Photo Journal: Yoyogi Park & Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

Yoyogi Park
2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/english/

IMG_7338

For such a big city, Tokyo isn’t lacking in beautiful green spaces. I’ve always loved spending time in big parks on my own, ever since depression started taking over my life in high school. Sitting quietly on fresh green grass under a beautiful leafy tree has always been something that’s calmed me. So after a pretty busy first 48 hours in Tokyo, a little time at Yoyogi Park to re-calibrate was the perfect fix.

IMG_7357

IMG_7341

IMG_7339

Also within the park is the majestic Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine, tucked deep within the park. Shortly after the deaths of Emperor Meiji (in 1912) and Empress Shoken (two years later), 100, 000 trees were donated from well-wishers around the world to create this beautiful park. The shrine itself came along in 1920. The main buildings were sadly destroyed in 1945, during the second world war, but was rebuilt in the late 1950s.

IMG_7347

IMG_7351

IMG_7352.1

IMG_7353

 

Observations of Tokyo oddities

As much as I LOVE being on the road and living out of a suitcase and being in completely foreign situations and places, I’m always grateful to return to Melbourne. I’m thankful that I’m in a position (particularly as a female, because there are still a lot of oppressed women out there in other countries and cultures) that I can work hard enough to be able to travel as much as I do, and I don’t take that for granted. 
As a single female traveller, Tokyo was the perfect place. It was easy enough to navigate, people are friendly and helpful to unbelievable standards, and it is the safest city (including Melbourne) that I’ve ever been in.

Accommodation aside, it was also a lot cheaper than I expected – I went away with around AUD$1000 worth of spending money for 9 days, and spent only just over half of it.

One of the best things about travel is how much it opens your eyes to things that aren’t your norm, and while Tokyo was a very modern city, there were a few curiosities and oddities I noticed…

– Early morning cafe breakfasts and brunches aren’t a thing.

– Most stores don’t open until around 11am, but they stay open later into the night, around 8pm (as opposed to Melbourne’s general 9am – 5pm hours).

– There’s a system and procedure for everything, everyone knows them, and everyone obeys them.

– ATMs for international cards pretty much only work in 7/11.

– Cuteness is EVERYWHERE!!

– That said, they are truly elegant ladies and dapper gentlemen in Tokyo – heels, pearls and full suits are standard.

– Public transport is quiet time. No talking to the person next to you, no talking on the phone, no eating.

– Litter doesn’t exist. Anywhere. People are literally employed to sweep the streets and walk them with giant tongs to remove rubbish.

– There are designated smoking spots outside, and people actually stick to them. There are “no smoking on the street” signs and they are strictly adhered to without the need for enforcement.

– People line up for EVERYTHING. Especially food. And locals really don’t seem to mind waiting over an hour in (a very orderly) line for their favourite eatery… Incredible!

– One of the things that surprised me the most was the amount of people who refused to use tissues! I find the sniffing thing pretty disgusting (I don’t understand why anyone would want to sniff the snot back up their noses and down their throats rather that just blow it out into a tissue), and was really surprised at the amount of people who would rather just sniff incessantly and occasionally use sleeves to wipe snot on rather than just blow their noses…?!

– While a lot of the older buildings are in the grey/beige/brown 70s styles, the modern architecture is impressive.
I also learnt a bit about myself…

– My organizational skills are one of my biggest assests and truly help me see and do more than a lot of other travellers.

Can read a map like a boss.

– Observing and writing and recording has always been (and will always be) what I love to do most.

– Anxiety attacks followed me but depression didn’t.

– Slowing down, taking time to breathe, and just stepping away mentally for a few minutes helped the anxiety attacks.

– I’m happiest when I’m in new places surrounded by strangers speaking in foreign tongues, where I can just slip into the background and explore and observe at my own pace.

– Knowing how to say “excuse me” and “thank you” in the local language is indispensable.

