I want to break free

February, 2011, Seoul, Korea

February 2011, Seoul, Korea

Mind of a traveller

I was 23 in Japan, living a life free of responsibility, every young 20 something dream. Yet there I was, residing in a cramped one-bedroom flat, wishing that I made different choices.

A mild state of depression slowly crept over me, causing me to reevaluate my current situation.  The tsunami hitting northern Japan,  causing a radiation leak at the Fukushima plant. The situation made me feel entirely helpless,  for a while I pondered about how my life had led me here, in this tiny bedsit, watching the walls alone. Wishing the time away; hoping something –anything that would come along and put me on the right path towards contentment.

The anxiety didn’t let up when my brother visited me that year, if anything I saw his freedom to explore the world and I envied it. During most March 2011, we were trapped in my flat too scared by all the fear-mongering of the British media about radiation poisoning to venture outside. A feeling of being imprisoned slowly took over, as trains were cancelled, flights delayed and food scarce.

Some might say that I was ungrateful, and looking back at it, maybe I was. But even after the threat of radiation had died down, I woke up everyday almost in tears. I went to a job I had no passion for only to increase my bank balance and secure my visa.

Flights out of the country became too expensive, the low job prospects back at home, promises made to friends I had to keep;  the chains were tight and every time I resisted it only toughened its grasp.

As an expatriate, friends come and go, and there is never a ‘forever’, only for those who have set up shop here with families and I had no temptation to follow, if anything there attitudes towards Japan only made me want to leave even more.

Two years later still miserable I knew I had overstayed my welcome.  Rather than book a ticket straight out of Japan, I opted to visit Fukuoka, costing me no more than a few hundred pounds.  After a brief romantic encounter with an Australian; I was in the air –literally (and figuratively).

Travelling is a life-changing event that affects people’s way of thinking, but you also find yourself appreciating home-comforts. Once I landed at Heathrow, I inhaled the multiculturalism of London and my first week passed in a blur of museums, long walks, and “good ol’ English pubs”. This was home.

The long job applications started and I was working within the first three weeks of being back home.  The job I had trained for and tried vainly to find in Tokyo. An ideal situation to most but it happened again; the stability had started to cause an unease. I was in a situation where I had total control, which ironically made me scared.

I was becoming an “everyday robot” and I ceased the opportunity to fly off again, this time to New York.

But it wasn’t enough, I was travelling to modern cities, while I had always thrived on the historical sites, nature reserves and mountains a country had to offer.  There was no stopping me from climbing mountains, visiting temples –seeing the world.

A few weeks ago, at my computer I scrolled through volunteer opportunities online. With the savings I had accumulated I booked my first expedition to Peru to help on an archaeological dig at Vilcabamba.  It did the trick, and settled my self-induced anxiety.  Jealousy still gets the best of me when I see tourists wandering through London, exploring the hidden  alley ways, or discovering that quaint little pub behind the promenade of shops in Holborn. But, I know its only a matter of time before I’m on the road (again.)

 

Forget your balls, and grow a pair of tits

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During my young adult years, I had never really felt any oppression for being a woman. Throughout my years in university I never understood the strong stance feminists in my halls took against the opposite gender. Lecturers, fellow students all talked to me on the same level and valued any opinion I brought forward. Now, let’s fast-forward 5 years, I present to you a very different person, someone my 21-year old self could never hope to understand.

It really is hard out here for “a bitch”.

I don’t believe you are a born a feminist, your experiences mold you into one. You start off walking through life quite care-free, and then you start stumbling over the barrage of injustices that occur from being a woman. The only mistake you made? Being born the “wrong” gender.

Gender debate aside,  one can’t help but wonder what had happened along the way for me to turn into such an ‘aggressive feminist’. Was it the constant need for validation from the opposite sex, since all my bosses had been male?  Or was it the constant objectification I experienced when I wore dresses and skirts on a hot day?

Moving to Japan, enlightened me a fair bit, I was constantly subjected to a number of males who had no real respect for women, their shock when they found out that “I wanted a career” and had no real desire to get married were all initially quite amusing, but quickly became tiresome. But, then I became complacent, I started to think that England was a country filled with men who understood and wanted equality for women, a dreamland some would say for equal opportunity.

