A Travellerspoint blog

The home of the piggy bank

Kings of the road … Jeepney

After a 4 hour flight from Guam (made interesting by flying through an impressive lightning storm) which arrived at 11pm (1am on our body clocks due to 2 hour time zone difference) it was 35*C, raining and the first airport toilet I found was blocked. Not the welcome I expected. The 2 guys who collected us did little to raise my spirits … they delivered us to the wrong Hotel. After completing much of the check-in, the computer disputed our reservation. Fortunately, the receptionist donned a lovely smile and said we weren’t the first. There was another hotel nearby with a similar name. By 1.30am we were ensconced in a palatial 4 room suite on the 30th floor (2 toilets – both operational) but the air-conditioning had not been turned on in advance. First impressions of the Philippines were not good. I was in no mood to passing out tips that night.
It’s a shame entry to most countries is via a major city. They are never representative of the country. I’m constantly wondering why anyone would live in such places. Manila lived up to my expectations: it’s hot, loud, chaotic, overcrowded and in constant gridlock. There were positives - nearly everyone speaks English, everyone is helpful and nobody uses chop sticks. It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world and is home to 13 million people in the urban area plus 1.6 million people in the city area. There are over 42,000 people living in every square kilometre. Knowing my aversion to crowds, time wasting and public transport, Flypaper had arranged for our time in the Philippines to be a Private Escorted Tour. At least we would experience a lot for the time we were in the country without having a meltdown over delays and distractions. Having a guide is strongly recommended. Even your telephone mapping app won’t get you home here. Having a driver risking constant scratch and dent is also less stressful.
As in all Asian cities the traffic is constant pandemonium. The 13 million in the suburbs are constantly trying to get into or out of the CBD. Cars are competing with buses, motorised tricycles and an anachronistic, gaudily decorated vehicle called a Jeepney – creating a private hop on, hop off Minibus that goes somewhere sometime. Following WWII, the US military left behind all their surplus Jeeps. New owners lengthened them, added bright decorations and every conceivable accessory. In the 1960’s an enterprising company started manufacturing what has become the icon of the Philippines. Each can transport 24 -30 people, plus some hanging off the rear and an occasional a few on the roof, squashed together paying a fare of about 10 PHP (about NZ 30 cents). They are the Kings of the road.
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However, beating them for sheer numbers and speed are motorcycles. It’s not unusual to see a ‘taxi’ bike careering through the traffic with both rider and pillion on their phones, zigzagging through the tiniest gaps at speed. Their skills are legendary. Our guide casually advised there are only about 100 accidents a month of which about 20 are fatal. Obviously, they are not reading the signage saying ‘’Check your brakes’’. We unfortunately arrived at a motorcycle accident site minutes after it occurred and well before the ambulances (note plural). Astonishingly, with minutes of the event hundreds of other motorcyclists arrived to participate in the event. Social media summonsed then from everywhere. 100 metres up the road was another large group surrounding a vehicle. Perhaps the other participant.
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The spaghetti of overhead wiring is typical of Asian and Chinese cities. They are particularly hazardous in Manilla. We witnessed a truck becoming entangled and there are many stories of residents tampering to make their own connections. The wiring mess includes electricity, telephone and fibre optics, although few can spot the difference. During a recent cyclone 3.8m people were without power. Its amazing it was able to be restored at all. Evidently, all electrical and communications engineers who work on this eyesore are automatically guaranteed to go to heaven on the basis they have already suffered hell.
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Even traveling with a guide and driver it quickly becomes apparent every journey is a race and every vehicle ahead is a challenge to overcome. Passing is usually achieved within a hairsbreadth of disaster. On these occasions I’m happy to be in the back seat. Having this opinion is maybe unfair as without aggression the traffic would probably be at a standstill. I reflect our little traffic at home is gridlocked at a standstill because we are too frightened to push a little and usually surrounded by indignation and restricting rules.
