Observations of Tokyo oddities

There’s no place like home 🙂 as much as I absolutely 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 glad to come home to my home, my husband, my dog. 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. 
Although I travelled there and back with a friend, we were interested in quite different things while we were there, so we spent a lot of time solo. As a single female traveller, Tokyo was the perfect place for me! It was easy enough to navigate, people are friendly and helpful to almost 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, 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 incredibly impressive. Buildings just keep going up! 
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..


No doubt over the next few weeks I’ll write a lot more about my time away, but for now let me just say that I had the most amazing time there and would happily jump on a plane back tomorrow 🙂

An interesting encounter at the Temple of Karnak, Egypt

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We arrived at the Karnak Temple complex after a quick visit to the Colossi of Memnon, and bang in the middle of a sandstorm. It was one of those things you see in movies or travel documentaries that looks kinda cool, but is actually just crap in real life. The sandstorm, not the temple.

An absolutely stunning, staggeringly enormous open air museum of sorts, it’s the second largest temple complex of it’s type in the world (Angkor Wat takes the title). While it’s hard to pick favourite parts, some of the more impressive sections, in my eyes, included the great Hypostyle hall of columns, the rows of ram-headed sphinxes lining the entrance to the complex, and the few obelisks scattered around.

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It was a really amazing complex, quite large and diverse compared to a lot of other sites we visited. It stood out for another reason though; I had quite a confronting experience there.

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Our tour group was comprised of myself, husband, another young lady and two other guys, all of us being around the same age. Us two girls hadn’t had too much trouble during the trip, which we were very thankful for, but what happened here certainly tested our nerves. While we were looking around the lake, we became quite conscious of the fact that we were being circled by a few young Egyptian men. They’d have been somewhere between 18 and 25 years old, if I had to warrant a guess. Anyway, I guess the cockiest one, with the oiled, slicked back hair, tight fitting singlet and gold neck chains got a little bored of staring from a distance – I hadn’t really registered that he’d disappeared from my sight until I turned around to look back at the lake to find him only a few inches in front of me and my fellow female travel companion, camera pointed in our faces, clicking away like a possessed paparazzo.

Needless to say, we were pretty freaked out! We turned to face each other as closely as we could, so that he could only see our backs, and our amazing local guide, Medo, stepped in pretty quickly to get rid of him (thank goodness!). Once he was gone and we’d gotten over our initial shock, we asked what the hell it was all about. Medo explained that the big temple complexes attracted a lot of young guys coming from the “country side” (remoter areas) where they don’t get Western tourists. They come to the big tourist spots with their cameras to capture the foreign women they see, so that they can take the pictures back home to their friends and brag and exaggerate about what they’d seen and their holiday conquests. Because I wasn’t already feeling like enough of a zoo animal, being porcelain doll-white, auburn-haired and freckled.

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While it freaked me out, it was also a really interesting experience; I think I’d kind of expected to encounter this sort of thing the whole time we were in Egypt. But this was the seventh day of our eight day trip, and it was the first confrontation of that type we had. I think I was also so taken aback because us Melbournians aren’t really all that surprised or intrigued by different cultures to that extent. Melbourne is a stomping ground for any and every culture under the sun – Fijians, Chinese, Americans, Italians, Vietnamese, Indians, Brits, Greeks, Jews, Muslims, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks… They all coexist in our city without any of the outlandish curiosity we were shown in Egypt. Hell, I’ve seen a mature-aged gentleman of what seemed to be eastern European descent standing in the middle of the CBD dressed in a skirt and heels, holding rosary beads, and no one blinked an eye at him as they walked past. It made for a very interesting social experiment, and really made me wander about my own upbringing and how much I’ve completely taken for granted exposure to other cultures from such an early age. Even as a kid, with friends who looked so clearly physically different to me, I don’t think I ever really wandered (or cared) why, yet here were these young adults making special trips from their quiet, secluded home towns to see what foreigners looked like and take home proof that they’d seen these fantastical creatures…

Anyone else ever experienced something like this on their travels

Egyptian feasting

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I really wish I’d paid more attention on arrival here and taken down the name of the place, the street it was on, something, anything to remember it by! We had a lunch stop between sights on one of the final days of our amazing Egypt tour last year, and we were taken to this amazing rooftop location for lunch. Unfortunately there were details, like the name of the place, that I don’t remember. But there are other things that have vividly stayed with me.

