During my time in Japan, I have often had problems with metro etiquette here - such as snorting/sniffing on the train (instead of blowing ones nose), pushing etc. But one of the most annoying/unnerving things is being stared at. I am tall, blond and quite a bit bigger than most Japanese people, and this means that one tends to stick out from the crowd. I have tried various techniques to get around it - waving or smiling at the person staring, or scowling - not so good. A big fave is to wear sunglasses, but then I either look a bit dubious or a wannabe film star. I was recently drawn to the attention of several bloggers that have written about this annoyance, including The Japan Rants where they describe it in detail. One guy has taken it to another level by creating a fictional book cover called "Why do Japanese People Stare at Foreigners?", which he whips out when required. You can find it here. I'm very tempted to try this out and see what the response is!
Monday, 28 January 2013
Last week we were very lucky to be invited to the Indian wedding of a friend of Neil's. It was held in Pune, which is about 3 hours drive from Mumbai. We landed at midnight on saturday night and after a sleep at a Mumbai airport hotel, we drove to Pune the following morning. There were four celebrations in all, but we just went to two of them - the wedding ceremony and the wedding reception. The wedding ceremony was held on sunday evening. We all met at the hotel and were 'serenaded' by a band of drummers before each of us hopped into our own flower bedecked tuk tuks to take us to the wedding venue.
The groom (on the right) with his 'grooms men' awaiting their chariots. I loved the ochre turbans and fresh cream outfits.
A glitzy drumming band serenaded us before we headed off in our tuk tuks.
Each tuk tuk was given a different name of a car. Our's was called Range Rover. Others were Maserati, Porche, and Chevrolet!
The groom and his grooms men headed the procession in an open topped tuktuk.
Once at the venue, there was a procession of elaborately encrusted saris. Quite a feast for the eyes.
The bride was brought in on high. She looked stunning!
The ceremony was about three hours long!
The bridal party was up on a stage and I'm afraid a lot of the ceremony was lost on us!
The following evening was the wedding reception. This was a much more relaxed affair where everyone let their hair down and had a good old boogie to Bollywood classics.
Even aunty managed to have a good boogie.
Saturday, 19 January 2013
Monday, 14 January 2013
Yesterday was a beautifully sunny day and typical of the Japanese winters where it is cold, but dry and bright - perfect for a hike. We headed off to the hills around Okutama with our friend Sanna and her dog Ethel. We like this walk as there is a pretty waterfall about halfway along it where you can stop and have a cup of tea.
Parts of the waterfall were frozen.
There were also lots of icicles.
While we were being terribly English, sipping our tea and eating cheese and pickle sandwiches, a bunch of friendly Japanese hikers traipsed past, all wearing suits!
Today, this is the view out of our apartment window - heavy snow! It couldn't be more different to yesterday's weather. Funnily enough, I've decided to hibernate in the warm today....
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Our last morning in Hoi An was beautifully sunny, so we decided to rent bicycles and head down to the beach for a mooch around. It was a nice bike ride there, through small towns and along by the river, which was lined with palm trees. Once we were at the beach, it was thankfully still pretty quiet and we were able to stroll along the sand and soak up the gorgeous rays of sun, knowing that we would soon be heading back to cold Tokyo.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped for one last drink along the waters edge at a beautifully simple restaurant on the banks of the river.
Then our marathon journey back home started - 22 hours in all! This included a three hour drive up the coast back to Hue, which was quite dramatic.
We then had a 1 hour flight from Hue to Hoi An, another five hour flight to Seoul, a 45 minute bus ride from one Seoul airport to another, and then a two and a half hour flight to Tokyo.
We had a fab holiday, but it's good to be home!
Luckily our heads weren't hurting too much from the night before and after fueling up at the hotel breakfast buffet again, we headed off with a driver to My Son (pronounced 'Me Sun'). These are the ruins of a religious centre (used between the 4th and 13th cebturies) about 50km out of Hoi An. Many of the monuments were destroyed during the Vietnam War, but it's still a beautiful place to explore and we were able to get there early enough to beat most of the crowds and find some quieter spots to pootle around in. The ruins are surrounded by lush forest and it was lovely to be out of the hustle and bustle of the city. Even the drive there was intriguing, taking us through local villages and past rice fields where farmers were tending their plots.
By the time we got back to the hotel at lunch time, the weather was beautiful - bright sun and blue sky! We were able to lie by the pool for a while and relax.
We then sauntered into town for a late lunch in a little courtyard restaurant called Bo Bo, run by a lovely Vietnamese family. The food is scrumptious and I definitely recommend a trip there if you are in the area. We then went on a stroll around the town, discovering places off the beaten track.
While we were relaxing at the hotel that afternoon, I received a message from an old friend on Facebook. It turned out that she was also staying in Hoi An! It was one of those wonderfully spontaneous things where we ended up going out for dinner with her and her partner!
After a 5th day in a row of hearty breakfasting (I will be running like a mad woman once I get back into a routine in Tokyo), we headed out to do a walking tour of Hoi An. Its characteristic buildings survived being bombed during the war, and its rich history in trading means it has many crafts on offer. The sad thing is that the town is very much a tourist enclave and every shop and restaurant caters for that, losing any feeling of mystery it may have had. Having said that, it was nice to visit some of the old houses, temples and museums which gave an insight into how the town may have been during its height of trading.
This was New Years Eve and the hotel we were staying in decided to put on a 'gala' for all the guests. We had no idea what to expect, but donned our glad rags and headed to the Oak restaurant where we were handed cocktails before heading upstairs to their function room where many tables and chairs were set up, as well as a buffet. We were treated to dragon dancing, traditional dancing, a fashion show (!) and strange games, as well as a slap up buffet.
We managed to last it out at the gala until about 11pm and then slunk away to see in the New Year down by the river. It was quite magical there, with all the buildings lit up with lanterns and people letting off candle-lit lanterns into the water. Quite a lovely way to say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013.
We woke up on our second day in Hue to torrential rain - not good for traipsing around palace ruins! After a hearty breakfast, the hotel kitted us out with umbrellas and we headed off into the rain. I couldn't resist taking photos of all the cyclists kitted out with their wet weather capes.
Our first port of call was the Citadel. This is a complex of palaces and temples contained within massive ramparts and moats. Although a lot of the buildings were damaged by the Indochina wars, it still contains a lot of its past grandeur and it was vey interesting to wander around, despite the relentless rain!
After the Citadel, we managed to have a quick wander round the nearby food market which I always find intriguing. The meat section was quite an eye- opener!
This was followed by lunch at a restaurant run by a deaf, mute family, before heading back to the hotel to meet our driver who was taking us to Hoi An, three hours down the coast. The rain got worse the further down the coast we went and following the winding coastal road was quite dramatic at points. It was a relief to get to our hotel in Hoi An and settle in, before taking a stroll round the town and dinner at a riverside restaurant. The town looks magical at night with every restaurant and shop lit up by colourful lanterns.
Day three was the day that we headed on to the next leg of our trip - to Hue (pronounced 'hway'). This involved an hour flight south (about 400 miles) to the old Imperial city of Vietnam. It was much warmer heading south, although still misty, and nice not to have to wear layers. After checking into our hotel, we had a meander around the south side of the river and ate lunch at a roadside cafe. Hue is still a busy city with many motorbikes weaving around, but the wide streets and grand river somehow make it not so claustrophobic as Hanoi.
Dinner was spent at Bo De, a tasty vegetarian restaurant along by the river where we had hotpot and deep fried tofu washed down with the local brew.
After dinner we took a stroll along the river where many of the locals were out, selling their wares and cooking up tasty morsels.