For tourists, the Philippines are quite safe – so long as you don’t step off the footpath – and even this normal safe haven can be hazardous. At the other end of the scale, being a pig is VERY dangerous. Every restaurant features one or more pork dishes and there is one chain serving only pork. Walk through any community and there’s a chance you’ll sniff the rousing aroma of sizzling Sisig, grilled Liempo or if the emitter is big-time, lechon – a whole roasted pig! Nothing is wasted. Sisig is a Filipino dish made from pork jowl and ears, pork belly, and chicken liver, which is usually seasoned with calamansi (a citrus fruit), onions, and chili peppers. Liempo is made by marinating fresh pork belly with soy sauce, oyster sauce, banana ketchup, calamansi juice, garlic, black pepper, red chilies, brown sugar and lemon soda then grilling it over a charcoal with basting sauce made with left over pork marinade, banana ketch up, soy sauce, and sugar. I can imagine you are salivating already. (You need to have your wits about you if you wish to score a pig’s ear.) Philippines is a short term hog-heaven because pork is an interim meat between always-pricey beef and occasionally-cheap chicken. The industry (2nd only to rice) is growing steadily as the country’s population expands at an average rate of 1.6 percent yearly, meaning there are nearly 5000 new mouths to feed every day. Many households invest their savings in buying pigs, which can be fed the family’s scraps, converting uneaten food to minimise food waste. Money grows when you invest in pigs. Could be a reason why we put our money in piggy banks?
Filipino food is an acquired taste. I think I acquired it on arrival at the airport - and the scales indicate it’s proved to be an investment. There is a huge range of food available. It seems cooks and chefs are prepared to experiment with every imaginable combination of ingredients. Some recipes have become acceptable enough to have names. Often the appearance of the dish may not be encouraging of actual consumption but, notwithstanding, its likely to be delicious. All the well-known fruit and veg we are familiar with are served – together with new and somewhat amazing options. For example, there are 12 varieties of bananas in colours that include pink, purple, blue, black and striped. The whole point of travel is to experience other cultures.
I am constantly puzzled as to why hotels have coat hangers fixed to the rail so they can’t be stollen. I lost sleep over this the first night in the unexpected 4 room suite with 2 toilets and Alaskan King bed (3 pillows ???). We were assigned this either by accident or pity. Usually, I would assume, accommodation of this nature would be reserved for the more affluent end of the traveling public. Surely they are unlikely to steal the coat hangers. Or perhaps this is one of the secrets of accumulating wealth??? I did fancy the both the Samsung 98” TV and the multi-zone mini refrigerator. (Flypaper refused to add them to her luggage.)
Our guide in Cebu (the city that celebrates killing Ferdinand Magellan and admits it’s the only battle they ever won), was a lovely lady that had the ability to talk non-stop for 7 hours. An endearing feature of her discourse that amused me to the extent of wanting more, was her confusion between the words ‘prosperous’ and ‘preposterous’. Try it yourself sometimes. It makes a huge difference and could start you on a career as a standup comedian.
Did I mention its Hot? In Cebu we experienced temperatures around 35*C with humidity up to 86%. This would be an excellent place for non-believers to practice for the afterlife. When competing in the Middle East I used to prepare by riding an exercycle in our sauna. Sometimes I could last for quite a few minutes. Perhaps I would have done better had Flypaper served cold beer and a pork dish.
One of our guides, who we suspect is middle class with a teenage family, sadly advised all young Filipinos believe money originates in the ATM machines. Just as some in our own society have no appreciation of farmers because they know milk comes from a supermarket. She is appalled at the entitled attitude of those young people she knows and angry they blame her generation for all the perceived wrongs in their life. (Does this sound familiar.) She blames social media. Given, my immediate foreseeable enjoyment was in her hands I had to agree.
If you are easily stressed or the indignant type who reacts to people breaking road rules, parking anywhere, people wandering around in your way, piling rubbish up in your pathway or any of many things we consider contributes to orderly society, I suggest you do not visit the Philippines – your life will be immeasurably shortened. This country – a collection of 7107 islands (at high tide – 7641 at low tide) - Is described as an Emerging Nation or a Developing Country. These are countries with predominantly low to middle per capita income. Poverty is very obvious here and the poor are in far greater number than the affluent. Generally speaking, I have more admiration for the poor who are constantly living in hope of better times ahead. This probably defines me as a Socialist or Communist – but those feelings desert me whenever in a polling booth. Fickle? Traveling anywhere in the Philippines and particularly in cities, the contrast between rich and poor – wealth and poverty – is overwhelming. Shanty towns compressed between high rise or large industry is normal. Astonishingly, one can be looking at a hovel made of scrap materials and be totally gobsmacked when a stunning young lady, beautifully dressed walks out and catches a Jeepney. It may be taking her to a tourist resort where she will provide impeccable service with a smile. Her colleges, male & female are equally presented and strive to impress their guests. It seems ungracious of me when I wish they would be just a little less willing. I am capable of peeling my own banana.