– I think I’m actually a bit smarter, stronger, braver and more resilient than I’ve given myself credit for..

Photo Journal: The streets of Saigon

I found Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to be a fascinating city when I first visited in 2014, and really wish I’d had more time there. It was very busy, the traffic was insane and every time we went to cross the road felt like we were tempting fate just a little more. I felt like the people of the city would have really had some stories to tell, if I’d only had the time (and an interpreter) to listen.

IMG_4881

IMG_4885

IMG_4870 IMG_4880   IMG_4886

Photo Journal: Street food women of Thailand

IMG_4459

 

In Thailand, as in a lot of South East Asian countries, it seems to be the women who shoulder a good portion of the work. You see them up early, trawling through markets, heaving baskets full of fresh fruit, often with a child or two in tow. They are the ones who sell the market goods, who purchase them, who cook them and then sell them. They’re the ones who run the show, they are strong, often silent, with wiry strong bodies and faces that tell of a tougher life than I could ever imagine.

This woman really caught my attention in Koh Samui. Husband and I had been walking around way off the main drag all morning, and sat down at a street food vendor for a lunch of pad thai, when this lady ambled up, baskets teetering on her small shoulder, and parked herself on a tiny plastic stool. To our complete amazement, she had somehow set up her portable kitchen, complete with meat grilling over charcoal and condiments, in the middle of the street in under 30 seconds.

Late night street food in Bangkok

 

IMG_4681

I’m pretty sure when “normal” people are asked about the best meals of their lives, they’re usually going to talk about fancy restaurants in big cities, celebrity chefs, exceptional, knowledgeable and courteous service, caviar and truffles and expensive wine, maybe even a beautiful view of some gorgeous beach landscape. If you ask me, the first I’ll probably think of will be a dodgy looking, street-side vendor, under a motor-way overpass, on the back streets of Bangkok.  If you haven’t worked it out yet, I’m not “normal.”

We were in Thailand in January2014, while the city was in the midst of the “Shutdown Bangkok” political movement. It wasn’t ideal. A lot of the markets and street food vendors I’d remembered so fondly from a previous visit were either not operating, or doing much shorter hours than usual. The protestors were peaceful, and as such, really didn’t hinder our movements around the city. On our last night in Bangkok, we set out for one of the night markets I’d visited last time I was there, and after a few wrong turns, we finally found it. Only to discover that perhaps a scant 10% of the regular vendors were operating. And no street food to be seen.

IMG_4682

We decided to keep walking until we found somewhere that looked good for dinner; we’d never forgive ourselves if our last meal in Thailand was a Thai-by-numbers, made-for-tourists event. Inevitably, because our Thai isn’t too crash hot and I did my best navigating a Thai map with Thai street names, wrong turns were taken and we just kept walking in the general direction of our hotel. We ended up on what seemed to be much quieter streets without really realising how we got there, but we just kept walking. Until we found this place. It was PACKED. I vividly remember an older lady sitting in the gutter, washing out dishes by hand, and pouring the dirty water from the buckets down the street before re-filling them from the hose that lay next to her.

We took a seat on the squat plastic stools, and were handed two plastic menus. We ordered a bit of everything; papaya salad, stir fried greens in oyster sauce, pork fried rice and BBQ beef.

IMG_4674

IMG_4678

IMG_4677

IMG_4679

There we were: on the side of a dark street in Bangkok, late at night. There were women manning enormous woks over my left shoulder, with bright orange flames licking the sides.  A few plastic menus, sticky with various sauces, being passed around and shared. Locals and a few other travellers sharing the space and enjoying their meals. And this little lady, sitting in the gutter, just kept on robotically cleaning the dishes.

The food was good. Amazing, actually. I’ve been to restaurants where I haven’t eaten beef than tender and well cooked. How they managed to get that much flavour into vegetables with oyster sauce is beyond me. The food was delicious. But good food clearly isn’t the only thing to consider when thinking about your best ever meals.

IMG_4675