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..

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.

A 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 an amazing complex, quite different from a lot of other sites we visited. It stood out for another reason, too. A confronting incident with another visitor.

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Our tour group was made up of myself, my husband, another young woman 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, somewhere between 18 and 25 years old. 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.

Thankfully, our amazing local guide, Medo, stepped in pretty quickly to get rid of him. 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 second last day of our trip, and it was the first confrontation of that type we had. Us Melbournians aren’t really all that surprised or intrigued by different cultures to the extent those young man were. 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 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 really made me wonder 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 wondered (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.

Photo Journal: Street food women of Thailand

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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.