The smell in the cities is best described as Eau de Smog where-as the rainforest is distinctly Eau de Fruit Salid. The best thing to do in the Philippines is to get out of the cities into the countryside. Rual areas include rain forests, rice paddies, lakes, rivers, plantations, tree forests and farms. It’s the best parts of this large and varied country. Rural folk are also very resourceful and many amazing cottage industries are found along the roadsides.
On Bohol Island we were privileged to see the world’s second smallest primate which is endangered and found on only a few islands in SE Asia … the Tarsier. Small, strange looking animals about the size of a human fist with huge eyes, they are a cross between Lemurs and Monkeys. Their eyes are larger than their brains or their stomachs. (A problem I also have when it’s time for dessert.) Adults live in monogamous pairs and keep in contact vocally during the night while hunting, defending territory against other pairs using extremely high-pitched calls. They have the ability to rotate their heads 180 degrees in each direction and can leap up to 6 metres at a time to catch live prey such as crickets, small birds, beetles, lizards and frogs. Rather than explain them in detail I’ll leave those interested to research them elsewhere. Our female guide shared with us; the male Tarsier has habits very similar to many male human Filipinos – they laze around, sleeping a lot, waiting for the females to make advances and when that occurs the act of procreation lasts about 3 seconds.
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In the early days of Spanish occupation many stone churches and administrative buildings were constructed. Everyone was expected to contribute – a bit like a taxation system. There were 4 levels of contribution. One could provide labour cutting coral rock out of the seashore and constructing the buildings or, weaving baskets to carry raw materials. The wealthy could provide cash or, if you were a property owner with chickens you could provide egg whites as an emulsifier in the concrete. It was a common practice for Spaniards to use egg whites to make a mortar mix called Argamasa. The whites would make the buildings' reinforcement more durable. Obviously, millions of eggs were required – what to do with the leftover egg yolks. As a result, Filipino 16th Century deserts used a lot of yolks, a practice the exists to this day.
This is the final blog in the series. I wish to take the opportunity to expose an environmental crime that has evolved worldwide within my lifetime. Throughout the world the gullible have been indoctrinated with the belief they need to constantly drink water. This nonscience was a promo generated by Evian Water in 1978 when they started export to the US – they advertised everyone should drink 7 litres of water (preferably theirs) per day. (Now reduced to 2 litres.) Our forefathers for over 250,000 years drank when thirsty. They survived. My desire to rant on the subject is due to this period in the Philippines. We have multiple bottles of water in out hotel rooms which we will have paid for. At breakfast, lunch and dinner a waiter rushes up and fills large glasses with water. These are constantly replenished whenever the level drops – despite the fact we may have coffee, tea, beer, wine or some other beverage in hand. During the day our guides arrive laden with bottles of water believing it will enhance our tour and ensure they return us alive. At various attractions we are offered water. Please stop! Water is becoming one of the worlds precious commodities. Many countries and possibly the majority of people in the world, have inadequate water while we, in increasingly decadent societies are converting hundreds of millions of litres per day into pee.
Beware when walking around many buildings – there are unexpected small steps (up and down) that catch the inattentive. An example: During a short interval while our guide was procuring tickets to an attraction in our itinerary, I noticed a nearby toilet. 3 basic principles I adhere to when traveling are; Eat, sleep and use the toilet whenever possible. Due to a furtive glace attempting to establish how much time was likely available, I pushed open the door and stepped down further than anticipated. As I lurched forward the though flashed through my mind, “How long will it take Flypaper to find me dead here?” (I hope she’s touched my final thoughts were of her.) On landing my next thought was, “Thank goodness the last occupant closed the lid on the bowl”.

