Friday, April 9, 2010

From the Big City of Tokyo

I arrived safely in Tokyo last Wednesday evening into Narita airport. The airport is about an hour and a half from where Tiina lives. The city is that big that it takes such awhile to get from the airport to the part where she lives. I think I was in shock when I was riding the bus from the airport through the city. I've never been in a city as large as Tokyo, some 12 million people. I have no way to describe the size of the city other than it is MUCH larger than New York City. After riding the bus from the airport I arrived at the Shinjuku bus station where Tiina picked me up and then we took a quick cab ride to her "mansion" or apartment.

Thursday, my first full day in Tokyo, Tiina took me to the Metropolitan Government Building, which has an observation deck on the 45th floor in which you can view the city from every side. From every window I looked out as far as I could see was covered in buildings and not much grass. After observing the striking view from the building Tiina took me to another part of the city, Shibuya. Like New York City with Queens, Brooklyn, etc, Tokyo has various neighborhoods. Tiina also took me to one of her favorite sushi places on Thursday, which was amazing. It was one of those places where the sushi goes around on a conveyor belt and the chefs are in the middle placing new dishes onto the belt. And if an item has been on the belt for longer than 10 or 15 minutes the chef will take it off as it is no longer fresh enough to serve. Talk about fresh fish.

Tiina and Alef have taken me to several other delicious restaurants. Friday evening we went to Gonpachi which is well known for having served presidents Clinton and Bush and part of the film Kill Bill was filmed in the restaurant as well. Last evening we went to a Korean barbeque place in which you are served raw meat and then you cook it on a little grill in the center of your table. I'm being spoiled with all this good food!

There are several things about Tokyo and the Japanese people that strike me. First of all everything is so efficient here! The bus that I took from the airport into the city was scheduled for 7:40 pm. The bus arrived at 7:35, we were all aboard at 7:39 and pulling away from the airport at 7:40. Furthermore, the buses, trains, and subways all run so efficiently. What a change after often struggling with the Metro in DC which is being fixed or worked on half the time. The city is also so clean! While there are limited trashcans on the streets (something Tiina said has occurred since 9/11) there is no trash in the streets or the sidewalks. The public transportation is so clean as well. The Japanese are a very friendly people. While there is a limited number of Japanese who speak English, everyone who I've encountered has been very willing to help me, even if they can't understand me. The Japanese are also very into appearance and fashion. I feel underdressed walking down the street in jeans and a sweater, as most girls are wearing dresses and high heels. The oddity of fashion choices also gets me. There are so many girls here who border on being the Japanese version of Lady Gaga. On Sunday Tiina took me to a park where several people dress up in extremely extravagant outfits and then pose along the sidewalk. Each of them had a cluster of people around them taking their photographs, which of course the person posing loves. Some more funny little things that I've noticed are the kitchens are tiny. Japanese often eat out, so there is no need for a massive kitchen. Tiina has a washing machine that also doubles as a dryer, however most Japanese air dry their clothes, so the dryer is rarely used. And most interesting of all is the heated toilets. Yes, the toilets in public restrooms and in houses have the ability to heat up, like a heated car seat. A very odd first experience indeed.

I caught the tail-end of cherry blossom season here in Tokyo. I think the Japanese may have given the United States the puny version of their cherry blossom trees, as the trees here are about twice the size of the ones in Washington. Cherry Blossoms draw a similarly large crowd here as well. Often young Japanese people will spend the afternoon drinking and socializing under the cherry trees in the park here and stay late into the evening.

I have another week here in Tokyo, so much more excitement to come. Wednesday is Tiina's birthday which I'm very excited about as its been several several years since I've celebrated the big day with her. I'm also hoping to see Mt. Fuji at some point! Saturday evening I'll depart Tokyo and arrive back in Wellington Sunday afternoon. I can't believe how quickly time has flown by!

Hope everyone is doing well on the other side of the world!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweeeeeet Sydney

Howdy from Sydney!
I am just wrapping up my second full day here in Sydney and I have absolutely loved it so far. The city is much larger than I had imagined, then again I have been in the very tiny (300,000 people) city of Wellington for the past few months.

After a full day of traveling on Saturday, my friend Kelsey and I arrived in Sydney around 7 pm that night. We took a shuttle to our hostel, the Blue Parrot, located in King's Cross in Sydney. After a quick meal, it was an early night for us as we were exhausted from the traveling.

But we made the most out of Sunday! We took the train (subway) to Darling Harbour. The subway system in Sydney is quite extensive, I believe there are 7 or 8 different lines that stretch out into the suburbs. After getting off the subway we ventured into Paddy's Market, which was pretty much like a giant flea/farmer's market filled with all sorts of things. I have to admit I spent a bit on souvenirs for myself...and of course family and friends! After spending an hour or so in the market we walked along the harbour. There were SO many people doing the same thing. It's incredible the number of tourists. After walking around the harbour and seeing the maritime museum (a few naval ships and submarines) we took the train to Circular Quay to see the other side of the harbor where the Bridge and Opera House are located. As soon as the train came above ground and I saw the Opera House for the first time my mouth dropped. I guess I wasn't expecting something so large, or I was just so psyched to finally see it, but I was speechless. Then of course the Sydney Harbor Bridge is pretty incredible as well. We checked both structures out up close and I got quite a few pictures of everything. As it was Easter on Sunday, Kelsey and I treated ourselves to a nice meal seeing as we were both a little sad not to be with our families for the holiday. But Easter dinner right on the harbor was a close second best. After taking a second look at the Opera House after the sun had set, Kelsey and I took the subway back to King's Cross and our hostel to call it a night.