When I arrived back in England, it was quite the wake-up call. The equality paradise I had fooled myself into believing in whilst I was in Japan had been nothing more than a fantasy. Dates, formal arrangements and even friendly discussions had all become archaic and a little derisive. If I had an opinion it was quickly shutdown and there is nothing worse than feeling stigmatised for airing how you feel, especially on matters that you deeply believe in.

Friends of mine know I am a deep ecologist, and a biocentrist. I believe in, and attempt to live within the borders of the basic laws of ecology. I’m not here to be liked, I’m not here to make friends,  I only want to be taken seriously.

That’s been the one saving grace, my male friends who haven’t fallen for this whole “misogynistic” view that women’s opinions don’t really matter. Fortunately, I seem to attract well-rounded individuals, who don’t dismiss people’s ideas or views, because they’re simply different.

Being a world citizen

 

Every country in the world is made of nomadic people who at some point in time arrived there.

Every country in the world is made of nomadic people who at some point in time arrived there.

Since I was a child I had always felt quite disconnected to the concept of culture, as much as I love visiting different countries and integrating with their ways, I had never truly felt connected to any. I was born in England, and I have a British father so by all means that makes me British and of course if anyone asked I would say, “I’m English” and I still feel that’s the country I have most to share with, but I don’t connect with any traditional (or modern for that matter) English culture or values as much as I should or would want to.

Nor do I particularly connect with Colombian culture, which is my mother’s native land. I do believe that I share many attributes physically and socially to that of a Colombian. I inherited my mother’s passion and temperament, her olive skin and black hair. But I never felt “latino” either. I also have a keen interest in Colombian history, studying many of the pre-hispanic eras. One would say a spiritual connection to some of the tribes that still populate Colombia’s highland, specifically the Wayuu and Kuna, who live in sync with nature and stay far away from the politics of  the Mestizo/White-led government of Colombia.

Still I don’t feel anymore Colombian than I do British, before this year I lived in Japan, a country I had always wished to visit and one I thought I had a natural affinity with. Though as it proved as much as I loved the traditional and cultural elements, I felt even more cut off from society.  There is nothing more lonely or disconnecting than being judged solemnly on the way you look.

So when I sat down the other night to decide what it meant to be connected to be one place or nationality I concluded –not much.  The idea of being a citizen of the world had always appealed to me, and as I explained previously I felt no real connection to one country or culture.   Of course as humans it’s only second nature of us to categorise people to segregate them according to their nationality, culture and appearance. It is far easier for us to conclude that the way someone thinks is solely based on their background.

I wanted to be more than my nationality, that’s why I found solitude in the existing multiculturalism of London’s South East. Of course England and London especially are vastly multiracial and multicultural as it is – no way of feeling secluded, despite the fact when someone who is racially ambiguous like myself it can be harder to relate to the almost perpetually forming cliques in the capital.  Multicultural societies like the UK can cause more racial tension than more homogenous societies like Japan, and it’s not even as clear as black and white, with most unrest being directed at the Polish.

Would it be better to be associated as a citizen of the world, where every country’s problems are our own, replacing the dismissive stance we take when ‘shit is going down’ in other less developed countries? Who knows, I know from my experience in Japan that the conversation of nationality and ethnicity got very boring, very quickly.  As gimmicky as this sounds,  there is not much else I can do,  only complain more and write more blog posts that I doubt anyone actually reads; so here is for my first day as a World Citizen, spiritually and literally.

Raised lovingly for the slaughterhouse

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For many volunteering in a nature reserve in Africa is an unobtainable dream. Hindered by the strict policies and highly selective programs, many volunteers opt for more costly organisations. It’s a narrow gap, for those who find themselves lucky enough to be surrounded by lions, some do not actually realise the dark truth behind those early morning feedings and hugs. Before choosing the first result from Google Search, extra caution and thorough research is advised before you add another head on a wall.

Volunteers in Africa nature reserves have risen dramatically as the media hones in more and more on the plight of the animals being butchered for their fur and ivory.

Last year, a campaign started on Facebook to stop Melissa Bachman, a trophy-hunting enthusiast, from re-entering South Africa, gathering more than 300,000 likes. But unaware volunteers do not connect the dots and although they believe they are helping, the truth is poachers and hunters like Bachman rely on the farmed animals they raised.

