Instant Ramen Museum, Arashiyama, and the Golden Pavilion

Photo 16-03-2017, 15 02 05

Adorable monkeys and a sublime view

It’s been lovely to relax into a pattern where I don’t need to know what day of the week it is or to set an alarm. I haven’t been complacent, though.

Photo 08-03-2017, 14 08 55

The instant ramen tunnel

The bit of time between my trip to Shanghai and the arrival of my partner Theo was one of those liminal spaces where I finally had time to truly relax, but felt restless instead. It’s also been quieter around the dorm, since many students are moving out. I did, however, get a friend to come to the Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka with me. It was a cute little place, where we learned about how the idea was created and how it evolved into the extremely popular product of today. The best part, of course, was combining a few flavours ourselves and putting them into a noodle cup we got to decorate. We topped the day off with finding the tastiest sushi restaurant around, at the top of the Yodobashi Camera building in Umeda, which I really recommend. A day out in Osaka is also incomplete without popping into one of the arcade areas that you find on every corner – it’s so fun to watch regular gamers bring special gloves and take their hobby seriously and competitively.

And suddenly I was at the airport, greeting Theo, overwhelmed that they are a real person after all. I think having a long distance relationship warrants a separate post, as it’s quite an interesting and complicated thing that we dealt with well so far, and that more and more of my friends are finding themselves in.

Photo 16-03-2017, 14 50 45

Theo making a friend

I’ve been in a mad rush to show Theo all the awesome places I’ve been to. We’ve also done a couple of things that are new to me too, such as visiting the wild monkey park in Arashiyama. We are both very interested in animals and their rights, so this was a real treat. You rarely get to see wild animals living happy lives in England, and certainly not monkeys! The park is up a small mountain near the train station, managed by a group of people who make sure the visitors do not bother the monkeys too much. The adorable animals ran around right next to us, though we were asked not to touch them and not to make prolonged eye contact, because in monkey language that’s akin to picking a fight. We also went into a small cabin with windows covered by nets, from which we were allowed to feed the monkeys – for once the humans were the one in a cage! Definitely a great day out, especially topped off with a stroll in the sublime bamboo forest.

Photo 18-03-2017, 14 31 44

Us embracing the tourist life

Another new place I visited was the Golden Pavilion, otherwise known as Kinkakuji, in Kyoto. It was surprisingly confusing getting there, even though Kyoto is not far from Kobe – mostly it’s the busses that are a pain. It was worth all the trouble, of course. The Zen temple is breathtakingly beautiful and one of the most unique constructions I’ve seen in my travels. Theo also shares my love for Kyoto already – there is some special atmosphere around the city. Kobe and Osaka are lovely and unique, but they are not quite Kyoto.

And the travel carousel spins on. We just got back from Hiroshima and are off to Tokyo in a day. I’ve been loving the chance to see Japan from a fresh perspective, and not even catching a cold is enough to stop me from enjoying the long-awaited adventures with my partner.

A glimpse of Shanghai

photo-27-02-2017-18-19-50

Classic view of the famous Bund

China is a huge contrast to Japan, and made me appreciate the country I’m currently living in, while enjoying a holiday in an exotic place.

photo-26-02-2017-15-14-52

The delicious tea

We started off with spending a couple of days at Diana’s place, which is on the eastern outskirts of Shanghai, near a huge lake, and is a bit of a resort. Diana took us to a nearby ancient town called Zhujiajiao, otherwise known as the Water Town. It features a large area filled with thousand-year-old houses, currently used for a bustling market. Immediately I was submerged in foreign scents, and amazed at all the fruits and vegetables I’ve never seen before. We rested in a tea house that served chrysanthemum tea with actual flowers floating inside, and it was probably the best I’ve ever had.

photo-28-02-2017-14-19-14

Just another mind-blowing view

Central Shanghai was nothing like Diana’s serene childhood home. People often think of Tokyo as a futuristic city, but they’ve clearly never seen Shanghai! Never before have I been surrounded by such a crazy range of shapes and heights of buildings. It’s breathtaking just walking around the centre. English colonialism also left a mark, so walking near the river takes you past a building that makes you feel like you’re in Liverpool. There is some Soviet architecture scattered here and there as well. Somehow it all works together as an amazing city with a truly unique feeling about it.

The city centre is pretty small and you could cover it on foot, though we greatly benefited from the cheap tour bus that takes you to all the key places. You know the one: the red double-decker you can see in most cities around the world. It was absolutely useless as a source of information, because the recording was boring and glitchy; however, we got to ride around for free for 48 hours which was convenient. Alternatively, the underground is one of the cheapest I’ve ever been to, and easy to navigate.

photo-01-03-2017-17-21-21

One of the tea houses in the area

One of the highlights was definitely the Chenghuang Miao Temple and Yuyuan Garden. Both are wonderful landmarks based in the same touristic area. The temple was big and impressive, full of people who came to pray to the various gods. The garden was simply stunning: artificially designed half a millennium ago, it is still full of natural features, and feels like a romantic, fairy-tale maze. Definitely the place I would recommend visiting the most in Shanghai.

We spent lots of time simply eating, which is what most people recommend to do in China anyway. They’re not wrong. The food is often delicious and very varied, making you appreciate the differences between the cuisine of the many regions of China. I did rather suffer as a vegetarian though. Practically every time I ordered a dish that was supposed to not have meat in it, I would still get bits of meat. Also, every restaurant in China seems to have an official statement about the place’s cleanliness, on a scale of “happy face”, “frowny face”, and “angry face”, and only very few places had a “happy face” rating, which was worrying. I’m pretty sure several of our boys got a slight food poisoning and were uncomfortable for days. People also talk about how cheap it is to eat in China, which is true for some places, but others have the same prices as London’s mid-range restaurants, which is way more expensive than the food you can get in Japan and South Korea.

photo-26-02-2017-15-03-12

The Water Town

One thing I’ve learned from my trips to South Korea and China: think twice about going on a group trip. I’ve travelled on my own to many European countries and felt lonely, so I thought it would be ideal to travel in a group in South East Asia. It certainly was safer. However, different people have different holiday habits, and we all ended up disagreeing about our agendas, which turned out unproductive. I still had a great time and only grew to love my friends more, but I also regret not being able to do the thing I usually prioritise when going to a new city: seeing as many cultural sites as I can. It is actually possible to have a perfect travel buddy, and I’ve met mine: it’s my partner Theo, and it works because we know each other very well and have the same holiday preferences. But unless you have a person like that, it might be worth the personal challenge to make your own way through a new place.

Still, China was wonderful, and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The closest comparison I can make is maybe Russia. South Korea and Japan are both very different from China, and I’m very keen to learn more history about how that happened.

photo-01-03-2017-17-38-36

Inside the Yuyuan Garden