World travel videos, photos, and blog.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Just arrived in Hong Kong. Not too impressed yet but we've just taken a walk down Nathan Road. Ran into a parade. Tomorrow's China's National Day. Should be good fireworks on the harbor.

And now for a look at the Longji rice terraces...

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Next stop, Hong Kong

The rice terraces were beautiful in Longji. I'll try to cut a video on the train and put it up in Hong Kong. We're killing time in Guilin right now before the 13 hour night train to HK tonight.
Shout out to D, S, and C who always have my back. Some people have no sense.


13 Hours to Hong Kong

The rice terraces were beautiful in Longji. I'll try to cut a video on the train and put it up in Hong Kong. We're killing time in Guilin right now before the 13 hour night train to HK tonight.

Shout out to D, S, and C who always have my back. Some people have no sense.


Biking Guangxi

China: still amazing. Off to the Longji rice terraces.

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The 24 hour train trip from Shanghai to Guilin wasn't as painful as I
imagined it could have been. I spent lots of time catching up on sleep,
being subjected to special effects make-up, and watching Singin in the
Rain on my ipod. Before we knew it we were on a bus to Yangshuo.

Yangshuo is this amazing little area tucked away amongst these
beautiful karsts- steep limestone mounds covered with trees, 100 to 300
meters high. The town is filled with loads of tourists with spa
services, night clubs, cafes, and western style restaurants serving
their needs. But everything's pretty laid back. The first night the
group had dinner at Lucy's cafe. I had a delicious meal of fish, rice,
and veggies provided by my bud, Holly (Thanks again, Holly!) We
celebrated one of our group member's birthdays with cake and a trip to
Monkey Jane's Bar. This led to dancing and another late night.

But it was up early the next morning to do some caving. We hopped
three buses across town to take a trek through a few mountains,
stopping off to jump in a huge pool of mud. Very dirty, very fun. The
funny part of the cave tour was having the guide stop us every 10 yards
to show us a rock formation that supposedly looked like something. (a
turtle, a woman bathing, a monkey carrying a baby...) It was a rock
Rorschach test.

No time for a nap after that, the group got together for a boat ride
on the Li River where we took in some amazing views of the karsts
(views apparently so beautiful that they use them on the 20 Yuan note
and a pack of cigarettes!), watched a man go fishing using trained
birds (the birds catch the fish but can't eat them because their
throats are tied shut, so the guy just swoops them up and empties the
fish into his basket... yup), and feasted on chicken, tofu, roasted
peppers, pumpkin, taro chips, pork, and stir fry veggies (why do I keep
adding things in parentheses?).

The tour is definitely been one of the highlights of my trip around
the world. I've had a great taste of China that's already left me
wanting to come back and have a little more. I've met a great bunch of
friends and with less than a week left, it's going to be tough getting
back onto my solo trek.

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Shanghai Days & Nights

I'm officially adding Shanghai to my list of favorite cities in the world. I like the metropolitan vibe mixed in with the busy Chinese back streets. I had a wonderful day looking at artifacts at the Shanghai Museum before grabbing a tasty lunch at a random cafe. Fried garlic rice and a tall glass of mango juice hit the spot. The food in Shanghai seems to be cooked with more vegetables, thank goodness. I need the roughage. We hopped into the Bund Tourist Tunnel which was described as the "weirdest" way to cross the river over to the Oriental Pearl Tower by Lonely Planet. It was a bit kitschy but really entertainingly so. We popped up about 300m to an observation deck of the tower and took in some city views. It was a bit rainy but still nice to get a different view of this fast developing section of the city.

In the evening we took a walk down the Bund to see the lit up skyline before a birthday dinner for one of the tour group. Steve and I share our thoughts on Shanghai while giving you a look at the lively streets. I walked with the girls for days, trying to find nightclubs but we were unsuccessful. Shanghai was threatening to ruin my fondness for it but the night was saved by a round of drinks (yay, Shilpa!) in a little cafe bar and the friendly enthusiasm of a taxi driver.

Loving it here and I'll definitely be back to take a closer look at the architecture someday. But in a few hours, we're jumping a 24 hour train to Yangshuo. Time to sleep!

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Watch, Purse, DVD?

I had a really fun day in Shanghai today. We walked along the waterfront area called "the bund" before grabbing pizza for lunch (sometimes you need to break for Western food). Steve, Steph, Carlien, and I went over to a market area afterwards where they sell all of the Chinese 'knock-off' versions of designer clothing, jewelry, etc. It was wild!