The truth is volunteers are paying extortionate amounts of money to come to South Africa to hand raise lion cubs under the guise that they are doing it name of conservation. Activists groups are alleging that most of these cubs end up in a “canned” hunt or as breeding machines for farms.

Volunteer programs in many African countries do not benefit from the sort of thorough crosschecking that organisations in the US and Europe are subjected to, consequently there is no assurance whether the group is a legitimate or not. In fact, many of these volunteers are oblivious that many of these game reserves or conservation projects are paid to provide animals specially bred for special reserves that have not been government regulated are being raised for trigger-happy tourists.

Animals involved in these types of breeding farms are habituated to human contact, often hand-reared and bottle-fed, so are no longer naturally fearful of people.

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Florida emphasises this point, “If the facility has cubs, it is probably a bad place and if they allow any human interaction with cubs then you know it is a bad place.”

This environment makes it easier for clients to be guaranteed a kill and thus the industry is lucrative and popular. Many volunteers clearly miss the link between the picture of Bachman’s shot lion and the cub they helped rear.

‘Canned Hunting’ is a 20th Century coined term for an animal kept in a confined area, such as in a fenced-in area, which increases the likelihood of the hunter obtaining a kill. Many hunters, primarily US and European citizens have been enticed to spend their coin for a trophy not found back in the wild lands of their home country. Led by lions rhinos, elephants and antelope are being raised and auctioned off on so-called “nature reserves” to the richest bidder. Other reserves raise them and allow them to be shot on sight.

Estimates from 2008 assume that in South Africa between 3,500 and 4,000 lions live in captivity. A recent report by the National Council of SPCAs suggests that many of these lions end up as targets for canned hunting. The report states “the hunting of captive bred lions is in fact at an all time high and the South African Predator Breeders Association (SAPBA) estimated in January this year that about 1050 lions were hunted in South Africa in 2008.

Three or more lions are shot every day in South Africa in the same manner that Melissa Bachman shot her “trophy”.

The most distressing factor is that the rarer the breed of animal, the more valuable the kill, take for example the highly endangered Black rhino that was auctioned off last month at the Dallas Safari Club, a Texas-based trophy hunting group for an estimated $500,000, which is apparently being donated to fund future black rhino conservation efforts. The black rhino is currently on the “big five” endangered lists and is considered highly prized for its healing powers in Chinese medicine.

The buyer of the prized animal Corey Knowlton stated on his Facebook page that his purchase would help other rhino, which the species has an appetite for killing, “Ok, the reasoning is this. The Rhino we are going to hunt is a problem animal killing other Rhinos and possibly other animals as well. So the Rhino would absolutely pose a threat to anything in the area he would be relocated to. The problem rhinos in this area are all post breeding very mature males near the end of their life.”

Thankfully unlike Knowlton, many foreigners who visit the region are not hunters; many have come to enjoy the natural reservations that South Africa is famous for.

But not all conservations programmes are bogus, the biggest indication of a legitimate programme would be the lack of interaction between lions and humans, evidence of a conservation programme with good intentions.

Interesingly, these legitimate programmes are aware of these phonies, “We are actively campaigning against canned hunts, and more specifically are raising awareness about how something as innocent looking as cub petting is fuelling this cruelty,” says Baskin.

Do the maths, if a facility always has cubs for the public to interact with, then you must be aware that a constant supply of cubs being bred by females can become unmanageable once the cubs start to mature. So where have the all the other cubs disappeared to? It’s just not sustainable unless there is some sort of an outlet, the answer – canned hunting.

Take the Lion Breeding Project in Port Elizabeth in South Africa for example, the group could not meet certain standards of the welfare of the animals held in captivity, and consequently lost its a voluntourism agent,Travellers Worldwide. The agency found that the lions had been kept in a distressed environment and the group were unwilling to comply with Travellers’ code of ethical practice.

For those who are interested in participating in honest volunteer programs, make sure you do all the necessary background checks as well as contacting the registered charities commission. Newspapers provide a selection of programs in the classifieds, which provide volunteers the information about the reserves, visa issues, jabs and political situation of the region.

As for the casual tourist, beware of so-called “cuddle farms”. It often happens that a cub is “leased” to farms or “conservation projects” where visitors can cuddle with a cub and have the chance to feeding them a bottle.

