Blog Archives

Bizarre Encounter at a Nanjing Station Urinal…

Chinese CRH bullet train

So there I was in Nanjing Station to catch the bullet train back to Shanghai, minding my own business, and going for a quick slash before boarding the train as you do.

It was one of those massive toilets in those massive train stations, the urinal room with 20-odd urinals lined along the walls,

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The Yunnan Overland Backpacker Trail

Prayer flags in Shangri La

I was just sorting through some old travel photos after finally gaining access to the hard drive from my broken old laptop, and realised I’d never posted about the Yunnan backpacker trail in Southwest China. The basic route goes from the sprawling provincial capital Kunming up to the ancient lakeside town of Dali,

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The Time I Got Apprehended by Ten Cops in Japan for Riding a Stolen Bike

「僕の言葉わかるでしょう」

“Boku no kotoba wakaru deshou!”

“You understand my words, don’t you?”

It wasn’t a question, more an accusation, and he delivered it in a point blank yell with a thump of the desk for emphasis.

They were literally playing the good cop bad cop routine,

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Volunteering in Tohoku after the 2011 tsunami

Tsunami damage in Onagawa

I didn’t feel the Earth move at 2:46pm on that day in early 2011, but I remember exactly where I was when it did; I was just finishing up my last lesson before lunch, a lunch break I’d be mostly wasting rushing out to buy white chocolates for my female coworkers (for White Day,

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Tohoku, Japan’s Treasureland

Bodai-ji, Osorezan

Tohoku, 東北 (literal meaning ‘Northeast’) is the northernmost region of Japan’s main Honshu island, consisting of 6 large but relatively sparsely populated prefectures of great natural beauty. It also has a rich folklore tradition and many sites of historical importance, with a recent marketing campaign branding the region –

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Osorezan, Mt Dread

Bodai-ji, Osorezan

For something a little different the Shimokita Peninsula at the northern tip of Japan’s main Honshu island fits the bill. The peninsula’s northern end is formed by the volcano Osorezan, which translates as Mt Fear or Mt Dread. Lake Usori, the caldera lake in the volcano’s crater,

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Yamadera

Yamadera

Yamadera literally means ‘Mountain Temple’, and that’s exactly what Yamadera is. The full name is Risshakuji (立石寺, Standing Stone Temple), but Yamadera’s far more commonly used. Some 1200 years old, it’s one of the coolest temples to visit in all Japan with an upper area accessed via a steep half-hour climb up the mountain.

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The Best Places to see the Autumn Colours in Seoul

Autumn colours at Seoul’s palaces

Ask any Korean the best time of year to visit Seoul, and chances are they’ll say October; summer’s too hot (true), winter’s too cold (but good if you like skiing), spring’s lovely if you time it just right for the cherry blossoms, but visit in October and you’re virtually guaranteed pleasant weather (unless you get unlucky with a typhoon,

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Neo Tokyo: dystopian dreams

While I do despise the YouTube algorithm as a radicalisation & bullshit engine that human society would be better off without, I must grudgingly admit that it does occasionally dig you up a gem.

It suggested this beauty recently after I’d been listening to some of the Blade Runner soundtrack:

I knew I’d heard that haunting vocal somewhere before;

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Life in Japan: cicadas and the sound of summer

It’s been a long, hot summer in northeast Asia, with Korea and Japan both suffering record-breaking heatwaves. Things are finally cooling off somewhat here in Seoul, but my recent research trip to Japan coincided with their hottest temperatures on record and it was ridiculous, worse even than the summer I spent in the cauldron of Kyoto while working there a few years ago.

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Hozukyo Station

A train stopped at Hozukyo Station

From this distance the train appears to be suspended in the air across the valley, high above the river and motionless with its lights standing out like beacons against the backdrop of brooding forest in the deepening gloom. The tinny sounds of station announcements and departure chimes waft over on the breeze,

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Yokai: the monsters and demons of Japanese folklore

Tengu at Yakuo-in temple, Mt Takao

Japanese folklore is a rich tapestry of mischievous spirits, child-eating monsters, and shape-shifting animals, a little knowledge of which can give great insight into the culture when you visit.

Most trips to Japan will involve visiting some (usually many) temples, shrines,

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Which Shrines & Temples Should You Visit in Kyoto?

Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

Kyoto has so many shrines & temples, where do you even start?

There’s no way you can see them all in a short visit (I haven’t come close even after many visits and living there for over a year), and if you tried you’d soon find yourself suffering from a bad case of temple fatigue.

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A Few Random Things to Do in Tokyo

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Bay

If it’s your first few days in Tokyo, chances are you have a to-do list including the usual spots like Asakusa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Meiji Shrine. But how about if you’ve done all that before? If that’s the case, here are a few random ideas for some cool stuff to do or places to check out in Tokyo –

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Tokyo’s Niche Shopping Districts

Tokyo’s quite an amazing city for shopping – if you’re looking for electronics, home furnishings, toiletries, medicine, beauty products, luggage, clothes, etc, you can find them all over the city; the myriad department stores and big chains like Uniqlo, BIC Camera, and Donki Hotei make it easy to find whatever you’re looking for.

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Gundam Got An Upgrade

The new Gundam statue in Odaiba

Having never seen an episode, I know very little about Gundam other than that it’s a classic Japanese anime about giant mecha robots defending the Earth, or something like that – I’m more of an Evangelion fan, though to be fair that could be described the exact same way!

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Kowloon Walled City, Kawasaki

Reproduction of Kowloon Walled City at Anata-no-warehouse, Kawasaki

I first heard of Hong Kong’s old Kowloon Walled City in William Gibson’s Idoru (which is a great novel if you’re interested in sci-fi & Japan), which features a virtual reality community based on it.

Reproduction of Kowloon Walled City at Anata-no-warehouse, Kawasaki

A lawless, ramshackle, and insanely densely populated corner of Hong Kong,

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Life in Beijing: catching the bullet train

Chinese CRH bullet train

You’re woken up by the sound of an old man violently expectorating in the hutong alleyway outside, cringing during the pause while he holds his mouthful of phlegm for a second or two between noisily bringing it up and noisily depositing it on the floor with typically exaggerated sound effects.

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Hospitality and Scorpions in Marble Canyon

We were two weeks into our epic road trip around the US, now driving through the incredible southwestern states of New Mexico and Arizona; we’d just spent two days in Albuquerque for the July 4 Independence Day celebrations (and also one of my companion’s birthdays), and the next point of call was the Grand Canyon.

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Drugs Busted After the 2006 World Cup. Sort of…

“Sir,” she said in a suddenly stern voice, “your bag’s tested positive for amphetamines.”

My jaw hit the floor. My bag? Amphetamines? You what?

I was standing in the customs area of Christchurch Airport, the entire contents of my bags laid out before me on the cold metal counter,

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