World Trip – China

China was an unexpected visit. I had already made my plans and organised all of the flights around the world that I was going to take. Only after this did somebody remind me of a friend that I had in China who was teaching English. Not one to ignore an opportunity while there is time, I quickly organised a visa for China and squeezed this visit into my time already planned for Hong Kong. So it came as a sandwich visit while in Hong Kong, and was an amazing turn of events. This was the first time I had ever experienced a true language barrier where I could not even understand their numbers. Finding my friend after arriving in Guanzhou was a sight for sore eyes.

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The Flight – Tokyo to London

Hi all. As you know I am now in Europe. It is very different to Asia, but also different being on my own too. A taste of Argentina in some ways. Most flights are pretty normal sorts of things, and there is no need to write about them. This flight however, became special, so I thought I would share it with you.

Close Call
I got to Narita airport in plenty of time, thanks to Brodie, but stuffed around on the Internet and at the shops for a bit. I misread my ticket to say boarding starts at 12.45pm. It actually said boarding closes at 12.45pm. This left me standing in a slow customs line at 12.50pm wondering if I would ever get this flight. I was thinking about calling Brodie and telling him I couldnt bear to leave and decided to stay longer.

As it turned out, a lady came among the lines calling about something about a British Airways something. I thought Id better check with her, and lo and behold, I was the one she was looking for. She seemed quite relieved and radioed someone further down the line then told me that I was the last one for the plane.

So I passed through customs in the normal way and was greeted by this lady again on the other side who told me to run and took off with me. It looked serious. I bolted. Somewhere down the concourse I lost my gate and stopped, disoriented. Suddenly this lady grabbed me as she ran past saying, This way! Even through the boarding gate I had to run, spurred on by another attendent.

They closed the door as I squeezed through. I wasnt sure if this was the reason, but I was virtually ignored throughout the flight whenever I wanted service.

A Fun Flight
In the section that I was sitting, there were many young Japanese girls who seemed to know each other. As I looked later there were also a number of young guys too. It was not until much later in the flight after I made friends with Mai, one of the young girls, that I discovered that these girls and guys were all on a school excursion to London and then to Paris for Christmas. There were around 150 of them and they took up almost all of the cabin area that I was seated in.

For many of them this was their first ever flight. This became obvious when a chorus of them let out “oohs” and “aahs” when the plane took off and on most of the subsequent bumps in rough air. It made for a fun flight to listen to the wonder in their voices though.

Bank On It
After making the flight, everything went smoothly and I managed to get some sleep after watching Russia disappear into the night. It was while I was sleeping that the fun started actually. I was woken by a low buzz in the cabin among the people. It did not take too long to find out that my side of the aircraft could see the Northern Lights.

This was an amazing sight actually. Bright green lights streaming from the sky towards the ground as though a wall of misty water. It was very pretty, and changing all the time. Not wanting to keep such amazing sights to myself, I called over my new Japanese friend from the centre ailse to see these sights.

Now I am not suggesting that I started it, because it was already happening when I awoke, but once my friend, Mai, saw the sights she exclaimed quite loudly in Japanese. Probably something like, “wow!” At this all of her friends came over to see too, while more were starting to crane their necks to see something from where they were currently sitting.

As Mai and her friends were looking, I managed to take a photo of the lights with a long shaky shutter speed. I showed the photo to some of those who had yet to see the lights. Never did I expect such a response. There was the expected, wow! and then a lot of loud chatter and cries as they told their friends about it, causing a crush as everyone started over to look out the windows.

As this buzz grew, more and more of the Japanese students rose from their seats, and more and more seats on the other side of the aircraft were emptied, while more of the seats on my side of the aircraft had more than their allocated number of passengers. It was a hub of excitement and activity.

The pilots must have been aware that somewhere in the aircraft there had been a shifting of over a tonne of weight from one side to the other of the plane. The leaning of the plane in our direction was not highly noticeable for us as passengers though.

I am sure that around this point the flight attendents, who had been working to maintain some order, realised that their task was doomed to failure. It was just then that I overheard one of them exclaim that they would turn on the seatbelt light to try and restore some order.

After the seatbelt light and some stern commands, the students all eventually returned to their seats. The leaning plane was no longer banking over to our side. The flight attendants had won their battle, and the flight settled into normal boredom level again.

Fjords of Norway
As our plane started to return to the realms of the suns reaches again, we found ourselves over Norway. This amazing place was totally covered in Snow, and every now and then we would pass over a township, lit up like a Christmas tree. The sights were amazing to see, with not a cloud nearby, and I proceeded to take dozens of photographs of the incredible sights; the steep snow covered mountains, the deep rivers that have frozen over, the snaking fjords penetrating deep into the coastline, the rivers of light that joined one town to another. It was a feast for the eyes.