According to Baskin: “Big cats cannot be bred in captivity and then released into the wild. The only reason big cats are farmed is to be exploited as pets, props and for their parts.”

There is abundant abuse of the permit system for the breeding and hunting of lions. Should the country have standardised regulations across all regions?

Earl Smith, Founder of Volunteer Southern Africa advises: “In my view there is only one way to ensure that volunteers know the facility do not partake in any hunting is to find and ask previous volunteers of that facility. Volunteers on our programs get to see and experience everything we do, so they would be the best source of information.”

Recent attempts to get the canned hunting of lions and rhinos illegalised in South Africa have failed. But, it is still imperative to let the South African government know the world’s anger and distress at the legalisation of canned hunting and the damage it is doing to South Africa’s international reputation. Firstly, by making sure you do not play the role of “exploited volunteer”.

The last of the Incas

This year, sees an adventure begin. My trip to Peru in April, will be one of the biggest events of my life, I see nothing but the land of the setting sun in front of me.  It’s been a childhood dream of mine to visit Machu Pichu, my interest in the Incan empire was sparked when I was only a child, watching the Mysterious Cities of Gold, pretending to be Zia, the Incan princess. Something about the ancient lands of Peru causes a chill down my spine, the good kind, the kind, which kicks you off your seat into action, into an adventure.

I read the Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham last year, it was filled with stories of discovery, the main one being how he found the last city of the indigenous people of Peru, which had always fascinated me. I had no hopes of becoming an archaeologist or historian when I was a child, I had only wished to visit the land of the setting sun so I could trace the same steps of the Incas with my very own footprints.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Last year, after coming back from a four-year adventure in Japan, I felt at odds with the world. It might come across off as little strange, but I left not out of the need for home comforts, but for adventure. Japan had given me all the necessities I would have needed to go voyaging off in some distant land,  money, accessible routes from sea and land, but it lacked the all important key to adventure; opportunity. You see I didn’t want to just visit Peru, I wanted to explore Peru.

That’s when I realised I wanted to be more than a travel writer, visiting restaurants and hotels and giving them a rating out of ten seemed a little mundane, if not repetitive. I wanted to get into every nick and cranny in Machu Picchu and find or notice something that someone hadn’t before.

I started attended seminars at UCL about South American Archaeology, and my interest started to shape into a life ambition. I began applying for internships on archaeological digs in Peru and by some source of divine power I was offered one late last year with a renowned archaeologist in the field of Ancient Peru, finally starting my adventure.

Here I include my 5 favourite civilisations to come out of Peru, and some I hope to delve into more once I become more acquainted with the region.

Top 5 Peruvian Ancient

  1. The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, was a culture of Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas Region of present-day Peru.
  2. The Inca Empire  was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.
  3. The Nazca culture was the archaeological culture that flourished from 100 BCE to 800 CE beside the dry southern coast of Peru in the river valleys of the Rio Grande de Nazca drainage and the Ica Valley.
  4. The Wari  were a Middle Horizon civilization that flourished in the south-central Andes and coastal area of modern-day Peru, from about AD 500 to 1000.
  5. The Chavín were a civilization that developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from 900 BC to 200 BC.

Climbing Snowdon, Wales

Climbing a huge rock.

Climbing a huge rock.

It has been a while since I left Japan and although I’m more than happy to be back, I will admit I felt lost for a time.  There was of course the initial culture shock of being back, but like so many things in life, you just get used to it.  For a few months in the UK, I feared that that bold girl Japan had been crafting for the last four years was disappearing. I no longer went on hikes, spoke to strangers, spoke another language, and I constantly feared the co-dependence which English life offered me.

I knew I had to grab that spontaneous girl back; look for adventure. So I decided to ask my friend to go hiking with me to Snowdon, I had at numerous times during my period in Asia, climbed up mountains -despite my averse fear of heights.

Half-way up the mountain.

Half-way up the mountain.

So I packed my belongings on 8th November and set out for adventure. Wales, has rustic feel to it I assume that’s how Northern England would be had I took the opportunity to venture up there.  For the first night my friend and I decided to stay at hotel so we had enough strength for the climb, the town was called Blaenau Ffestiniog, situated close to Snowdon itself. If only I hadn’t booked my train tickets so late then maybe I could have explored the town in its entirety,  but it didn’t only feel like time was against us, but our own dreaded luck. We lost Satelite Navigation, we couldn’t read the Welsh signs, we got lost at every turn, but we eventually made it to the hotel, the hotel worker waiting patiently as I ran to the doors, shoelaces untied.

