Japan: In a different life…

This year I set foot on Japanese ground for the first time in my life. I was there for the last two weeks of April and managed to savour the remnants of cherry blossom season. If you recall from my first blog post, this has been a very long anticipated trip (I booked my flights 10 months in advance). And now, two months post Japan trip, I figured I should note my thoughts before they escape me.

In a different life, perhaps my next, I would like to be Japanese.

Sounds like a wacky shower thought. Maybe it is. But I genuinely believe the Japanese culture and lifestyle is special, and one that can only be fully realised by a person born and raised in Japan. Being a tourist is like getting a glimpse into someone’s home, you observe a different way of living, try new foods and attempt a foreign language, then you thank the hosts’ for their hospitality and you return to your own life.

Here in Melbourne, I have entirely re-integrated with my student life – final exams, empty wallets and all – but there are aspects of Japan that have stayed in the perimeters of my mind. I think these are the distinguishing factors that have given Japan its stellar reputation.

The Quiet

I arrived in Tokyo at night so I didn’t notice it immediately, but it is insanely quiet in Japan. On day time streets, comfortable silence is filled only by the sound of nature and machinery, the subway is hushed even when it’s crowded, everything and everyone seems to be under a calm spell. And I love it. I have never experienced anything like this before and was not expecting to encounter quiet in any city, let alone one in Asia. In short, it blew my mind. Japan would be an introvert’s (my) heaven on earth for this reason alone.

The People

Japanese people are very kind and I especially love the elderly. Having zero sense of direction and knowing only four and a half Japanese words meant I had to ask for help daily. I am so grateful for all the people who went out of their way to show me to my bus stop, and helped me translate the writing on my onigiri (gotta find the Tuna & Mayo one!) Moreover, they are the epitome of kawaii (cute) and set strong moral examples for tourists like me.

The Safety

This was the biggest culture shock I received during my time in Japan. Living in a Western society, I am constantly reminded to not leave my valuables unattended, to be cautious of walking alone at night, to avoid interactions with strangers, etc. However, I felt incredibly safe in Japan, even more so than in Melbourne. Young couples were walking their dog at midnight, and bags were left at coffee tables while the owners’ queued for their order – it was a new found mental freedom that was only possible in a society of trust.

The Distinct Japanese-ness

Japan has preserved its traditions and culture rigorously. Not just their temples and tea ceremonies, but everything, including youth areas and technological advancements are shaped by a force distinctly Japanese. In stark contrast to Melbourne, a microcosm of the world’s different cultures, Japan has allowed little influence from the outside. I think the benefits of homogeneity are clear in this post, but I have to admit, three quarters through my trip I began craving some Vietnamese Pho and Korean Bibimbap.

That is all for my Japan recount. If you are more interested in the sees & dos you can watch my day-to-day adventures in Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto in my vlog.



Taipei: Asia’s undervalued gem

A mysterious travel genie grants you a chance to visit any three countries in Asia.

Where do you want to go?

Your head is buzzing with the possibilities. You can already see the ludicrously cheap price tags. Your mouth waters with the thought of Asian street food, dumplings, and SUSHI. Okay, definitely Japan. Thailand for the beaches. And maybe Korea, Singapore or Vietnam to top it off.

Probably not Taiwan. Actually, Taiwan didn’t even cross your mind.

Well, same. For as long as I’ve had a travel bucket list, Taiwan was not on it. Why would it be? I’ve heard virtually nobody talk about it, and everyone raves about Japan.

Insert meme: ‘If you haven’t been to Japan, did you really go to Asia?’

Alas, I have not been to Japan (disclaimer: this will change in April 2017), but I have been to Taiwan. And as you may have deciphered from the title of this post: I. loved. Taiwan. The country was rich in culture, history, food, tourist hotspots, and entrepreneurial spirit. My only regret was not asking the street food vendors for their recipes – it’s struggle town here in Melbourne when the cravings hit hard.

Drawing from personal experience, here is my curated list of ‘Top 11 Things to See and Do in Taipei’.

  1. Shop and eat all the street food you can at Shilin Night Market
    • Out of all the night markets we visited, Shilin was a magical mix of the yummiest street food and best clothes/beauty stores. Please don’t leave without trying the Sweet Potato Balls. I am in love, and you will be too.
  2. Hike Elephant Mountain (at night)
    • Another disclaimer: I am not a fit person. For a regular hiker, Elephant Mountain probably isn’t considered a hike; it’s a quick up and down the staircase. For my fellow regular people, this hike is do-able, just remember to bring a drink bottle. The view is well worth it and definitely a better experience than Taipei 101, plus it’s free.
  3. Cycle through Old Caoling Tunnel
    • You can rent bikes from the stall nearby. Try the pedal bikes for a low key workout, or the electric tandem bikes for feelings of superiority when you whiz past other bikers.
  4. Take photos on Rainbow Bridge and chill by the Kee Long River
    • Bring food & drinks for a picnic! Otherwise there’s Raohe Night Market nearby.
  5. Buy clothes, souvenirs and Pineapple Cake in Ximending Shopping district
    • This is the prime location for youths of all cultures; it’s the Shibuya of Taipei. Super vibrant and lively district, and if you’re lucky, you may find someone selling Sweet Potato Balls here too. Bags and shoes were cheap cheap cheap!
  6. Feast on Beef Brisket Noodle Soup and Mango Shaved Ice in Dongmen
    • Best bowl of noodles I have ever consumed in my life. After coming back from Taiwan I watched a YouTube cooking tutorial on how to remake this signature dish, but the skill level required goes way beyond my egg-frying expertise. You have been forewarned.
  7. Pray to the love/money/study Gods at Longshan Temple
    • You can never have enough luck right? But if you do find the one you both have to return and give thanks to the Gods!
  8. Make a wish and release a sky lantern at Pingxi
    • The lanterns were a lot bigger than I anticipated (almost same height as me – 157cm) so you have a lot of writing space. Release the lantern with your friends for a special memory.
  9. Embrace the tea culture by making your own green tea at a tea farm
    • Besides gearing up in tea farming uniform, you also get to engrave your name on your personal tea cup, taste-test the accompanying tea snacks (I took a liking to the green tea lollies), and try a tea whisky if you want. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the name of the tea farm I visited.
  10. Re-enact the scenes from Studio Ghibli’s film, ‘Spirited Away’, in Jioufen
    • Spirited Away was the first anime film I ever watched so it was exciting to see the movie’s architectural inspiration. There are also many restaurants here where you can enjoy a relaxing dinner overlooking scenic mountains.
  11. It wouldn’t be a trip to Taiwan without pearl milk tea from 50Lan, and xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings) at Din Tai Fung!
    • Pearl Milk Tea and Xiao Long Bao, all day every day.

That concludes my first blog post. If you ever encounter an idle travel genie, I hope you consider wishing a visit to Taipei!