Shanghai

Coke Zero in ChinaSo, time to leave Tokyo, start on the Malaria tablets (eech) and head over to China. It’s been a bit of a trouble getting a visa, out of all my stops this is the only place I needed to get one up front. Going to the consulate in Edinburgh – who like all Chinese consulates are only open 9-12, Monday till Friday – I was turned away and had to make three visits to the Melbourne consulate. Visa sorted (and £25 lighter) I was ready to enter and prepared for the worse.

After a nice empty flight, with video on demand (I watched Bucket List and a bit of Blueberry Nights) I walked into another empty airport (just like Tokyo) and customs barely asked a question, straight though. I haven’t been buying my guide books for most cities, but decided I need them for Asia – but don’t want to buy upfront as my bag is seriously heavy already. I got the feeling that once I hit the city, finding an English book will be hard so found the shop in the airport and picked up Lonely Planet Encounter: Shanghai, these books are perfect – to the point, shows the basics, compact and comes with maps… sold. On the way there and back I was pestered by folk trying to get me hotels and taxi’s – have a cold shoulder…. On the way outside I got stopped once again, he helped me find my hostel on the map, tried to sell me a hostel (said I’d paid) and then tried to sell me one of those free maps – he’s not noticed that I’m a) a backpacker and b) Scottish – your getting hee haw mate. He really did me a favour by writing the hostels address in Chinese on my paper, this would prove to be essential later on and pointed me to the shuttle bus.

After Tokyo, I was expecting another large city, metropolitan and more of the same – I got on the bus, feeling a little unsafe but happy enough to be here. Travelling though the city I soon realised (as the Lonely Planet guide advised) English was uncommon so be prepared. The conversation at the many stops I made around the train station gave me an idea, I’m in China, they don’t know English, I don’t know Chinese, this is going to be intresting.

After many a pointing, struggling and pushing (manures haven’t reached China yet) I had a ticket for what I think is the right metro and was heading on the way. Getting off at my stop, I slowly crossed the street – a green on the pedestrian crossing is more a suggestion for the traffic to stop, a suggestion they like to ignore. The sight of hundreds of mopeds flying down the street, vendors selling everything from sunglasses, to socks and pirate dvds – I felt I was in Bangkok more than Shanghai.

The sight of the hostel was like an Oasis in the desert, very modern, clean and friendly. A large bar area with Projector for movie, free wifi, cheap food and beer just set it in my good books.

First impressions are good, things a stupidly cheap… Bottle of water, 14p. Bottle of Coke Zero (pictured), 31p. Five course dinner, including steak and a beer – £12 (that was splashing out).

Last Days in Tokyo

Middle of Akihabara on a Wet Night

After a first few days in Tokyo, it was time to head to why we were here – Akihabara, geek central and home to everything tech. A quick journey on the now rather familiar train system and we were ready to explore. The neon signs not light up during the day didn’t take much away from the sheer size of the buildings, a few noticeable signs were around, Sega, Taito and the usual tech companies including Apple logos.

Arcades
Lets get down to business, the thing I sorely miss from the UK is a good arcade…

We started with the Club Sega arcade, exploring the floors one by one. The arcades tend to stick to a theme per floor, from the grab a prize claw games, to overly girlie sticker and made your own music floors – which we quickly passed though, to floors dedicated to beat em ups – mainly Tekken 6 which is huge over here, and then the usual quirky Japanese stuff like “giant meka robot fighter 7”. Me and Stephen had a good bash at loads of games:

Half-Life 2: Survivor, never sure how this would work in the arcade, I fired up the single player first and was impressed, especially with the joystick/spinner control – which emulated the mouse and keyboard rather well. We later played a fun co-op few levels, it makes me itch to get back home to fire into it on the 360…

Taiko no Tatsujin was tremendous fun – the two big Taiko drums called out and after wandering though menu screens picking random items, I was in the game and loved it. Having played though Donkey Konga on the GameCube, this is obviously the big brother to it and works so much better with the sticks… awesome.

Stephen and I spent some time with some robot game, I’ll never find it with a Google search so won’t bother, the sight of eight huge self contained pods left us no option but to have a go – firing though the main console in a vain attempt to get a card working for the game, we were in our own pods, headsets on and fighting in some weird Japanese mech suit, really impressive big screen but to be honest after two games I was getting a bit bored.