As soon as we got out of the taxi, we were swarmed by eight or nine guys trying to direct us towards a building where they had "watch, purse, Gucci, DVD movie". I actually thought that this must be what a celebrity feels like, completely attacked by fans. This 'entourage' followed us as we tried to figure out where to go shopping. I split off and went to the bank for cash. When I came out, three of them were waiting for me. In a wonderfully coordinated effort, they reunited me with the other three. It's a bit annoying to have eight guys follow you around a shopping center. The girls weren't enjoying our escorts so I pleaded with them to give us some space, assuring them that we'd check out their wares later. They agreed to go away but they left us with one guy to follow us around. All in all, it was pretty amusing and we found some nice items. I was really tempted to buy some $10 Puma sneakers but I resisted.

In the evening I went to a couple of clubs with a group of the girls. It was pretty weird. Every place we went to provided us with cups of dice (I was smacking myself for not remembering the rules to 'Liar's Dice'). In one club called M-Factor, guys dressed up as Spiderman and Venom wandered around, occasionally poking their heads into our booth. We couldn't figure out why. We sat on the patio of another club for a moment until we glanced over and noticed girls dancing on poles inside. The girls decided it was too expensive anyway so we moved on. Not a bad night I'd have to say.



We made it to Shanghai safely. Everything looks fine where we're staying. Gotta run off an explore.


Terrific-otta Warriors

Not much time to bore you with words so check the photo gallery for some snapshots of my visit to the Terracotta Warriors this morning. Pretty amazing. Thousands of these guys have been dug up, each one is different! Heading to Shanghai on a 12 hour train tonight. Guh.

P.S.- LA peeps, anyone going to the AFI 40th Anniversary screenings? I wish I was there. On sale today for the Oct. 3 event.

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So I just read that there's a typhoon heading for the Shanghai area. Are these things following me now or what? Today we grabbed lunch at 'rbt' and discovered that they served "Whatever" on the menu. Everyone whipped out their cameras. I actually ordered the Whatever. A large even. There's a photo of it in the Picasa album. It tasted like whatever.

I'm trying to take it a bit easy today. Took in some nice drum and bell performances at the Drum and Bell towers. They played instruments I'd never even seen before. Around town, people seem to lie down in on sidewalks to take afternoon naps. They don't look homeless, just really really tired. Like this writing. :yawn:

Tomorrow we're heading out to see the Terracotta Warriors. Right now, I need to go find food and to get out of this coffee shop where everyone keeps staring at me.


Xi'an Kites

After a pretty rowdy night train ride from Beijing, we zipped into another nice hotel in Xi'an. It's a nice city, with beautiful pagodas and markets with merchants who leave you alone. We walked around a bit this morning and stopped into for a tea ceremony which was wonderful. We must have had a gallon of peony, oolong, green, red, jasmine... so much tea. The four of us guys in the group have been getting on very well and our lewd and crude sense of humor makes for endless laughing. The tea ladies found us very entertaining.

This evening we walked over to the Muslim market area (there's loads of dried fruit sold out there) for a dinner of lamb, beef, noodles, breads, tofu, and veggies. I took the liberty of extending Tristan's generosity and treating one of my new friends, Carlien, to dinner. On the walk over we noticed these strings of kites floating over the city. There were hundreds of kites strung high up into the sky. It was a magical sight to see over the Bell and Drum Towers. [I mispronounced Xi'an in this video... sorry China]

Most of the group stayed in this evening to play cards. I went on a beer run and announced to everyone on my return that Azad had provided the group with twelve cold bottles of Hans beer. Thank you my friend. Someone's got a photo somewhere.

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Great Wall, Great Times

It was a beautiful day on the Great Wall. Our group hiked the Jinshanling (Golden Mountain) section to our hostel in Simitai. It was a moderately tough hike of 10km (the wall is something like 6,000km long) where we got to see parts of the Great Wall that were recently restored to sections that have crumbled apart. Crossing through 32 towers, we encountered dozens of people trying to sell us ice-water, beer, colas, "I climbed the Great Wall" t-shirts, snakes, and centipedes. Oh, and one obnoxious tourist who decided urinating off of the edge of the Wall in front of everyone was somehow appropriate. (He sounded European)

At the end of our hike, we could either walk along the mountain to our hostel or take a zip-line down to the water and hop a boat. I shot that video with a different camera so I'll show it to you later. But it was fun. I seem to be pretty open to anything these days as long as it doesn't exhaust my wallet too much. Plus, I'm traveling with a bunch of people with positive spirits and a yearning for new experiences. There's always an element of 'when will I ever get to do this again?'