Posted by Wheelspin 09:13 Comments (0)

Flypaper fails to find a new country

Kim Jong Un's first target

semi-overcast 28 °C
View Japan on Wheelspin's travel map.

Flypaper discovered Guam 502 years after Ferdinand Magellan. I suspect this will not be recorded in their future history books. The indigenous Chamorros claim they were first because, like other Pacific Islands we are familiar with, they came in outrigger canoes from somewhere else about 3,500 years ago. Flypaper was looking for places between Japan and New Zealand she had previously overlooked and only discovered this small Island 2,500 km South of Japan, because it was a clean spot on her map that hadn’t been sullied by 44 years of grubby fingers (which she claims are mine).
Prior to arriving, all I knew is it was once a ‘possession’ of the US until Japan decided to seize control in 1941. The Americans took exception to this and took it back in 1944. It became a handy place from which the US military forces could tidy up the Pacific during the later stages of WWII. They are still here. The US has a few little known offshore Territories - Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and Guam. Not surprisingly all have significant US Naval and/or Air Force bases. The economies of these islands are strongly based on the US occupation and, conveniently, their currency is US$. Technically Guam is an unincorporated organized territory of the United States. This is an unfortunate bother as we cannot claim it as another ‘country’ to add to our list.
The island is roughly the shape of a footprint and is only about 51km long x 15km wide (32 x 9 miles) – it’s smaller than Auckland. With a population of about 170,00 and an area of only 540sqkm (210sqm) the country feels very densely populated – especially in the Central Business District Dededo which boasts 88% of Guam's population and 29.8% of its land area. Bizarrely, the Capital is Hagåtña which is the 2nd smallest of the country’s 19 villages. The highest point (an extinct volcano) is only 406m (1330ft) high. Collectively the people of Guam are known as Guamanian. The national symbol is aptly – the coconut tree.
It seems everyone has a least 1 car and they all come out when I’m driving Flypaper on her guided tours. Its likely we did drive on most of the major roads including a circumnavigation of the country which can be achieved in about 4 hours. Some of the roads are excellent 4 and even 6 lanes … the other 2 lane roads are badly in need of repair. I tell you with complete confidence they have even more potholes than New Zealand roads.
Arriving at the International Airport it quickly became apparent we had dropped into the USA. The bureaucracy was paranoiac. Once outside the terminal it quickly changes to laid back tropical island -slightly shambolic. When we ordered a rental car, we ticked the option for make/model/size as ‘surprise’. Having seen the options of Camaros & Mustangs we were hopeful. Unfortunately, we lucked out and received the car I despise the most – a Corolla. To add to the wound, the boy who delivered it to me at the door, took delight in showing me I had no fear of scratching it as every panel was dented and stone chipped. At 47,000 miles this sad example of the world’s most popular rental car had not experienced much loving care and attention. I actually felt that was appropriate. I first learned to despise Corollas in Brisbane in the 1990’s. On a steep city street, I was passed by a woman (who appeared decidedly out of shape) pushing a wheelchair. I returned the car immediately and demanded better. Since then, I’ve rejected every Corolla offered but, in this instance, we were keen to escape the bureaucratic environment and reach our hotel before dark. The sun sets quickly in the tropics and we arrived at rush hour. Now, the day before returning it and moving to another country, I have not been cured of my dislike for these boring characterless cars. (In Jordan I found a donkey more likable.)
I must share discovery of an old fashioned method of pothole repair. Admittedly this was making little headway in the challenge ahead of them, but it warmed my heart. Rounding a bend, we came upon a man standing in the middle of the road waving his arms. Flypaper immediately drew him to my attention. (???) He was protecting two colleagues busy shovelling a bituminous mixture into a cavity that would have ruined our day. As one shovelled from a steaming wheelbarrow (that’s an efficient device with 1 wheel and 2 handles invented by the Chinese when building their Great Wall, for carrying material that require moving from one place to another) - the other beat the mix with the back of his shovel. The 3 effectively replaced a flaggy (the local name for a person waving a piece of red cloth), dozens of road cones, a digger, a number of vehicles and one or more managing overseers.
Further down the road we were again pleasantly amazed. It was lightly raining. On a bridge over a modest river, a car was parked close to the side and only disrupting traffic a little. From the passenger window protruded a fishing pole with bait dangling down to the water below. As we were on a mission, we couldn’t stop to enquire as to his success, (I must have been a male) but it did look like a practical way to supplement the family food supply – dry, in comfort, probably radio entertainment and maybe air conditioned. This is a civilised country – very civilised.
Another unlikely sight for which I executed a swift U-turn to photograph, was a very large refuse collection truck parked at the end of a long sweeping corner. The driver must have taken it at speed because the heavy, scrap metal filled container on the back had ripped out of its security locks and was hanging well off the side. Known in some circles as a conundrum. Further to the driver’s angst, he had correctly placed 4 little warning triangles on the road through the preceding corner – only to discover 3 had been run over by cars arriving without sufficient warning. We were among the offenders – Flypaper had failed to give me enough warning … but she did advise me of my failure. bc7c7190-7d4d-11ee-844e-ef87cf547a63.jpg
