viewing platform over the rock garden. There are 12 rocks and from any one place you cannot see them all – such is the comtemplative aspect of the dry landscape garden.

We caught the bus across town to Ginkaku-ji, hoping to get in before closing but the roads were busy and we had to transfer buses so we didn’t make it there before closing time. So instead we bused down to the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. The gardens were a bit boring compared to the well-tended temple gardens but we were able to sit down and drink lots of water to rehydrate after a hot day.

The cicadas were chirping loudly as dusk approached so we caught another bus and got off close to Kyoto University. We met Atsu and had dinner at the most popular veg*an restaurant in Kyoto, Cafe Proverbs 15:17. It was hard to choose what to eat from all the delicious options, but Benno had Kyoto-style curry ramen with gyoza and Lara had Japanese-style curry rice with spring rolls and an ice latte. We had chocolate tofu tiramisu cake and a peach tart for dessert. So delicious!

We headed back to Atsu’s house and enjoyed matcha (cold green tea) with traditional Japanese sweets from Himeji.

Yokohama Yodel

3 05 2009

Early in the morning we packed our bags and headed to the train station on our bicycles to catch the 8.30am express bus to Yokohama for our Golden Week Sunday excursion.

We had been warned that during Golden Week it would take twice as long to go anywhere because of the crowds of people. Plus there were ongoing Y150 celebrations (Yokohama 150th birthday). But, it took the normal time of 55 minutes to get to Yokohama station.

We wandered down to collect a map from the next station, passing the Anpanman Children’s Museum. There was a line up of parents and their little children going around the block waiting for hours to get into the museum.. and for what? Anpanman merchandise? If you don’t know who Anpanman is, there’s a picture below.

We walked down the ‘horse-drawn-cart’ avenue, Bashamichi Ave. Features of the avenue include old stone buildings (for example, the Former Bank Head Office. As the sign said, “a fine example of European classical style work left to posterity by a Japanese architect. Large pediments in front and at corners on both sides, along with prominent giant order pilasters between windows, emphasize a baroque effect.”) and the first gas lamps. There were also lots of police men and people sitting on the footpath.. we asked a police man and he said there was a street parade for Yokohama’s 150th birthday celebrations in one hour. We ate some homemade cookies for a snack and kept walking.

We wandered past the old buildings, then to the Yokohama Stadium. A baseball game with the Yokohama BayStars was scheduled for 2pm and there were fans dressed in baseball costume already waiting for entry.

But we continued through Yokohama Park to Nihon-odori Avenue to look at a floral expo. There were artworks on the road made from coloured petals (not live plants like I was expecting, but nice none the less).

We walked up the floral avenue and intersected the closed off parade road. We watched the marching bands, floats and cheerleaders for a while. One band played ‘In the Navy’, followed by another playing ‘It’s a Small World’, then a coca cola boat float with the Yokohama 150th mascot, a camphor tree seed, went past followed by some Chinese dragons with a lot of noisy firecrackers.

We left the parade and went into Chinatown. Yokahama’s Chinatown is the world’s biggest with over 500 restaurants and shops. There are meant to be 10 gates in Chinatown. One is not even in Chinatown but is on the other side of the expressway, and two we didn’t walk past as Benno was getting hungry for lunch. We looked at the shops and restaurants and ate a huge sesame/bean (anman) steam bun. By lunch time the throng of people was bumper to bumper. Busy! We saw some funny t-shirts. Some lines read ‘LET EAT BEANS’ or ‘Curiosity Polishes’ or a grammatically strange shirt ‘I like your taste in men’s’.

It was about 1pm, now so we crossed over the parade road in a squish of people jostling to get over the road in-between floats. We ended up in Yamashita-koen (Yamashita Park) by the Port. We ate our marinated tofu salad sandwiches and non-msg chips under a tree while watching the end of the parade (yes, it was still going. It look about 4 hours just to pass the starting line.)