The subject of romantic love was on my mind much of the way up and down the wall (until that wonderful point of exhaustion where fantasies of hamburgers and ice cream take over). Actually the subject's been on my mind since Japan when I watched a TED lecture by Helen Fisher. It's a wonder how two people come together. It seems so random but rarely effortless. As much as I try to figure it out, playing with themes and situations in my stories, it never makes any sense. What's the formula? How much kismet, how much pursuit? It'll always fascinate me and unfortunately drive me passionately into right and wrong directions.

Tonight we're headed on an overnight train to Xian. Not sure when I'll get to chime in again but I'll be thinkin' about ya.

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Scorpions and Heaven

Howdy. Still in China. Still having a pleasant time. It's been terribly rainy here the last couple of days. We had to skip the Summer Palace this time around. We did check out the night market where different things are served up on a stick. It's full of energetic merchants shouting at you, waving tentacles and snake bits at you as you walk by. Tourists crowd around and squirm. People dare each other to eat silkworms and crickets. Others grab fresh grilled meats or fruit dipped in sugar. Here's a bit of scorpion for you:

We took a walk to the Temple of Heaven today. It was very beautiful despite the rainy weather. Beijing's turning out to be another place I'd like to return and see more of. Say hello to Fuwa, the Olympic mascots- Beibei Jingjing Huanhuan Yingying & Nini:


Forbidden Day

Woke up to a rainy day today. Took a leisurely walk to the local bakery for some delicious jelly rolls and seeded buns. Then I headed to Tian'anmen Square where I was roaming around all by my lonesome. But by a stroke of luck, half of my tour group was standing right behind me taking the same photos. Tonight we're going to try to check out the night market where things like scorpions and snake are served up to order. Blech.


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Tour of Duty

I moved over to the Chongwenmen hotel today where we start our tour with Intrepid. The place is fancier than anywhere else I've stayed so far. Not counting 'the b' in Nagoya or Pin's place in Shimizu. Rumor has it there's a karaoke/brothel on the third floor!

My roommate is a British dude named Nick. He's one of four guys in the group including our guide. The other twelve are girls. I wish you could hear the giddiness in my voice. While Nick napped away his jetlag, I walked down the street to find a meal. There was McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, and even a place called RBT that had swinging seats hanging from ropes. What caught my eye was a place called 'Kung Fu'. Chinese fast food. Why not? I'll tell you why not- bones. I don't know why spare ribs, duck soup, rice, and boiled lettuce sounded appetizing when I ordered it but it wasn't so hot. Even the 'sweetened mung bean' drink was slightly lousy. It took the hunger away though but I couldn't let my ninja friend Scott's dough end up in an unsatisfactory meal. So I joined the tour group for a huge Peking duck dinner. The food was unending. Everything was pretty tasty except for the part of the duck I tried that you'll see in the YouTube video:

Afterwards, a bunch of us went to a nightclub called Suzie Wong's. There was a dress code so I had to borrow a pair of Adidas track pants provided by the club for a 100 Yuan deposit. Luckily they were magic dancing pants and I danced like a maniac til 1am. Ah what a fun start to the tour. Though I'm the oldest of everyone. Guh.


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The Tout

tout: a person soliciting custom or business, typically in an aggressive or bold manner.

I was really enjoying my walk in Beijing this afternoon because no one was bothering me. It was like being in Japan except instead of vending machines for beverages, there are huge drink stands every 20 yards down Wang Fu Jing (they have no problems with space in this town). But on my way back to the hostel, a Chinese dude asked me if I was French.

"Where are you from?" This is the first tip that someone on the street wants your money (in a hostel, it's the simplest ice-breaker). I've gotten it all over Cuba, Egypt, and India and I expect to hear it a lot throughout the rest of Asia. The routine starts with small talk based on where you're from, sometimes narrowing it down to the exact neighborhood. "Oh, the US? America... good! What part? California... ah! Where? Los Angeles. Oh! Hollywood..." They'll tell you about how they've been there, how they're going there, how their cousin lives there, or how they see it in movies. With me, I get a slew of other questions because I'm not quite American looking. Hence the gentleman's inquiry today as to whether I was French. I've been told that I look Italian, French, Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Japanese, Latin... and that I sound Canadian (the other night a guy said I sound like I'm from New Zealand... though he was so drunk, I think everyone must have sounded funny to him).