London Town
As we came over England, our plane was north of London, but today was special because for our pilot to put our plane into the cue, we had to zig zag all over London. It was amazing to fly over the centre of this huge city at such low heights, and as we turned and ducked and weaved our way into position I took even more photos.

Phew, what a fun flight that was. I got hardly any sleep during that leg, and ended up sleeping almost the entire flight from London to Madrid. I woke only to eat some snacks they were giving out.

And then I landed in Madrid. Next: Destination Europe – Madrid

The Trip – South Korea

Well I have just left South Korea, leaving my good friend Won and his wonderful family behind. It has been a fascinating five days. Living with Won and travelling around mainly on public transport has provided much insight into the Korean culture.

SAT: Arriving There
As I came off the aircraft, a blast of cold air caught me just at the doorway. Won had warned me that it can get cold in Korea. I just got an idea of how cold, and I was not dressed for it. In fact, on my first day there it was the coldest day that winter and clocked in at minus 5 celcius. It got down to minus 9 degrees later. Fortunately I had heeded the warnings of my friends and carried warmer gear in my backpack.

Won met me at the gate and together with his Uncle and Dad’s girlfriend, we drove the long drive back to Won’s house. I dozed a few times during this drive, still trying to catch up on my shut-eye.

It was a long drive through heavy traffic – something that does not seem to ease greatly in Seoul. Traffic continues flowing solidly every day of the week until early the next morning and starts up again the next day well before dawn. Even during the “off” periods there is a substantial number of cars on the roads. You never feel alone in Seoul. And we were certainly not alone, stuck in heavy traffic.

Housing
Won’s house is situated on the sixth floor of a large highrise building that contains four such houses per floor. It was a new building so there were many new features. Video door bell, remote control door lock, automatic lights, electronic entry doors, and other such items. It was a gadget paradise.

The house was centrally heated, with a narrow balcony section separating the heated house from the cold outside. With the central heating we only needed light summer clothes inside. This allowed for a comfortable place to hide from the freezing weather outside.

Dinner with the Family
That night I was taken out for a traditional Korean meal at a newly opened restaurant. Here we sat on the floor around the table, careful to take our shoes off before entering the establishment, and were inundated with multitudes of bowls and plates. Each one containing something different although we all had our own collection of bowls too.

On the menu was Duck and Kimchi, a lovely spicy cabbage served with almost everything. As we started devouring this, another dish appeared on the table which after much prodding, I discovered was dog. A distinctive meat with its own flavour, it is easy to see why so many like it. To eat our meal, we were served with Soju, a traditional drink poured into shot glasses and carrying a lot of punch. I tried everything on the table, both food and drinks, much to the surprise of my new Korean friends.
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The Trip – Japan

Having been to Japan before and done many of the tourist things, this time was set aside to spend time with Brodie and Keiko. Together we organised a skiing trip to Hokkaido Island for my last three days, and Brodie and Keiko took time off to take me to some places that we missed last time. It was not a rest, as I had originally planned, but it was lots of fun.

FRI: A Long Flight
Leaving Korea, I flew first to Hong Kong (again), before flying onward to Japan. I was hoping to spend time in Hong Kong itself, but discovered that when you have a transiting ticket, there is a tiny little cross that prevents you from being processed by customs. As a result I was destined to spend my time breathing airconditioning instead of fresh smog.

Finding My Way In A Foreign Land
To make things easier for Brodie, I offered to find my own way from the airport to his place. He agreed, and sent me some instructions to follow. I failed at the first step, until some kind Japanese girl showed me what to do and directed me to my first train. After that I had it sorted and proceeded to follow the directions to the letter. Although there were times I was not sure, it all worked out in the end.

Travelling on trains in Japan is not easy, but with most signs containing English versions of the Japanese word, it is possible. Sometimes directions are needed and this is often found by talking with the Station managers who, through broken English and hand gestures, can normally get the message across.

Two Brothers in Japan
Arriving earlier than expected, I caught Brodie in the bath, but quickly made myself at home. We spend some time catching up on the latest news and then watch Keiko live on the Shopping channel on TV. She is working for her company, Black and Decker tools, demonstrating the “Scum Buster”. I did not get to catch up with her until the next afternoon because of all of her TV work, giving her only a few hours sleep in between shows.

SAT: Party Time
Brodie and I clean up the house for the party tonight. I am not here as a tourist so it is good to stay at home and chat. We head out for a late lunch at a place very near Brod’s work place. The Ramen is delicious and the serves are huge, which is why the shop is so popular that you need to line up to get in.