We looked at the Hikawa Maru Steam Ship at the Port (a passenger liner that sailed the world and once had Charlie Chaplin travel on it) and the Marine Tower (the world’s tallest lighthouse at 106m above sea level) before going further south and up the hill to the Minatonomieruoka Park (Harbour View Park). After a lot of stairs we ended up at a lookout point with a view of Yamashita Pier – industrial and not actually very pretty to look at. We could see a wind turbine, the Yokohama Bay Bridge and the Landmark Tower from the lookout, but the rest of it was just industrial Port buildings. Benno had a nap on a bench to rest after all those stairs and then we walked back down a different route back into Yamashita Park.

We followed the crowds (still bumper to bumper) to Minato Mirai 21. We looked at the touristy Red Brick Warehouses (Akarenga Kokusaikan), described as “nostalgic through its unique red brick architecture” but they were also packed with lunch-goers.

We wandered past the giant spider, La Machine, to Yokohama World Porters, a shopping mall with imported clothing and food. We ate a sweet potato bagel from “le Bon Pain” and found mexican food in the Vivre Supermarket. One night this week we will be feasting on tortilla chips and refried beans.

Next we went past the Amusement Park Cosmo World, with the world’s largest clock/ferris wheel called Cosmo Clock standing at 112.5m. In my mind I had an image of clock hands on a giant ferris wheel, but no, there is just a digital clock display on a ferris wheel. Cosmo World has free entry, just admission for rides. So we were able to walk through all the attractions.

Past Landmark Tower, a very tall building (296m to be exact, the tallest building in Yokohama), and past the Maritime Museum with a navigation sail boat called Nippon Maru, much like the merchant ships that arrived in Yokohama 150 years ago and opened up the Port and Japan to the West.

We laboured up a hill to Iseyama Shrine, which was almost deserted apart from about 4 monks. It was built in 1870 as a place to pray for national security.

Then we came back and watched the lights on the Cosmo Clock until it was time for dinner. Dinner was at a vegan macrobiotic restarant called Flancl Garden Chaya  Macrobiotic Cafe (another branch of the Chaya’s in Isetan, Tokyo) in a shopping mall attached to Yokohama Train Station. We ate the Millet and Soy Vege Loaf Plate, the Mild Vegetable Curry and a small Cabbage Soup. Dessert was Black Soybean and Matcha Cream Tart and Mixed Berry Blancmange with fresh mint tea and bacha tea (not sure what that is). All that for only 3500 yen.

We raced out after our delicious meal and back down to the bus station where we only had to wait 10 minutes for a bus at 8.30pm to Kisarazu. An hour later and we were back at the station, collecting our bicycles and riding home by 10pm for a good night’s sleep to rest our walking legs for another day out tomorrow.

Second Week Highlights

18 04 2009

Monday: Going to the town hall after school to get a health card and not being able to get mine because they a) didn’t believe me that I lived at the address I said I did and b) didn’t think I looked like my passport photo. So they posted it and I got it in the post the day after. Dinner was curry and brown rice.

Tuesday: Benno’s birthday, eating oven baked fries for dinner and drinking soy chai lattes at Starbucks, doing 3 practicals at school with very low supplies and hearing Low Rider on the radio (*the* birthday song if you’re from Manila). Dinner was tempura stirfry.

Benno’s birthday cake

Wednesday: I decided to read some books from the Inter library and ended up reading 4 novels in as many days (they are fairly basic English novels after all). The most interesting was reading the sequel book to Howl’s Moving Castle called The House of Many Ways.

Thursday: Freedom Machine here we come – Benno bought a bicycle – with uber trendy front basket and 3 gears (about as high tech as bikes go. Shopping bicycles are practically the only bike available- in the one colour and style). Dinner was salt and pepper tofu with rice.

Friday: Getting internet installed (finally) at our house. Fibre Optic to the door is something Australia is gonna have to wait about 10 years for – pity we were so impatient having to wait 3 weeks. Dinner was mushroom stroganoff with udon. Benno stayed up until the wee hours playing on the internet while Lara went to bed as on Saturdays she starts work at 7.25am.