After the tout shows you that you both have something in common, he'll show you to his store. I've been taken to papyrus, carpet, scented oil, and handicrafts shops. Today, it was scroll paintings. They'll tell you just to come in for tea or to chat. If they sense apprehension, they'll insist 'no business'. The Chinese man, who's name was Joe incidentally, told me he wanted to give me his email address because he was showing his work in Los Angeles this October.

I usually go to these shops because my good nature frequently leads me into long conversations where I learn a lot about the person and the local culture. The problem is, at the end of the conversation, there's always a sales pitch and some sort of pressure to buy. If we've swapped life stories, I feel a tinge of guilt for not buying as a few dollars means a lot to the struggling. But I firmly remind myself of my rule: only buy what fits in my stomach... I need my backpack to lose weight, not my body. Plus, I have no income! When I explain that I don't need anything, they quickly ask if I'm married. No. Girlfriend? No. (Why they ask? No money I respond!) Mother? ::sigh:: Yes. Ah, this perfume/carving/carpet/painting would be a lovely gift for your mother. Rather than explain to them that she has too much stuff already, I decline for the dozenth time.

If you tell them that you're traveling for nine months and can't carry anything, they'll show you how they can package it up for easy shipping. I am often tempted as I do run across some nice pieces but I have to stop myself from accumulating more stuff. And I hope some of you understand that I couldn't bring back any cool stuff for you from my trip because, I don't think you really need more 'stuff' in your life either. (Confession: I did end up with the stolen kimono and a Mt. Fuji t-shirt from Japan... I always leave that country with more than I came with)

Today's sales pitch involved Joe showing me different types of paintings that he, his professor, and his students did. He explained that bamboo represented man, cherry blossoms, woman. He walked me through water color and inking techniques adding that they put medicines in their paint so the color doesn't fade. He showed me calligraphy and told me stories. It seemed very rehearsed. In the end, he explained that his students needed to pack up the work today and because it was very expensive to go to the US (apparently they're showing their work at UCLA, Oct. 25), I could pick up one of these paintings for about $12 US. I declined and instead of giving me a hard sell, he insisted on not sending me away empty handed. So he wrote Tony in Chinese calligraphy [photo above]. He said the bottom character means handsome and the top meant wisdom, like that of the waves in the ocean. Someone will have to verify this because I think it probably says, "Cheap tourist".

P.S.- As soon as I left the shop, a guy ran up to me shouting, "Hey, hey!" He pulled out a book of postcards and said 10 Yuan. I say, no, he says, 5. I say no, he says, how much. I walk away, he says two for 10! These guys are the real 'touts'. So aggressive you end up running away and almost getting hit by taxis.


Big Beijing

I climbed into my bunk pretty early last night. I thought I'd watch a TED lecture or two to wind down (though they usually get my brain wound up). Within seconds of laying my head down though, I was fast asleep. I slept so heavily I never noticed the French couple return and climb into their own bunks. I must have been super exhausted.

Today, I stepped outside to do some exploring- without a map. The streets are set up in a grid here so I figured I couldn't get too lost. The Forbidden City and Tiananmen are just a few blocks away. Turns out I immediately went in the wrong direction and ended up on a large avenue called Wangfujing. The streets are very wide here and the city flat. Sometimes, the streets seem much too big to cross (look for tunnels). Wangfujing is pleasantly closed off to auto traffic. Aside from the gray haze that blankets the city, I was enjoying my stroll through Beijing. I actually had a bit of a foolish smile on my face as I looked up at all of the enormous buildings in wonder. There's an incredible amount of construction going on for next year's Olympic games. Old buildings are being renovated or completely leveled for new ones. Cranes and scaffolding are erected on what seems like every block. Things are definitely a buzz for the games. The sound of a Chinese man singing what I assumed were some sort of patriotic or traditional songs, lured me into the Beijing Olympics flagship store. So much merchandise.