The next morning, we treated ourselves to a full-welsh breakfast and made our way to Rhyy Ddu path, which is apparently the most scenic for mountain views -they weren’t lying. As we started our descent I couldn’t help, but stop every 10 minutes to take a picture of the view, on my digital camera, my iPhone, every angle had to be captured.  As we climbed higher the lakes to our left, which had been giant borderless waters became tiny ponds .

Near the top.

Near the top.

Snowdon isn’t tough to get up, but it took a lot longer as I didn’t have the right boots, mine were tearing into the sides of my heels with every step I took, I had to rely on huge boulders and shards of rock to grab onto to stop myself from falling. The ridge on the way to the summit is where my fear kicked in, unlike a lot of Asian mountains which provide fencing or a barrier across the edge, British mountains don’t. Most likely to keep the mountain from looking artificial or perhaps, because the walk along with strong gales are still not enough to stifle a climber, whatever the reason I still feared falling off.

The climb improved once we got shelter from the winds, but unfortunately, the cold started to tear through our coats, my gloves made of insulated wool, became wetter with every shard I grabbed and water began seeping into my skin, causing slight frost bite on the tips of my fingers, we took a few more pictures before arriving at the summit, shivering and barely joyous with our accomplishment.

The winter made Snowdon tougher to climb than usual,  as we descended the mountain, we started to slip and buckle over stray rocks, but we still found time (and balance) to take in the views. We roamed from the path and found ourselves quite seriously lost on the mountain, we made our way down despite having a loose idea of where we were going. Jumping over barb-wired fences and falling through potholes and sliding down loose rocks; we made our way to the railway and walked along the line until we came to the comforting view of the car park.

As a girl, who grew up in London and then moved to Tokyo, you can expect how in awe I was of the starry night sky as we pitched our tents under the canopy of pine trees. Of course I had seen night skies like that before, but every time I do get the opportunity, I appreciate them -so very much. That night I must have stood staring at them straight for ten minutes without realising where I was, thinking of an emptiness. I fear losing that feeling of complete immersion with nature as I see so little of it in my everyday life.

The Skirrid Inn scrolls.

The Skirrid Inn scrolls.

The next morning, after putting the tent away, we drove through the rocky mountains of Snowdonia and treated ourselves to another fry-up.  The Skirrid Inn, in the South Wales was our next destination. I had heard about it on the internet and knew that if I were going to be in Wales, I had to visit it.

The Skirrid Inn is located near the ominously named, “Black Mountains,” one of those volcanic peaks was said to have erupted when Jesus died on the cross.  As we entered one of the most haunted pubs in the UK, we were welcomed with a rather medieval tavern, with wall scrolls and a roaring fire keeping the patrons warm. I walked along the back to where the famous noose hung, and looked up through the gap in the staircase. The hearsay was true, a feeling of foreboding lay in that place.

And that’s where the adventure ends.

Illusions of Crazy Japanese Fashions

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I’m not the biggest fan of Japanese brands, to be honest there is a certain type of person that wears the clothing readily available on the Tokyo high street.  The trends in Japan are suffocated with frills and bows so to find something that feels right for my age is sometimes rather challenging. It’s not only the style that I have taken issue with, but it’s extremely hard to find clothing that compliments my body shape. Hence, I tend to go to places I know best, H&M, Zara and Mango, clothing tailored nicely for different body shapes. I guess, you could also throw in the nostalgia; it’s nice to see styles that I’m familiar with.

Though, I shouldn’t put down all the brands, for every Lowry’s Farm there is a SLY.SLY is one of my favorite Tokyo brands, it’s not afraid to be fun, or to  get a little inspiration from European and other Asian trends.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with liking Japanese brands, they have of course established their own reputation, UNIQLO being one of the best known clothing chains outside of Japan.  I think that a lot of people living outside Japan would conclude that it has somewhat originality, look at all those girls dressed in lolita-style dresses, the yankis of Kyushu or the gyaru-types in Shibuya. An image that many who arrive in Japan are hoping to take a photo of or at least see.