Occasionally I like to promote local tourism – if it is deserving. We chose to support and receive edification from a rural indigenous business who promised us “The tour of our lifetime” – the thought flashed through my mind … “You only live once”. The adventure was on an old fibreglass catamaran who’s skipper apologised for its condition because recently it broke its mooring in a flash flood and washed down the river until it became caught under a bridge. The repairs may have lacked perfect finish, but the craft appeared suitable for the promised journey up the river to view remarkable things first hand with amazing information delivered by a skipper and his young crewman whose ancestors had lived handy for over 3,000 years. Although the 2 outboard motors ran at different speeds requiring an offset helm, we puttered upstream seeing various birds, a lizard on a tree trunk and lots of plants claimed to have amazing medicinal properties, until we reached a muddy bank with holes here and there. As predicted, hearing the approach of the boat, a dozen giant cabs popped out to receive their daily bread. Baked fresh that morning and bought from the Supermarket. The boatmen also roused some large Catfish by throwing bread on the water. They then decided to catch one – and did – but the fish entangled itself in the weeds and the boat lost its only hook. The crewman then tried to catch a fish by hand holding bread … he almost lost his hand. Very entertaining. d9aea4d0-7d49-11ee-a62b-d3a81e8a9de2.jpg The whole boat journey was hilarious. The skipper told jokes, made puns and adlibbed funny stories. In due course we were deposited at a rickety jetty in the jungle where we were greeted by a robust young man in a grass skirt. (An oxymoron?) He was blowing a mournful sound on a large seashell to both welcome us and purge us of bad spirits. (I tried to hang on to mine but I think he cleaned out a few.) He showed us how to unwrap and extract all the products resident in a coconut then took us to his ancestral remains … which we were allowed to touch because we had been cleansed. That was followed by a lecture on many plants that had been assisting his family to exist for those 3,000 years. Some nuts when opened could be used as soap, others to heal wounds or repel mosquitoes, etc. When various leaves, fruit and nuts were taken orally they fell into 2 categories. (He assured us he was speaking from personal experiences) They either helped in the way intended – or gave one diarrhea. I calculated that during his 24 years existence, he has spent about 7 years with diarrhea. On that note he took us to a barbeque lunch in a traditional hut … prior to which we indulged in some games to determine who would win some woven gifts. Hats, baskets, fans, etc. Flypaper won a bowl – then gave it away to a young Japanese girl who looked distressed by her failures. Our guide and entertainer then showed us how to make fire by rubbing 2 sticks together. Well, for 20 minutes he tried, failed and suggested we eat the pork, rice and ‘other stuff’. During our meal he excitedly came around and showed us the fire he had succeeded in cread9c84750-7d49-11ee-bf52-e71fd9678d37.jpgting – now a flaming coconut husk. I suspect a ciggy lighter may have assisted. Following the meal, we looked at some sorry animals that evidently roam in the jungle – but here in captivity exist on banana leaves offered by thrilled tourists. I particularly liked the piglet call bacon. There was also to opportunity to ride a huge Water Buffalo. Despite my encouragement, Flypaper showed no inclination to be hoisted aboard and I am no longer that silly. However, no-one died.d9be5c40-7d49-11ee-bd17-3989868d3e1e.jpg Throughout this whole ‘on shore’ experience our skirted host was also hilarious. A born entertainer – we spent 3 hours laughing with him. Both the skipper and the 1 man show deserved extravagant tips. (An American curse adopted here in Guam) Should you now be inspired to visit Guam we strongly recommend this tour – strangely named The Valley of the Latte. Google pictures online.
In addition to the US Armed Forces financial contribution the ONLY other industry in Guam is tourism. With nice beaches, tropical climate together with lots to see and do, this Pacific Island is a magnet for US, Filipino, Korean and Japanese tourists. Its diving and fishing are world renown. As a result, every hotel chain has built HUGE facilities. Recent statistics indicate 8,399 available beds. Given 2/3s of these are beds for 2 (and even a few larger ones in our hotel - so I was told) the capacity for tourists has rewarded the country with 60% of its revenue and employs about 34,000 people (Mostly Filipino). There is some high class nightlife – it’s expensive and loud. d9eebb10-7d49-11ee-a1a7-bf54c3dbf50a.jpg The constant noise is the only downside. For some reason all hotels and restaurants we visited provide raucous bad music from dawn until well past a sane person’s bedtime. It’s the first time I’ve worn earplugs at breakfast. On a positive note … we did not suffer diarrhea.
A visit to Guam must include some military history. Did you know that a Japanese soldier hid in Guam’s jungle for 28 years until 1972 unaware that his leaders had surrendered. He was in relatively good health, but slightly anaemic due to a lack of salt in his diet which included nuts, mangos, papaya, shrimp, snails, frogs, and rats. This again raises the question of diarrhea and makes me wonder how many chopsticks he wore out. When discovered, he looked a bit dishevelled with tatty clothes and a bad haircut – so, when he arrived in Japan he married – and returned to Guam for his honeymoon. I suspect his appearance improved dramatically.
Our riverboat captain told us there was a competition to capture the accidently introduced Brown tree snakes. At the time there were about 8 million snakes that had become an ecological menace. They can grow up to 3 metres and are mildly poisonous. The locals were encouraged to kill and collect as many as possible in a given time. The hunter with the most kills received a Toyota 4WD. About 4 million snakes were eradicated!!! A huge success … but never repeated because the cunning locals started breading them to save up for their expected 4WD.