The arcades are always busy, the noise – especially on the Shoot-em-up floor is deafening but so impressive, crowds gather all the time to watch some serious skill on the machines, hand/eye co-ordination worked out to an art. Fantastic to see such a big crowd at the machines, I tried to get photos (which are banned) but failed, sigh.

Finally, the big mother – Tekken 6. I’m not really a fan of beat-em-ups, I find myself bashing buttons left right and centre till I find a move I like, but since the arcades were lined with rows and rows of these machines, it seemed rude not to try. The setup of these games in Japan is back to back, player 1 on one side, and 2 on the other – you can’t see who you are fighting most of the time, which helps once you get slaughtered, you can shamelessly walk off and hide in the corner – which I did many a time…. seriously addictive game, and looks amazing on the HD screens.

Shopping
RetroGameCamp at AkihabaraBar the arcades, we wandered the electronic shops, looking at everything from games, camera’s, MP3 players, laptops and chunky mobile phones (they don’t seem to do slim mobiles and everything is 3G). We were tempted to make impulse buys but decided not to waste our cash unless it was the right item, I thought about a new Black and Red DS, but don’t fancy carting it though Asia for a month so didn’t bother in the end (maybe at Singapore).

One shop that caught my attention was the Retro Game Camp, inside was a shire of Japanese goodness, everything from old Nintendo Games, to weird Japanese only releases like the PC Engine. Serious self restrain was required to stop me buying so much.

One other side to the Japanese shopping is the Hentai magazines and DVDs that are everywhere, it seems the normal for Japanese men to buy these magazines and DVD’s in their droves. Looking at the back of the box, it’s seriously not for kids… not much is left to the imagination.

Leaving Akihabara we headed around the city, stopping at the evil empire Sony’s building for a look at their “new technology” which was average at best, bar the sight of a few small OLED TV’s – the usual Sony overpriced non-sense was around to look at. Can’t stick that company but they are big all over Tokyo, their PSP’s are being played on every train and all over the coffee shops….

Outrun 2 SP LimitedWe then headed down to the Sega Joypolis theme park (ish) which hosts larger sized games based on their well known IP. The pictured Outrun 2 was superb fun, out biggest frustration was the time spent by the employees setting each person up, it took ages to get the game going. Other rides included “Burnout Running” which was like track & field with a proper treadmill, seriously bizzare, House of the Dead 4 with dual screens and a moving carrage, and some more themepark like rollercoaster rides, good fun but seriously slow loading of the rides hindered it for us all.

Food Ordering Vending MachineMy final night after Stephen and Claire left involved trying out one of these food vending machines, which we had seen for days but never got around to trying. The basics are, enter your cash, select an item – I went for a beef option, take your recipt and then go in and have a seat – leaving your recript on the table.

I was brought over (with a cup of water), beef and onions on rice, a bowl of soup, a bowl of salad and an egg. The beef and rice was nice, the soup was great. Salad had a strange taste and I wasn’t even sure what to do with a raw egg in it’s shell…. But for £2.30 you really can’t complain, and I didn’t have to fight with the language barrier.

Now on to China, Shanghai calls along with the start of my Malaria tablets…

Tokyo

Akihabara

It starts to get really interesting now! I’ve loved my time in America and Australia, lots of good memories, photos and times have been had, but it’s coming to Asia that things are starting to get really different.

First stop on the Asian trail had to be Tokyo, for any geek this is like coming home to the motherland, where all the big releases happen first, where all the toys are – I was certain good times lay ahead.

Arriving in the city and quickly making my way to the Shinagawa area after an interesting play with the airports ATM (no English options and forgetting what the Yen to Pound exchange was… I walked away with £25 which lasted about 2 hours), my first nosy around was hotel toilet….. I was curious and delighted to see that my room has a typical “Japanese” toilet, with full electronic controls, I won’t go into any more detail but it’s a laugh – I’m already toying with the idea of getting one for back home.

First day was an exploration with Stephen and Claire, wandering around the city was fun, getting used to the complex train system (the map we had wasn’t great) and eventually finding a restaurant with an English speaking host who could tell us what the menu said, pictures are rare – English text is almost non existent. The first meal was delicious, fresh fish galore, some of the best chunks of tuna I’ve ever tastes and lots of Terraki, it was almost a bit different as the host kindly advised I order something else than my first request of what was some form of intestines.