The truth is the subcultures of Japanese fashion are rare and once you leave the hub of Harajuku, these trends become less en vogue and far less acceptable  Most popular fashion is more like a uniform,  not that Japanese ladies and men aren’t fashionable, but they are a little scared of stepping out of the box. I used to be into some of the subcultures of Tokyo’s underbelly, I knew more about “Visual Kei” than I did about “Rock ‘n’ Roll”, but these are just fallacies amplified by certain bands and musicians who are not only selling music, but also a brand (Gackt, Pillers Clothing Line).

You come to realise once you’ve lived in Japan for a while part of being “Japanese” means alienating people who try to be (or are) different.  The idea of “us” not “me” is still heavily engrained into Japanese society.

Deviant  just isn’t Japanese.  Unlike, America and Europe where being unique is something to aspire to be; that sentiment is almost the complete opposite here. Same sentiment could also be said about the fashion, though there are subcultures, it’s hard to decide how they differ from one another.

Just a word of warning for those dead set that “Japanese fashion” equals originality; it doesn’t it means –conforming.

Healthy Skin Tips on a Budget

The last two weeks or so I’ve been really thinking about the damage I’ve been doing to my skin.  I’ve realised that at 25 I can no longer take advantage of my youth and the amazing healing qualities it brings. Not saying that I’m getting old, but this is the age where you should really start taking care of your skin, thankfully I’ve researched and found some really good and affordable tips which have already helped me cure some of my skin woes.

1. Aloe Vera Gel

I bought Aloe Vera Gel a couple of days ago and have been using it three times a day,  once I ‘ve finished showering or washing my face I pop some straight on. It has helped reduce 20% of my acne scarring in all areas of my body.  The gel has already reduced inflammation and redness of my face caused by acne and allergies.

2. Facial Wipes

This seems like an obvious one, but you should carry them around with you everywhere. When you sweat a lot you should wipe your skin clean and allow it to breathe. I carry them in my handbag during the summer. I wipe the sweat off from around my forehead to the bottom of my neck, although it does initially cause redness; my skin always looks better ten minutes later.

3. Moisturizer

I always thought that using moisturizer would make my skin break out a lot, but actually not using it does so. When you don’t moisturize, the skin produces more oil and that causes your skin to break out especially when the oil is combined with make-up. Therefore, I make sure that my face is cleaned and dried and then I rub some under my eyes, cheeks and forehead.

4. Tea Tree Oil

Sometimes I use this as an alternative to moisturizer as I’m allergic to milk and creams have made my skin a little red in the past. Tea Tree has amazing healing qualities and reduces the redness of my skin.  It’s a great treatment for acne and also heals my acne scars from years gone by.

5. Two Days a Week without Make-up

Actually so far I’ve been four days without make-up and I can definitely see the difference in my skin already, but if you’re like me and you feel a little naked without some blush and eyeliner then I’ve been told two days is sufficient enough to let your skin breathe and most importantly heal.

6.Reduce Alcohol Intake and Stress Levels

I notice how weathered I look when I’m under a high amount of stress, doing some breathing exercises or taking up yoga can really help you’re skin heal faster and reduce aging.
Reducing alcohol intake has always been a myth made up by beauticians and my mother or so I believed 7 years ago, but it can really reduce the amount of break-outs that can occur if you suffer from acne even in your mid-20s.  I always notice after a night of heavy drinking how bad my skin looks in the morning so have made a conscious effort to stop over indulging. If you do choose to drink, opt for a drink high in anti-oxidants, like red wine.

If these do help, please let me know by contacting me through this blog, thanks and good-luck!

Adventure near the Base of Mount Fuji (Shibazakura Matsuri)