For lunch, I scarfed down another plate of fried rice (Thanks Charley, Lisa, kids! They didn't have cow liver on the menu...) before taking a nap and packing my duffel for the start of my 20-day tour tomorrow. Tonight I think I'll head out and explore a street nearby for street food. (Pin, I found a Mr. Lee's- the California Beef Noodle King- but it either hadn't opened yet or closed down. I'll keep looking)

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Ni Hao

Ever wake up on an airport bench in Japan, hop a plane, end up in China a few hours later, and think to yourself, "Where am I and why am I here?" That was my morning. But I have arrived in Beijing and I'm staying at the Jade International Youth Hostel down the street from Tiananmen Square. I'm in a shared room with four beds. Why do they always give me the top bunk? You know, I haven't had a shared room in a hostel since Athens, Greece. In the Greek islands, shared rooms were sold out so I had to pay double for my own room. Egypt and India were so cheap I didn't have to stay in shared rooms. Anyway, it's back to no privacy and meeting strangers.

Last night I hopped the Yamanote line in Tokyo and popped out for a quick hello/goodbye to Shibuya [photo above] and Harajuku. It was amazing to see how familiar the streets were. I realized that I covered a LOT of ground last time I was in Japan. Still, there's much more I haven't seen and I'm going to have to return someday. This time around, it was all about taking it easy [aside from climbing a mountain] and spending time with friends. I was extremely sad to leave yesterday. I realized that I hadn't really had time to hang out with anyone from the States since Anthonette came out to Italy. I was really craving the comfort of people who knew me. I was really really bummed as I thought about getting back on the road to strange places and faces.

My first impressions of China- the air quality is not so wonderful. And there are a lot of Chinese people here. They're everywhere dude. Somehow I managed to hop three buses through the city to find my hostel. It's really funny to have these exchanges with people who speak no English. They just spew out words at me, I smile, and nod.

I was dying to brush my teeth and then I wondered, is the water safe to brush with here in Beijing? They say it is but I don't know if I want to mess with it. I miss you, Japan water. Man, I'm in China. So weird. I guess it's time to find food.

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Tokyo Typhoon and Other Adventures

The day Typhoon Fitlow was due to hit Tokyo, I raced out to the Chinese Embassy to pick up my second visa. Lots of sprinting through streets that morning. The weather was eerily nice in Roppongi. As soon as I had my passport back in hand, I shot back to Tokyo station to race over to Nagoya. I was meeting my friend Tania and her sister Elsie there around 11 and heading out to Kyoto with them in the afternoon. I had been overly optimistic in thinking I could run to the subway, get from Roppongi to Ebisu on the Tokyo metro, hop the Yamanote JR to Shinagawa, and jump on the Hikari bullet to Nagoya by 11am. That's a lot of frookin' trains!

Once I was on the train, it felt like I was escaping the typhoon. Passing through Shizuoka, the rains and gloom were approaching. But in Nagoya, things were pretty rosy. I was thrilled to see another familiar face in Japan. We grabbed food from the local mall before grabbing the next bullet to Kyoto. Mall food in Japan isn't like the string of fast food joints you get in the US. There's everything from onigiri to sushi to bentos to an amazing French bakery (The smell of fresh bread from Johan's made me salivate as soon as it hit my nostrils. Pavlov would be impressed.) It's a dangerous place to be when you haven't had anything to eat and your pockets are full of Yen.

Hours later we were in Kyoto looking at temples, Buddhas, and pagodas. Real geishas shuffled around the Gion area as the sun went down. A beautiful rainbow spread across the sky, stopping people in their tracks. Camera phones were snapping away. The three of us decided to have Shabu Shabu. Marbled beef, enoki mushrooms, and 'invisible noodles'. Pretty tasty. (Thank you Rich!)

When it was time to grab a train back to Nagoya, we encountered the typhoon madness. While we were enjoying our walk around Kyoto, trains were shut down and delayed throughout Japan. We packed into parked trains like sardines, clueless to what was happening. Announcements would come over the PA system and hoards of people would shuffle out of one train to another across the way. Eventually we made it back to Nagoya. Tania and I grabbed some steaks at La Piedra. The beef was so good I was making those uncontrollable 'mmm' sounds with each bite.

The next day we had a late start and ended up in Hiroshima after dark. We took a walk through the Peace park before trying to grab the next bullet back to Nagoya. But after a mix-up we were stuck. It took a half hour to find a hotel in Hiroshima that wasn't booked up. We settled on a Comfort Inn and had a late meal at Watami. In the morning, the girls headed to Miyajima and I took one last walk through the Peace park before a five hour journey back to Pin's.