Posted by Wheelspin 09:14 Archived in Guam Tagged the of valley fire crabs latte lighing Comments (0)

Japan For Beginners

Liam Lawson Support

sunny 20 °C

The first thing of particular interest I saw after landing in Japan, was a seemingly normal man vacuuming a car parking area in near the airport. With a vacuum cleaner strapped to his back, he peered into nooks and crannies that may conceal elusive litter -with little success I might add. I was instantly on guard; this was a country and culture that could contain bad role models likely to cause changes to my well-formed and comfortable opinions.
Traveling in Japan can be challenging. Never-the-less it is always interesting given nonstop things and actions that catch one’s attention. For instance, when travelling by train there are other passengers to observe, mostly with their attention riveted to their telephone. A delightful custom is constantly enacted by the Guard when inspecting his passengers. He or she is keenly observant of any small and rare piece of litter which they will swoop on exhibiting great satisfaction. Best of all, when entering and leaving each carriage they pause, turn, and bow to their customers. I needed great restraint to stop leaping up and bowing in return. Everyone knows bowing is big in Japan. Not as prevalent as in past years but still occurring as a mark of respect or thanks.
Japan is a country a bit larger than New Zealand or Great Britain (Japan 364,500 sqkm NZ 267,710 sqkm UK 243,600 sqkm) but has a population of 124,000,000 (NZ 5,000,000 UK 67,500,000). While I consider the UK is densely populated, Japan is almost twice as dense while New Zealand is virtually deserted. To house and move all these people requires enormous infrastructure; dense strip residential, industrial and commercial developments, all connected almost without gaps to railway lines. 16 major regional companies provide railway services as part of their corporate operations. There are also dozens of smaller local private railways. It makes purchasing the correct ticket quite challenging. In addition, there are differing standards of ticket ranging from trains that stop at every station through Express and Limited Express (the fastest). Having an aversion to both public transport and vending machines, I was grateful for assistance when faced with multiple options while in the bowels of a train station full of travellers determined to gain a seat in a rattly contraption they confidently believe will serve their travel needs.
From the air Japan has vast areas of mountains and forests. Research has revealed the terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous with 66% forest. Only 12.5% of the country is cultivated for food production while 21.5% is considered unusable or economically unviable. 77% of the population lives on 2% of the land. Understandably, the housing is either squashed together or high rise. There is little wonder, when watching the hordes of people scurrying around by train, bus and car, one gets the impression their lives are a little like bees in a hive who come out daily to forage and disappear back inside for the night.
Much as I loathe public transport, I was unable to avoid numerous bus and train trips. Only 1 was memorable. It was when I was one of 73 people crushed into a 48 seat bus, the passenger squashed beside me was furtively reading comic porn on his phone. On reflection, it certainly passed time quickly and was a journey that furthered my knowledge of Japanese literature.
Understandably this is a country highly organised with clearly defined rules and expectations. An example – stairs are labelled on the lower tread faces .. up & down. Left up, right side down. Makes for a smooth flow and facilitates the ability to continue studying one’s telephone without fear of crashing. Pedestrians obey crossing signs. Motorists never run red lights. There are no rubbish bins because nobody has any to deposit. I had a perplexing moment deciding what to do with an Ice Cream wrapper – so I put it my pocket where it was discovered late that evening. In the tunnel under the race circuit there were signs forbidding people to shout or even cry – maybe it would upset others.598a90d0-7889-11ee-ac41-43c0e3319510.jpg 598587c0-7889-11ee-9f11-d1aebcd28762.jpg