Tokyo FoodShopping for even the smallest thing is interesting, similar to what I found the first few times I visited America, getting to see new foods, sweets and things that just don’t make it over to the UK, but alas I’ve been a bit spoilt with my visits to the states over the years (Australia was a mix of US and UK but had little new).

Tokyo’s streets are lined with vending machines, selling the usual mix of sweats and cigarettes but being a warm day, theirv various quirky drinks were on the menu, so far I’ve seen/tried:

Coke cans which are also small bottles, a can with a tin screw top.
A bottle of water called “Sweat” had to be worth a purchase and was rather nice; a mix of water and sugar from what I gather.
A can of Fanta, on the machine the little cartoon showed a shaking motion, which didn’t seem right for a fizzy drink – we ignored that and ended up with a can full of runny jelly.
Hot caffeine drinks in cans, seems to be mainly coffee so useless to me, I’ll try and get Stephen to try it.

Senso-ji TempleA city tour took us around the city, up a few roof tops and a cruse down the Sumida river. The highlight of the tour was without a doubt stopping at the Asakusa area to visit the Senso-Ji temple. Heading though the gates you find yourself in an open air market, very busy with stalls lining both sides of the street. A wander up the stalls, picked up a few little things (including more strange food), we decided to follow the locals and give the fortune/cleansing a try.

First up, drop in a 100 Yen donation and fish out a chop stick from the shaker, each stick has a number written in Kanji on it, which you then open the associated drawer and pick out your fortune, it’s not far off a fortune cookie and parts make as much sense as they normally do.

Next up was the sight of flames, like mosquitoes to light we were drawn over, bought (I’m seeing a theme here) the sticks, got them smouldering and left them in the near by area. The locals come up to this and wave the smoke over their head, some sort of cleansing ritual I believe.

Finally, we purified ourselves at the chozuya water trough by pouring water over each hand before heading in to the temple, only to find there wasn’t much inside but more shakers and fortunes.

Perth and Goodbye Australia

Working my way west around the world, it made perfect sense after Melbourne to stop off at Perth for a trip down nostalgia lane. Spending a good part of my childhood here, I was keen to hire a car, get on the road and return to the McGunnigle homes of the 80s. Finding the Armadale and Kelmscott area was easy enough but it wasn’t until I got to the Gosnells area of the city before I started to recognise bits and bobs.

Once I got to the Kelmscott shopping centre, memories came flooding back. Though it’s been heavily expanded since the 80s – a new plaza on the other side of the road with a more modern look, the main centre that we used to go though was still there and didn’t look that much different. Unfortunately the large (at the time) toy shop outside was no longer there, not that they would have had any of the same toys…

Heading to the residential areas, I quickly found my old primary school and instantly knew the way home to our house around the corner in Felgate court as I cycled this everyday to and from school. Looking at it now, I question why bother with the bike when walking took a matter of minutes. As the home was off the main road I couldn’t get too close but managed to sneak a photo of the house from the driveway, no sign of the large rock where the wasps hid underneath and left me with more than a couple of nasty stings.

The other houses were easy enough to find, Waratah drive looking rather different to what we left it as – a jungle has appeared where the front garden was – I think the new residents like their privacy. The third house on my stop at Dury street looked nice, though I was very young when we stayed here so don’t really remember much of it.

I next set out up the hills to the Rolleystone area, a vain effort to find the house failed as I didn’t have the house number, but finding the street brought back enough memories (and a familiar smell), I visited the local playpark at the bottom of the hills and wandered the nice relaxing area for a while.

Back down to Armadale, I was on a mission to find the swimming pool where as kids we learned to swim and I learned the hard way why its not a good idea to wrap yourself in a mat whilst walking (I lost my balance, head butted the stairs and ended up in hospital with stitches in my head). Finding the “Aquatic Centre” I was disappointed to see that it was closed for the “winter season”, it wasn’t the best day but I’d liked to have wandered around it for old times sake.

The other item on my list for Armadale was what I think was called “Shanty Town”, from memory a garden of a large house near the centre of the town which hosted a strange combination of dinosaur bones, a tank and other historical items. As I kid I always looked in from the car window, from photos I believe we visited when I was very young but I do not remember any of it. Driving past the house now, it’s all gone and has returned to a normal home, I’ll need to do some searching around to see what it was (if there’s any sign of it online).

Finishing the day I drove back towards the city and stopped in at Chicken Treat for dinner, a Western Australia only franchise – almost identical to Red Rooster, a tasty Chicken & Chips in a cardboard box which went down rather well indeed.