Last night we grabbed Indian food for dinner and hung out in a park afterwards. I had fun playing with a huge sculpture that I've deemed "The Shimizu Ring of Wonder":

Japan's been a nice break from lonely and rough travels. The best part's been spending time with old and new friends. But in a few hours, it's back on the road again on my own. Next stop: Beijing.

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Moleskine Ramblings

I was on the shinkansen the other day doing some writing and I found these scribblings in my notebook. I thought I'd digitize them.

First was this weirdness while I was trying to get to the Agra Cantt train station back in August:

I'm rushing out to the street from the Sheela Inn to find an auto rickshaw when I'm approached by this young kid who's directing me towards an auto and an older gentleman standing beside it. We negotiate a price and I'm off to Agra Cantt Station. I thought the older guy was going to drive but the kid jumped in. The roads were full of people and every one of my senses was being bombarded by stimuli. Three camels linked together wandered across the street. People were shouting. Food was frying. Honking in every direction. We're racing through all of this, swerving around cows, kids, bikes, merchants. I'm thinkin', man, this kid's good! I wonder how old he is. I look through my pocket for a tip, I'm so impressed. I think about asking how old he is, my guess was 13, maybe 14. I say nothing though, he's 'in the zone'. We finally reach the station, I get out, and as I look up at him I'm startled to discover that in the light, this kid's actually a mustached man in his thirties. I'm very weirded out, I still tip him, and he smiles as I dart to the platform.

Next is an excerpt from Paul Theroux's article "The Exotic View" (1977):
It seems natural to dream of the exotic as to dream at all. We are born with the impulse to wonder and eventually to yearn for the world before the fall in which we may be the solitary Crusoe (with his bad conscience he is rather more credible than Adam); and who has not dreamed of being a princeling with a jeweled sword, marching across an eastern caliphate? In a sense, the literature comes later. Because the dreamer's perfection emphasizes that it is unattainable, man searches for proof that it is not. And whatever fantasy one has reveals one's peculiar hunger. It might be very simple: The island paradise. Or it might be complex: The oriental kingdom of silks and plumes.

And there's the random dialogue I scribble everywhere:
I'm a dreamer. And the thing of it is, my dreams come true. I just don't know when, where, how, or with whom. So I'm constantly on guard because at any moment, that could be it.

While in my mountain hideaway...
There is no humanity without humans. Why do you think you have to do this alone?

My tombstone will read: I did it all for Love.

Who am I talking to?
I have the perfect role for you in my fantasies and damn it, you've already nailed the audition. Yet you seem to have no interest in the part.

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Tokyo Bullet

I finally made it to the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo on time. Turns out my little mistake of obtaining a 'single-entry' visa in Rome is going to cost me in a big way. At least $100 big to replace it with a multiple-entry visa. Though it's valid for a year so if I want to come back to China soon, no worries! ::sigh:: I almost was out of luck for a second as I was also informed that I no longer have any pages left for visas in my original passport. Then I remembered, I have a second passport sucka! Anyway, I have to head back into Tokyo tomorrow morning to pick it up. Problem is, there's a typhoon (check out the satellite imagery) coming. Hopefully it'll wuss out tonight and the trains will run on time. There's nothing like zipping to Tokyo on the Fujikawa Limited Express to Shizuoka to hop the Shinkansen to Shinagawa. Makes you feel like you've got something important to do.

I think I've become onigiried out. Oh, and why is it so hard to find an internet cafe in Tokyo? < rant>There was one every ten yards in Vishist, India and that was in the Himalayas! I guess if you were visiting Los Angeles as a tourist you'd be hard pressed to find an internet cafe. (further research back at headquarters reveals that Kinkos is the place to look for net access in Tokyo... over 100yen/15 min though) I've been field testing the Sony MYLO around Japan. Free wifi isn't so readily available. That or the little MYLO just can't pick up signals very well. I'm telling you, internet access is the one thing that keeps me from leaving the house. I'm just completely disconnected from free communication like email or Skype. Cheap travel phones... why can't we have those? < /rant>


Special Day

Hope you have a beautiful day in the US of A. Here's a photo of us the day I left (before I was "skin and bone")

Mt. Fuji, Conquered

Ever since I first saw the majestic Mt. Fuji in Japan, I'd wanted to climb it. Although I enjoy the outdoors, I wouldn't say I'm the "outdoorsy" type. I don't know why I was so determined to make the hike up this dormant volcano but it was on 'the list' and the main reason for being in Japan at the end of August.