1. The food itself. It. Was. INCREDIBLE!!! We were served up a veritable feast by our very hospitable hosts, plate after plate appearing in front of us. I remember the super soft flat bread, unlike any I’d ever had before. I remember the smooth, rich baba ganoush dip. I remember the incredible stew of vegetables and goodness knows what meat, flavours I’d never had before, and ones I wanted to eat over and over again.

2. I remember my group’s wonder and awe, I remember everyone’s faces as we fell suddenly silent, devouring everything, looking at each other, smiling appreciatively and whispering our excitement over how good it all was.

3. I remember the other group we met up with, from the same tour company. We had crossed paths and our two leaders had us lunch together. We sat at opposite ends of the long table. While our little group devoured our food and sang the praises of the unfamiliar cuisine, I vividly remember some of the girls in the other group scrunching their noses up and complaining that they couldn’t possibly eat more carbs and rice and bread – they’d have the salad, thanks. Decidedly unconcerned about our figures at that point, and wanting to throw ourselves head first into this unbelievable experience, we exchanged glances of disbelief across the table, silently asking each other “why on earth would you travel to Egypt of all places if you weren’t willing to try the food?!”

4. I remember being happy, really and truly happy. I had successfully thrown myself into a culture and country that was as different to the one I came from as possible. I was sitting there, on a rooftop, having made it through a sandstorm, and was thoroughly enjoying food I was very unfamiliar with. It was a really happy day.

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Somewhere between Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples in Egypt…

Around this time last year, I was getting home from the trip of a life time – I finally made it to Egypt, which was a life dream for me from a very young age (I wrote a bit more about this life-changing trip here and here, and I’m sure will have many more posts to come!). We spent 8 days there, touring the country with a small band of like-minded adventurers – another 2 Aussies and a Colombian, along with our brilliant guide, Medo. At one stage, it kind of felt like we were kind of on repeat – another temple, more hieroglyphs, more sand in our shoes… I think I was the only one still fascinated anew each time!

The photos below were taken on a little sojourn between a visit to Kom Ombo Temple, and our journey to Edfu Temple. After a long day of sight-seeing, we were thankful to be able to rest our weary feet on a horse-and-carriage ride for a while before making our way to Edfu (where the final photo was taken).

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I found it pretty incredible to be in such a different world to the one I had always known – riding through the streets and seeing these ramshackle, corrugated steel and wooden structures passing for shops (and more often than not, homes) was not something us Aussie kids were used to; we’re pretty lucky and privileged, it appeared, compared to a lot of the world. It really hit home for me during this ride. I feel like my privilege also extended to being able to actually experience this as well, when I know a lot of people would sooner sit at a fancy resort all day and turn a blind eye. Is it not a thing of beauty to be able to see a country in its entirety, and not just the shiny, pretty, brochure-worthy parts?

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

The streets were all but deserted, quiet and lonely – they were also, to a young, white female – a little intimidating and scary. You hear and read about the kind of things that can happen on these streets after dark, and again, it really hits home that I’m incredibly fortunate to live in a country where it is not only allowed, but the norm for young women to go out alone. To shop alone, to study, to hold a job and earn (and spend) their income as they please. To wear whatever they want without fear of repercussion, to choose their own husbands, to love who and what they want. I felt suddenly so relieved at the fact I had been born geographically where I had, and not where I currently was – I’d have never survived. I’d have been one of those horrible stories or tales of caution, I’m sure of it… This is not to say that it’s all doom and gloom and bad news over there. For the most part, all of the locals we met and interacted with were absolutely lovely, kind, generous and patient. But they were also all men – the only woman we were introduced to in a week was the lady at the papyrus factory.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

But it’s these experiences that shape us and make us who we are. Without experiencing that, I wouldn’t appreciate my fortunes as much. I would have continued to take for granted everything I had assumed should be an unquestionable right of mine. I’d never have given another thought to the fact that I chose my own husband, and as long as I contribute to our monthly mortgage and bills, he doesn’t care if I buy myself a new pair of shoes with my pay. That ride, as well as opening my eyes and provoking those thoughts, also made me much more culturally aware, and fascinated with the differences that all lives experience. It just fuelled my wanderlust and thirst for knowledge even more.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014