The Japanese people are astonishingly polite and without exception, helpful. Many (especially the young) speak sufficient English to enable a question to be answered. They look you in the eyer and appear interested in your dilemma while making every effort to help. Unlike some in other countries citizens who will only talk if they need an alibi.
Japanese food is becoming increasingly westernised and there is no difficulty finding nutrition that is identifiable. However, the brave or naïve can still find themselves reading a menu which will provide surprises and a wish to be instantly transported to a McDonalds where the food is unhealthy but at least cooked. The Japanese prefer their protein raw and often disguised or among other ingredients that lead one to believe it is edible. I recall my first visit to Japan in 1984 when my lovely old supply agent took me to special restaurants every evening and supplied me with his favourite treats. The very first was a plate of chicken gizzards and ducks’ feet. (They remain popular on menus to this day.) The strategy I quickly developed back in those days was to have a glass of (excellent) Japanese beer to quickly wash the mouthful of food down followed by a slug of Saki to change the taste – or more probably numb my taste buds. Years of slow learning has resulted in my ability to avoid the need for these tactics. Older & wiser? … no – just less adventurous. There remains my curiosity as to why, a culture that has given the world some amazing technology and engineering marvels, still struggles with 2 slippery sticks to eat their food. I find that chop stick users who travel immediately adopt the simple inventions of knife, fork & spoon. I wonder if they revert when they return home? Its well known Japanese people live longer than westerners. Could it be they cannot eat fast enough to confuse and irritate their digestive system?Perfection.jpg
Japan only recently opened their borders to travellers and dropped most Covid restrictions. Probably the last country in the world to do so. Many people still wear masks – although Asians generally have always been quick to use masks if feeling a little unwell. (I always wondered if mask wearers were those who woke a little late and avoided the need to put on makeup or shave.) As a result the Yen is weak and economy is still slowly recovering. A discussion with our hotel manager revealed we had chosen a good time to visit – few tourists, lots of accommodation at good rates, less people on the streets and at attractions, etc. Mask wearing is still required by employees in many restaurants which causes difficulty – every waitress looks identical to her colleagues.
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The reason we were in Japan was in support of a young Kiwi motorsport competitor whose career we have taken an interest in over the past 7 years. It was his final weekend in the Japanese Super Formula at Suzuka where and when we considered he had every possibility of winning the championship. Unfortunately, he was robbed by decisions made by the organisers to finish Race 1 after only 3 laps followed a large accident at the tail of the field. It was a race that I believe, had he been able to complete, would have provided the few points required to win the championship. 598560b0-7889-11ee-bcea-a1bd4f39dc3f.jpg New Zealand had a bad 24 hours that weekend. Apart from Liams unfortunate result, the All Blacks lost the Rugby World Cup also in arguable circumstances.
Those who have travelled will know its prudent to use an airport toilet before boarding. Not only was this my parting aactivityn from Japan but also Japans parting experience for me. My comfort and relief was brutilly disturbed by the Tsunami Warning. A strident siren acocompanied by shouting in numerous languages. The English version galvanised me into action. In these circumstances one wonders how much time is available for a proper cleanup and ensuring ones belt is in the correct hole to enable enough speed to keep pace with the fleeing crowd - without ones trousers falling down. With other cubicle doors crashing open and excited voices urging each other to greater effort it is a tense experience. (Some didn't even wash their hands.) Just as I started accerating thinking the rooftop should be safe, another anouncement advised ... "This is an exercise". When I rejoined Flypaper - who had her own palpitations - all she could say was ... "Your fly is undone".

Posted by Wheelspin 08:11 Archived in Japan Tagged chopsticks motorsport Comments (0)

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