Photography © Franki Webb

It’s been awhile since my last post, but to be honest it’s been awhile since I’ve done anything remotely exciting. I think about my life in Japan and all the happy times I’ve had, and it’s sad to say; most of those times were during my year on exchange. Working has now has zapped almost all the excitement out of my once adventurous life. Now I’ve turned to going abroad to find my thrills, China, Korea and Thailand seem so much more exotic to me now.
I do have one adventure to share with you though, last week I decided to venture out of Tokyo for a bit. I had seen posters all over the trains promoting the flower festival near Mount Fuji as I was taking the train to work. I needed an escape, I had to leave the chaos of Tokyo and breathe some fresh mountain air.
The festival is located near Kawaguchiko so on Tuesday morning at 6am along with my housemate, I boarded a bus straight there. The journey took almost two hours. We got off the bus welcomed with that fresh pine air, grabbed a coffee and lined up for a bus that would take us straight to the festival.  The humidity was overbearing in our retro 60s bus and took almost as long. I started becoming impatient, but I don’t regret the road-trip though, as soon as I stepped off the bus I could smell the fresh flowers which this festival is famous for. We were lucky enough to have clear day with a mild breeze that kept us cool from the harsh rays. The fields were covered with rows and rows of pink shibazakura, the pink was so vibrant it almost hurt my vision if I stared at it too long, but at the same time I couldn’t keep my eyes away. Two years prior, I had visited Chichibu’s Flower Festival which was equally as stunning. However, the one thing that Kawaguchiko had that Chichibu didn’t was Mount Fuji, standing at 3900m,  the combination of the pink fields and mountain seemed almost too surreal as if one were in a fantasy-setting. We lingered at the festival, trying to take detailed images with our memory and sniffing the fragrance. It wasn’t until almost two hours later we decided to venture around the town. The bus back took a more scenic route, we got off at Kawaguchiko station and found the path towards the lake.
(For 2,700yen I would say you get a good deal, especially if you’re blessed with perfect weather. If you live around Tokyo or Yamanashi, take some time out and visit. I promise you, there’ll be no regrets. )

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Kawaguchiko translates as Lake Kawaguchi in English, so there is no surprise that there’s a lake in town. I’m not sure if it due to my city upbringing, but I felt tranquil n this environment, no sirens, no pachinko music, no loud voices; it wasn’t just me –everyone seemed to be at peace. There is so much we take for granted living in the city that we don’t appreciate the little perks of the country.
The lake was surrounded by miles and miles of greenery, even the freeway built over the lake to connect the divide couldn’t distract me from the beauty.  We sat down by the lake and ate our energy bars, by the time we got to there our energy had almost run out.  I peered at the tops of one of the shorter mountains close by and noticed a cable car going up to the summit.
“Why don’t we try it? There might be a temple at the top or something?” I said. I wasn’t ready for the adventure to be over, I wanted more.   The two of us pondered over the boat on the lake and whether it would be a better option, but since the winds had become stronger over the past hour we decided against it and took the cable car up to the mountain.  The mountain was called Mount Kachi Kachi. It was famous for tanuki and rabbits or according to the brochure we were given.  I doubt that people went up to the mountain especially to worship the tanuki, rather they went up to see the spectacular view of Mount Fuji.  We were welcomed by a photographer, who eagerly practiced a little English on us before taking our picture in front of Fujisan (as the Japanese say). We went up a little further and saw some more breath-taking views of the surrounding area. It wasn’t just me, everyone eyes were glued to particular areas, the mountain range on our left, Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi. On top of the summit was a little shrine where we paid our respects (once we caught our breaths). We then climbed down, eager to enjoy the fresh air and get a chance to exercise.  By the time we got down to the bottom, it was time to make our way home, the air became a lot cooler and we started to shiver under our thin clothing. Unfortunately, our quest to find a non-Japanese restaurant failed (we were tired of Japanese food) and we “enjoyed” the cuisine 7-11 had to offer. We took our bus back at around 8.10pm hoping to get home before 10.  I wanted to stay longer, I just didn’t want my little quest to end and to return to the daily grind of city life.

Panda Land

With the pandas in China.

With the pandas in China.

Pandas are indeed cute.  I found this out firsthand when I visited China last month.  China had never been on my list of countries to visit, but that sentiment doesn’t hold true now. After spending seven adventured-filled days in the Sichuan Province I couldn’t believe I hadn’t booked the ticket years ago.  As evident from my previous posts; I live in Japan, a country which isn’t exactly on China’s party guest list when all the cool countries want to hang out with each other.  I had been deterred to some extent by Japanese attitudes towards China, but it’s not something I took on board seriously. Secondly, as much as I like to brag about my spontaneity, this is a trait which I like to exaggerate greatly. My move to Japan was years in the planning and the idea had  intimidated me to the point of severe anxiety at the time.  My trip to China was the exact opposite, there were no plans, I just booked a ticket after a day of thinking, “why the hell not?”