By the time we return, Keiko has come home and we find her asleep after so much work. We catch up quickly before starting our cooking for the party. I cook Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding, something I love, and so did everyone else at the party too. Brodie prepared a bunch of pizzas, and Keiko some salads and dips.

The party was great. It was wonderful to meet many of Brodie’s and Keiko’s friends. I spent much of my time getting to know Fabien, one of Brodie’s adventure racing friends, who is a really nice guy. Most people left by midnight, since that is when the last trains leave, and after a chat with those left, we retire by 2am.
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The Trip – Hong Kong

One day in Hong Kong is all I got. One day and two nights.

Accomodation Dilemma
On arriving in Hong Kong I go to the booking counter and find myself a bed for the night. Shamrock Hotel. Because it is so busy, they upgraded me to an Executive suite room. Nice. All I had to do was get the train to Kowloon, and a taxi from there to the hotel. Thirty Hong Kong dollars sounds very expensive for a taxi ride until it converts to about $6 Australian. That felt much better.

Walking into my hotel room I notice it is controlled by an electronic card. There are two double beds, which seems overkill for one person, and the TV reveals some local and some American shows, none of which are interesting. There is a safe however, so I store my essentials there, hoping that it is genuine. The feel of a hotel room is the same the world over – sterile. My view shows the base of surrounding highrises sporting unnattractive bamboo poles protruding from each window, loaded with clothes.
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The Trip – Singapore

Arriving at Singapore
While still in Australia I contacted my friends in Singapore and planned for them to pick both Craig and me up. That was when Craig and I were arriving around the same time. 12hrs before leaving I get an email from Craig telling me that he arrives many hours earlier. That created a problem I needed to resolve before arriving. I didn’t.

On arriving in Singapore, I spent half an hour searching for an email from Craig or Martin in response to my desperate emails. Nothing. Realising I was on my own, I headed out through customs. Approaching the glass exit door, I suddenly saw a familiar face. It was Martin. They were all here to pick me up. My email search just made me late. Doh!
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The Trip – Leaving Australia

Well my trip has started now. All of the planning and preparation for this time has come to fruition and I am on my way. What will follow in each email are events, thoughts, and experiences of my trip as I travel around the world.

Last Morning
When I woke on the day I was leaving Australia there were many expectations for how I would feel. Most of them were never reached. For one, I thought I would be teary and sad to leave my best friends, my family, and my country behind. Amazingly I wasn’t. I say amazingly because this is not what I expected to happen.

The feelings I had were more of anticipation, destiny, and peace. Very unusual considering I was up until 4am packing the previous night. My last email, written in the last minutes before leaving home, says about the same thing.
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Have just arrived in Rome

Hi all, Just letting you know that I have just arrived in Rome. I am here for a couple of days and then heading off to Florence on the evening of the 28th. It is peak season here now but I do not know what that will mean just yet.

Now that I have left Spain and my Spaniard friends I will write you an email about my adventures there soon. I was lucky to get a cheap flight here rather than take the 4 trains and one day that it would have needed.

Interesting point of note is that I went to two places to find a bed at a reasonable price, and both places were based in high-rise buildings. Reception is on one floor and the rooms are on the other floors, normally above it. I even tried to book into the Fawlty Towers Hotel, (not quite like the one on British TV) but it was too expensive with peak season.

So I guess my point is that from what I can see, most of the world lives in high-rise buildings and it is only Australia, NZ and USA that I know of which does not… of the whatever they call it countries… I think 1st world or something.

New Photos + Spain

Hi again. Finally I have put all of my photos from the last few countries on GroovyGuppy.com. This includes China with Andrea, Hong Kong (after China), Korea with Won, and Japan with Brodie and Keiko. Lots to see.

I am now safely in Madrid, Spain. Just landed and been lost already. My Spanish lessons have been helpful to get me out of that one.

Japan was great. Expect an email about it soon. The last three days learning to snowboard was lots of fun too.

It is 1.00am here. I forgot to set my watch one hour forward. It was probably announced in the plane but in fast Spanish that I missed. I have been running on UK time since arrive at what I thought was 8.30pm.

The plane trip was very memorable. Full of Japanese school kids. Saw Northern Lights and when the kids heard about it they all moved across to get a view out the windows along one side. The plane started sinking and they had to turn on the seatbelt signs to control the crowd. Lots of fun indeed.

Well, time for my beauty sleep. Thanks for the emails that you have sent to me. It is great to hear from you.

Regards, Rob.