Today we had planned to go to Bondi Beach, but the weather did not work out in our favor. Instead we walked the city some more, seeing the Queen Victoria building, the Sky Tower, and Sydney's version of Hyde Park. Later this evening I'm planning to go see Avatar on Sydney's IMAX. I know it's been forever, but I'm finally going to see it. I figured it was about time, seeing as my parents have seen the film like 3 or 4 times now.

Hopefully tomorrow will be beach weather. We also plan to go to the Wildlife Park so that I can finally see that Koala bear I've been dying to hold.

Wednesday morning I leave for Tokyo at 7 am and will arrive there around 6 pm (Tokyo time). I am getting very very excited for some quality time with Tiina. I think it is probably a good thing I came to Sydney first seeing as this city is a bit overwhelming coming from Wellington, I can't imagine how I'm going to feel when I first get to the ENORMOUS city of Tokyo!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! Much love!!

Friday, April 2, 2010

5 Weeks Down, Too Few Remaining!

It has been awhile since my last post and I apologize if anyone was waiting patiently for me to write something new. The past few weeks have been filled with mostly academic work and lots of rowing. My mid-semester break started yesterday, Good Friday and in fact I am leaving to start my break in Sydney in just a few hours. My sheer excitement to get to Australia has left me sleepless, leaving me plenty of time to write a new post.

My plans for break have me heading to Sydney today, Saturday the 3rd and staying until Wednesday the 7th. I'm traveling with another American who I had previously gone to the South Island with. We're staying in what looks like the quaintest hostel Sydney had to offer. Situated nicely between Bondi Beach, the Opera House, and downtown, we'll hopefully get to see all the major hotspots. I'm also secretly really looking forward to holding a Koala Bear.
On Wednesday I'm leaving in the morning to go all the way to Tokyo, Japan to visit Tiina! After all the years she's been there, someone from our clan is finally getting to see her there. I'm absolutely thrilled about this. I'm going to Asia?! That sounds pretty wild to me. I'll be there for ten days, as I head back to New Zealand on April 17th. It's a pretty nice size break we have, two weeks. We had 5 weeks of class, this two week break, and then 7 weeks of class remaining. After checking my calendar I realize that I have just ten weeks left in New Zealand. I get a little choked up thinking about that, as there is still so much to do and see. My younger sister, Keri and her friend Zoe (from UF and Naples) are coming over to visit me May 11th-25th. I'm very excited that she'll get to make it over here, I know she'll love this country as much as I do. I'm hoping that when they are here we can road trip up around the north island to places such as Lake Taupo and Rotorua. Keri and Zoe both want to go bungee jumping, so i'll have to work that into the trip as well. I think I'll stay on solid ground for that little endevour.

Seeing as break just started, I had several papers due before I started vacation. I cooped myself up in the library for the past two weeks in an attempt to get those all done before I left for my travels. I'm not much of a procrastinator (good habit picked up from rowing), so it wasn't a problem staying on top of everything. My classes are all going really well. Particularly the media in new zealand class has helped me learn so much about kiwi culture.

I have kept up with rowing, although the season will end next week after they attend Uni Games in Dunedin. There is a club team (Wellington Rowing Club) which starts training after the semester break that I may decide to join. The past few weeks with the team has gained me several close Kiwi friends and even a trip north to Wanganui where we went to a training camp. Last weekend we drove two hours north on Friday afternoon and stayed at the Union Boathouse in Wanganui for two nights and trained on the river which runs through the town. The room that the 50+ rowers stayed in looked something like a high school gym with hurricane victims. Luckily I shared an air mattress with my friend Jess in a semi-quiet corner. We spent all of Saturday rowing, going out three times on the water. Where we were was very sunny and warm, which was a nice change from the cooler weather here in Wellington. On Saturday night the team had their traditional toga party, pretty self-explanatory, in the boathouse that we were staying at. This tradition also included the "novice team initiation" which I won't go into too much detail with other than the boys ate some raw eggs. Sunday we went out on the water again twice and then headed back to Wellington that evening. I think with rowing I have made more Kiwi friends here than American friends. I guess this is probably a good thing and honestly I have loved it! A few of the girls on my team want to take me to the Northern tip of the North Island after classes end. Most of them haven't even seen that area and I think they're using me, the American tourist, as an excuse to go there.

It's 6:40 am here and my flight to Sydney leaves in a few hours, so I better finishing packing! I'll give an update from Sydney! Hope everyone is well back in the USA!