So there I was in the airport taking a flight to China, it happens in an instant as soon as I walked on the plane; everything changed.  I don’t like to make generalisations, but I respect the Chinese attitude in some ways more than the Japanese. Their take no bullshit stance from others and doing what the hell they want to when they want to do it really impressed me.  Air travel is a drain mentally and physically for me. Even with a two-hour flight I need at least a day to recover. Going through immigration and customs where people care little about red-tape made it almost manageable

I feel that holidays and adventures are different, they’re two separate concepts. Holidays are margaritas on the beach, sand between your toes and watching the sun set on a beach with palm trees. Obviously, Chengdu in China doesn’t have any of these things- what I came to China for was the pandas, sacred mountains and temples. Hoping to see some crazy food (I did-cockroach shish kebab). The whole trip reminded me of those roleplaying books I used to love when I was little. Those ones that told you to turn a page when you met someone or had to make a decision. China is like that; you make a move and you could be faced with the worst outcomes, likely sleeping at an inn with the Dutch businessman (Hostel, Eli Roth).

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Near the top of Mount Emei.

One of the best decisions on the trip was to go to the Panda  Breeding Center, which is situated just outside Chengdu.  I always thought that people overplay pandas’ cuteness. This is certainly not true -pandas are just like overgrown babies.  Their mannerisms, their clumsiness, their fondness of working a crowd,  come across so child-like that it’s almost easy to forget that you are looking at animals capable of causing you some serious damage, not stuffed teddy-bears.  My friend and I just stood watching them and their ways, grasping on the bamboo then pulling the shoots apart with the elegance of a hungry infant. It felt like almost an hour each time we decided to move on. They are simply “entertaining.”

Apart from pandas, there are other things to do in Sichuan province in China, actually it holds many of China’s greatest treasures. For three days of my tour I decided along with my fellow traveler to go up Mount Emei. Mount Emei is one of four sacred mountains in China.  It’s a place of enlightenment, and while climbing and visiting some of the temples on the mountains I felt peaceful as if all my worries had simply vanished.  I doubt I reached any form of enlightenment, though it’s nice to think I did feel some power from the mountain. Unfortunately, due to a lack of research on both our parts, we hadn’t realised that the mountain was actually 52km to the top and begrudgingly took a bus the rest of the way.  We hanged out on the summit, talking and drinking baijou (a strong Chinese alcoholic drink) and just nattering about the most mundane things in life, no need for overstatements. The mountain said everything.

Myself at Leshan

Myself at Leshan

Leshan is a few miles away from Mount Emei, which is another Buddhist place and holds the biggest Buddha in the world. The Buddha is carved into a mountain and is supposed to bring protection to the town as the rivers that flow around the town are said to be quite volatile and dangerous for the residents. I didn’t look up to see if the buddha had indeed done what is was built for, one can assume though that it did give the people some sort of peace of mind.  Nonetheless it is still pretty epic to look at once you finally get to it after hours of queuing up. I know that wherever you go in the world, especially places that are said to be national treasures -you’ll find tourist traps.  Though I had hoped that Sichuan wouldn’t be like that, that it was a little area in the corner of the world that was still left unscathed by others.  Unfortunately Chinese tourists are very much like Japanese tourists, which means they are overfond of visiting other places in their own country.  This is acceptable in my eyes since China is so big and filled with various types of cultures and people. In England however, only the elderly vacation around the country and other such trips are seen as “breaks” or” day-trips.” I shudder to think of never leaving England knowing that was my only world.  As much as I love my home-country there is so much to see once you pass the channel tunnel. Even Europe with it’s variety of countries and landscapes can never fulfill my urge to go exploring in other regions of the world.

China had a lot going for it, but I had to say a relief came over me once I had landed in Narita, the courteous people in Japan makes it a country worth living in. There are other things that I could rant about in China; pollution, litter, disregard for animal life, personal space constantly being invaded. I just won’t go there though, it’s not my place to judge another country. Though from my experience in China I hope they do stop building, I didn’t see countryside that hadn’t been scathed by horrid skyscapers and dusty air. It is quite upsetting to see, I know the economy is growing, but at what cost? A negligence for the environment and the planet?  I was happy to check out some historical places, but they were all somehow ravaged by modern architecture that had no real reason to be there. If China does become the number one world power, let’s hope they develop some empathy for a dying planet.