Back in the city, I explored on foot a lot of the area including the very large Kings Park, which has changed from what I recall; I’m sure there was more water in the park than what is left now, it was worth a good explore – I planned on running around it but never made it due to weather/laziness.

A night out to a local pub on the last night, we caught a decent cover band who did some really good versions of the Foo Fighters and even a favourite of mine, Live…. Plus they sold Magners in the pint bottles, consider me impressed.

And that brings both my Perth trip and my time in Australia to a close. I’m glad I took a few days off my Perth time, staying in the city for another few days would have been rather dull. There really is not much happening in the city, staying any longer would have forced me to head outside the city on more day trips looking for activities to do. It’s a nice city and area, but much more suited to families living out in the suburbs.

Australia as a whole has been fantastic, Melbourne especially was a highlight and understandably the liveliest city – plenty to do there on my already planned return. I’ve had a good fix of Fruit Loops over the last few months, enough to keep me going for a while at least.

Now, excitingly I’m on my way in to South East Asia, first stop, a dream I’ve had for years…. Tokyo!

Perth: The Great Return

Perth Cityline

I’m back in Perth!, a long awaited trip that’s finally become a reality. In order to squeeze more time into Tokyo, I cut a few days off my stay here and so far I’m glad I did – though I’ve got some packed days, I get the feeling I’d be rather bored quickly – especially in winter when quite a lot is closed.

Arriving late on the first night, nothing much to see – hostel seems clean, decent but lacking a social scene, hmm, good for the liver, not so good for fun… No matter, off to bed as I’m up early the next day.

First day I headed to the train station and got the train down to Fremantle, the large port just south of Perth. I’ve fond memories of this area as a kid, getting off the station I headed down to the park – it’s a bit smaller than I remembered and the kids park has been updated, long gone is the barrel you could run on! Looking at the ocean I remembered that the ferry to Rottnest leaves from here, a quick squiz at the flier – the next one leaves at 11:30 (fifteen minutes time!) and then there’s a gap of hours before the next, a scoot along the beach and though the port and I was ready to board.

My family went to Rottnest late in the 80s and it’s one of the few things we have on home video. We had a video camera on loan at that time, being the 80’s it was a camera and a full VHS deck that you had to carry like a briefcase, makes you laugh when we all now have video capability on our mobile phones. As this trip was on the video, I have good memories of it and was damn curious to return. At the time being an eight year old kid, I recall gazing at the fast catamaran boats taking passengers over and back, we were stuck waiting on the ferry which in hindsight would have been a damn sight cheaper, especially for my parents with three kids to drag along.

No such worries for me, $54 later and I’m on what seems to be the only option – the fast boat across, I presume this is due to it being winter as the guidebook on the island mentions a $12.50 ferry… No issues with the “winter climate”, it was 25 degrees, clear blue skies – perfect for shorts n’ t-shirt.

On the island, after grabbing a bite to eat I realised it’s rather large and not feasible to walk, so a trip to the bike hire shop had me a rather good Mountain Bike (not like that French sissy one I got on Millport, Lindsay…). The hire bike dude provided me with a map, said I had until 3.30 (about 2.5hours) to get around and showed me a route, cutting across the middle of the island to save time, confirming I wouldn’t have enough time to do the lot… sounds like a challenge to me!

QuokkaI made a good attempt at getting as far as I could – lost in the process more than once, but had to admit defeat after about an hour, the sun was warm, the hills rather steep and I just fancied some time to relax. I made it around most of the area I wanted, took in some outstanding views, corking beaches (not unlike Scotland’s Coll..) and saw quite a few Quokka’s, little tiny kangaroo like creatures that were mistaken for Rats (hence the name Rottnest).

Bar the cycle, the island is home to lots of holiday villa’s, would be a nice place to hire out a few cabins, get the beers in and have a BBQ weekend. I found the arcade (usual) and even the trampolines that my two sisters now famously (in our family anyhow) bullied me on! They were out of order for repair, there goes me getting them both to myself.

Sunset from FremantleHeading back we got a great view of the island and once we docked at Fremantle, I caught this lovely sunset just along from the Pier, then proceeding to get some dinner in the fabulous Cicerello’s – it lived up to their claim of Western Australia’s Fish & Chips and they even had beers, result.

First day was good and one big tick off the list, I arranged car hire for the next so I could escape the city limits and return to the old homes of the 80s, photos galore to follow….