Saturday: Up early for a 7.30am lesson – at least the bus stop is not far from home.

ourhouse_frombusstopThis photo is taken from the bus stop, facing in the direction of school. You can see our apartment the on the ground floor of the yellow building, straight in front.

Second Freedom Machine – Lara got a bicycle from school that wasn’t being used. It has a front basket and 3 gears and is similar in style to Benno’s except that it also has a back carry rack. Benno rode his bicycle to school and when Lara finished around 1.30pm we both rode down the hill home.

Benno and Lara’s bicycles outside our apartment. It’s very safe so we can just leave them outside and no one will steal them, even in town if we’re out shopping. This photo was taken with my pink slide cell-phone/mobile/k-tai.

Week One of Teaching: the highlights.

11 04 2009

The starts can be a little early – on the bus by 7.10 to be at school by 7.25am with the first lesson at 7.30am. At least it only takes around 10 minutes on the bus and the bus stop is 2 minutes walk away.

On days when I don’t have the first lesson (which is 3 days out of 6) I can catch the later bus at 8.05am which is a bus for elementary school students. The first time I caught the bus the little kids looked so cute with their berets, blazers and socks pulled high. The seats still had plastic covering on them so the kids were sliding around everywhere when the bus stopped. The elementary teacher quickly helped the students to put their seatbelts on so they didn’t fly out the window.

The work load is fairly easy – 20 lessons a week with 3-4 lessons to teach in a day. I only have 2 homeroom duties filling in for other teachers. So, that leaves a lot of preparation time. Also, the class sizes are 6, 9, 6 and 8 (for J-1, J-2, J-3 and H-1 respectively – equivalent to years 7, 8, 9  and 10)

During some of my lessons the principal or vice principal walked in and looked around – checking up on the new teacher I guess. That was a little intimidating but since they don’t speak English it probably didn’t matter what I said.

Benno made hot cross buns for Easter – not that we have any holidays for Good Friday or Easter Monday. In Japan Easter is not celebrated – we’ll have to wait until May 2-6 for Golden Week holidays.

Benno’s handmade hot cross buns.

On Friday after school Toshy came and we went to a local doctor for a pre-employment compulsory medical. The three new Inter teachers pee-ed in cups, had heart scans (involving about 12 sticky electrodes), had x-rays of our lungs, the doctor listened to our heart and took our blood pressure. My health was perfect (of course) so the school is happy to employ me. I have to pay compulsory health insurance anyway so I’m not sure what the big deal is. Every year teachers and students sit compulsory health checks, but I’m not sure if there are any consequences if you fail.

Working on a Saturday:

The first time I’ve had to work on a Saturday (apart from detention supervision, but that’s not actually teaching lessons). The school bus had me home by 2pm to enjoy the sunshine and be lazy for the rest of the day…we had roast vegetables and gravy for dinner followed by a strange not-dessert – black sesame and tofu japanese-pudding (that was fine on its own) with miso topping (bad addition – next time we’ll throw out the miso dressing and use straight sugar).


Fifth Day in Kisarazu

31 03 2009

Today is pink bag rubbish day (every Tuesday and Saturday) which is burnable garbage. There is also non-burnable garbage (blue bag every second Wednesday), glass, cans and PET (green bag every Monday), plastic wrappers (yellow bag every Thursday), magazines and milk cartoons (brown bag every second Monday) and newspapers/clothes (grey bag every other Monday). There is a special hatch by the road behind our apartment block that every one puts their bags in and then shuts the glass lid.

We caught the bus back home to the Apita (shopping mall) from Kisarazu Station after using the internet and doing some shopping. It was 260 yen ($4.20) for a trip (about on par with Adelaide buses, I guess, and about as frequent with 1-2 buses an hour in this little town). It took about 10-15 minutes which was much more relaxing than a 1 hour walk back.

We applied online for fibre optic but it will take several weeks for the connection. 😦

We had roasted vegetables in tomato pasta sauce and spaghetti for dinner and hot chocolate for dessert.