I woke up early on Sunday and headed to Lawsons to buy an assortment of rice balls. I caught the train- Shimizu to Fuji to Fujinomiya - and hopped the bus to the Fujinomiya 5th Station on the mountain. (3000 Yen roundtrip... underwritten by the Phil Z. Foundation, THANKS PHIL!) From this station at about 2,500 meters, all you could see was clouds. It was a beautiful day. I was told that it takes an average of 5 hours to hike to the top and 3 hours to come down. Pin's friend Brian told me I could do the climb in 3 hours. I had about seven hours until my bus would return to pick me up. Time to move.

Since the climbing season is officially over (hence the lack of bus service), most shops are closed on the mountain. I quickly perused the souvenirs and snacks at the 5th station and decided that I didn't want to drop more Yen on a can of oxygen. I quickly hit the trail and within minutes, I felt a bit winded. Pin had warned me about problems with altitude sickness (the mountain reaches over 12,000 feet) so I was a bit paranoid. He'd experienced headache and nausea which just about ruined his whole climb. I could feel my pulse growing a bit rapid but breathing wasn't too much of a problem (though it's funny to see me struggle to speak on the video). I mentioned thinking about this freediving record holder I'd read about who trained her body to go without breathing for more than six minutes. I kept telling myself how amazing the human body is and how we constantly challenge ourselves.

I didn't stop to rest much at the stations on the way to the top. I snacked and drank water while I climbed. I was mostly trying to stay ahead of this European woman who was on the bus with me (my stupid imagination made me pretend I was being pursued by foreign agents). I listened to a couple of lectures and had been thinking a lot about humanity and our relationship with the planet. After a while, thoughts turned from, "What can we do as individuals to contribute more to society and the environment" to "Must reach top, hungry, so tired".

And then I made it. Took about three hours. It was an amazing view. High above the clouds. Sunshine, cool breeze. I felt pretty good for having made another dream come true. I met some Americans who lived in Tokyo and they shared pepperoni and Ritz crackers with me. I also polished off the last two onigiri and had a granola bar. I wandered around the crater a little before making the descent. There wasn't much time to hang out as the bus would return in just a few hours.

As soon as I started to make my way down, I got a pounding headache. A lot of people practically run down the mountain but I could barely walk as each rough step from one rock to another made me feel like I was being punched in the head. I took it very slow. The headache brought on the nausea. I wanted to stop and just sleep but I had to catch the bus. I took a Tylenol, drank more water, and kept moving. It wasn't until about the 7th station that my head stopped pounding. The relief from pain was so great, I started to run down the hill towards the fifth station. I passed the Americans and we all agreed, "Once in a lifetime experience... emphasis on the once". My legs were like jello back at the 5th station. I climbed on the bus and took off my sweaty shirt. Before we left, I caught the sun setting into the clouds. Fujisan. Done.

I was eager to get back to Shimizu for a hefty bowl of ramen but I mistakenly climbed onto an express train that not only went past Shimizu to Shizuoka but was also not covered by my rail pass. It was a sleeper train. Rice balls! They charged me 1240 Yen for a twenty-five minute ride and a bed I never touched (though each bed had sheets, a hanger, and a kimono). The way I look at it, I paid 1240 Yen for a JR Railways kimono. East side!

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BBQs and Mountains

Food, folks, and fun last night in Shizuoka. Yakitori and 80's music took me away from the internet on Friday night. This afternoon we headed down to the water to BBQ with Pin's friends. No grill? The meat counter at the local market will loan you a pan. We grilled up at least five different meats and ended it all with a big yakisoba stir-fry. Way too much food even for my American stomach. Later in the evening we went to see Ocean's 13. Entertaining but not entirely satisfying.

I've been burning through money in Japan. There's just too many delicious things to eat and drink here. I could eat onigiri (rice balls) all day long. And I've just found a bakery making strawberry mochi cakes. All of this spending and I haven't even gone anywhere yet. This all changes tomorrow morning when I attempt to tackle Mt. Fuji. The climbing season has officially ended so after consulting with Pin and his friends, it was decided that I should do a daytime climb instead of freezing my onigiri up on the mountain in the middle of the night.

Possible outings for this week, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Takeyama, Hiroshima, Hijemi, Osaka, and Sendai. If you've got some favorite spots in Japan, let me know.

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Location: United States A 29 yr old filmmaker from California traveled through Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia/NZ over ten months from April 2007 to March 2008.

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