Last days in Melbourne

Father and Child

Three and a bit weeks later, I’m sitting in Melbourne airport waiting for my flight in an hour. I’ve had such a good time here (Melbourne, not the airport), it’s a nice change from hostels and constant moving around from the previous locations.

Over the last week I’ve been nosing around the city, ensuring I get as much in as I can before shooting off. The large Vegas like Crown Casino, St Kilda and it’s quiet beach front, the Banksy spray (took me a while to find this) and Albert Park, where the Grand Prix is hosted.

As far as big attractions, one left on my list was the Melbourne Museum; listed in the guidebook as a “museum for the internet generation”, it sounds like my sort of place – not being a fan of glass cabinets and rows of art as per normal.

The building houses the city’s Imax theatre where we caught U23D last week, split in to five or so areas, most of it was intresting and interactive. One of the highlight for me was the very comfy booth showing a dream sequence on the television above, lie below it and relax for three minutes (before being rudely awoken by the end of the show). The place reminded me of Amsterdam’s Heineken museum, without the beer sampling (unfortunately), well worth a look if you are in the area.

On Saturday Stephen and Tracey had a Bad Taste Party, Stephen and I had great fun rummaging the second hand stores for some awful clothes, I’ll pass on putting photos on-line – we all looked suitably silly and a good time (with plenty of booze) was had by all….

KangarooWith a hangover looming, we had a relaxing day out to Melbourne Zoo – one of the nicer Zoo’s around.

Since it’s the winter season here, the place was deserted and made good conditions for seeing the animals in peace. The roar of the four lions at closing time was highly entertaining, really creepy and fantastic sounding. The pictured Kangaroo was in a pen where you can wander in and watch them bounce around your feet, really superb to see them up so close.

Hardrock Indoor ClimbingLast stop in Melbourne was the Hard Rock Climbing Centre, I’ve not been climbing in about two years, so it was good to get back on the wall and see if I could remember what I learned before – like riding a bike it all came back and I had no problems getting up most of the intermediate routes, though after a few hours my arms really started to ache…

Had a great time here but also glad to get on the road and back to the travelling, up later today: a return to Perth 19 years later…. tis gonna be intresting for sure.

Thanks to Stephen & Tracey for being such good hosts… shall see you again soon!

Melbourne

Escaping the city of Melbourne for a few days, we hired a car and decided to head out and about to see some sights. First up was Phillip Island and the Fairy Penguin parade. Heading down in the afternoon (and stopping for a phenomenal Scone, Cream and Jam) we made it just before sunset, ready for viewing.

The whole premise of the parade is based around the little sixteen inch Penguin’s coming back from a day’s fishing to their colony on the island. The island has a large viewing area setup on the side of the beach to watch the hundreds of Penguins come ashore and head over the beach. All sounds good in theory, but try paying $20 to get to this concrete seat, sitting with thousands of annoying tourists and being too far from the beach to see much more than little things in the distance, it’s really not up to the hype….

Next up was a trip up to Mount Dandenong, we started by heading up to the Sky High peak of the mountain. There’s not much to do up there, some garden areas, totem pole, a restaurant and some good views over the countryside, though being a cloudy day we didn’t have much of a view. The maze wasn’t bad, but not really going to offer much of a challenge to anyone over the age of eight.

The rest of the mountain area was worth exploring, the “waterfall” listed in the guide was more like a dripping tap, especially with the drought here. A kangaroo was spotted on the path ahead, but after watching us for a moment it scampered in to the wilderness.

Arches at William Ricketts SanctuaryWe finished up visiting the William Ricketts Sanctuary, lots of quirky Aboriginal based sculptures in a forest location, this arch and area pictured here reminded me of the Labyrinth movie, now that would make a good maze!

The local Imax theatre here in Melbourne was showing U23D, having missed this in Glasgow I was curious to catch it here. Having seen them twice before, last time three years ago at Hampden, it was a poor show and not worth the £66 ticket price.

My first thoughts of the Imax version was “turn it up”, I like my concerts loud and clear. The 3D effects worked well, some nice camera views from the audience, with 3D people popping their hands up right in front of your face, rather cool. What it lacked was a 3D pint glasses of beer coming over your head, or a drunk kids crowd surfing towards the security barrier.

Good show, well worth a viewing, though it’s not going to match the atmosphere of a proper gig.