Less than a week before my trip I realized that I still hadn’t planned anything else besides booking my flight and hotel because I hadn’t found the time, so I ordered a travel guide for Bangkok via amazon. I didn’t have time to read it either but felt kind of safe just to have it. Especially because it came with a map where I could mark my hotel. Everything else could come later…
The day before my departure I was at university all day. I hadn’t packed my stuff yet and wanted to do that when I came home in the evening but first there were some last mails to write. When I was finally prepared for my trip it was 2 o’clock in the morning and I would have to get up at 5:30 to catch my bus to Kansai airport.
So I didn’t get much sleep but I managed not to oversleep and was on the bus on time. Everything went smooth at the airport, except that the lady at the check-in counter must have seen a German passport for the first time in her life… She looked at my passport like forever as if she thought it was fake. After a while she tried to read “Deu… Deuch…?” “Doitsu desu ne” (“It’s Germany”) I replied.
It was my first flight with China Airlines and just the day before I had talked with a friend who fights his fear of flying by using a service which informs him about problems on all flights so he could find out which companies often report problems and which don’t. He didn’t name China Airlines as one of those who don’t report problems that much… Luckily, I have no fear of flying. On the contrary, I usually enjoy it very much.
My first impression of the plane was that it looks a bit old and not as clean as I was used to. There was a bubble gum sticked to the seat in front of me… But this also speaks for the passenger flying before me and since its colour blended in perfectly with the plastic of the seat I thought that this is forgivable. Otherwise, I couldn’t complain about the service. The food was alright and the entertainment system up to date. I had to transfer in Taipei where I landed on time and continued my journey just a little later.
The flight from Taipei had already started delayed and there was a big bad weather front the plane had to fly around which delayed it even further. Most of the time, I was gazing out of the window. No matter how often I fly I’m still fascinated with watching the earth from above or the formations of the clouds and to watch a stormy sky out of a plane was especially exciting. I could see lightning in the clouds nearby which was really amazing
When we finally had to turn to Bangkok the plane finally got into some great turbulences. It felt like a rollercoaster ride and some people started to scream… At that time, I was listening to Leona Lewis’ “Trouble”. Oh, the irony.
Finally we landed safely, I got through the immigration procedure and got my luggage. The hotel had written on its homepage that it would be the easiest to go to the hotel by taxi and I decided to stick to that advice. I had printed the map the hotel provided as well but the taxi-driver didn’t seem happy with it. After a while he asked me if he could bring me to Khaosan road instead of the hotel because he wasn’t sure if the road of the hotel was broad enough for cars.
The taxi ride including highway fees and a surcharge, which the driver apparently was allowed to add, summed up to around 550 Baht (ca. 14 Euro) in the end. The driver told me where Khaosan road was and then I put my feet on Bangkok’s ground for the first time.
By that time, it was already dark. It was hot, but not as sticky as I expected. I was pretty exhausted and just wanted to reach the hotel as soon as possible. It took a while to orientate but finally I found my position on the map. Khaosan road looked very crowded and I thought it would be easier to walk through the parallel road which, according to the map, should lead me to the hotel too. This turned out to be a mistake…
The parallel road was narrow and dirty. Some unpleasant smells reached my nose and there were some malnourished cats. My wish to reach the hotel as soon as possible grew bigger… However, while the road I was following appeared to be just straight in my map it turned out to have some crossings so when I reached the first crossing I thought that I would have to turn left to get to my hotel. But it wasn’t there…
After some back and forth I returned to my starting point. I was thinking whether I should just walk through Khaosan road but it still seemed very bothersome and I decided to try the parallel road one more time. This time I walked past the crossing and finally, I somehow ended up near the end of Khaosan road. At least I knew that the hotel wasn’t far from there so I felt relieved.
Then a taxi driver asked me where I was going and asked me to show him my map. He pointed in the direction of my hotel. All I had to do was to cross the street and walk down a few more meters. While I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green, I was constantly asked for my goal by taxi and Tuk-Tuk drivers. At that time, I was still used to being polite and answer if someone asks me a question so I named my hotel and some drivers tried to get me on a ride even if my hotel was maybe 50 meters away…
So I was still waiting for the traffic light. And kept waiting… and waiting… By the time I started feeling stupid many people had passed me and ran over the street between cars and buses already. Being a good girl, I still thought that I should wait for the green light and after all, I surely was to slow to slip through the traffic with my luggage so I waited a little longer. I had pushed the button, hadn’t I? Yes, I had… Still no sign for changing lights. It began to dawn on me that these lights would never change. I had to look for a chance to run…
Somehow, I made it to the other side and learned my first rule for Bangkok: Traffic lights are optional! This rule was proved for validity many times during my stay and can count as being true
Finally, finally, I reached my hotel. At the reception I was told that there were no more single rooms so I was given a double room for that night. I had to change rooms on the next day and couldn’t leave the hotel until then but that was fine with me. I intended to sleep longer the next morning anyways.
The hotel did have an elevator for luggage and if you didn’t fit in your bag you had to walk the stairs. Just kidding, you had to walk anyways My room was on the 5th floor, yay! The room itself was just as I had expected and as it looked at the pictures I had seen. It was clean but the bathroom smelled a little bit like sewage. It wasn’t much though, so it was bearable.
My last mission that day was to get some food and water from the 7-Eleven across the street. I managed to pick the spiciest meal available as my friends told me later: Some fried rice with pork and basil.
It was tasty but really really spicy. After a few bites, my cheeks started to feel tingly! I had to take a few breaks in between to finish my first meal in Bangkok but no meal was as spicy afterwards. I guess it was a good primer for Thai food
I realize that I have a lot to write about my recent trip to Thailand, so I’ll write this post in several parts. Hope you enjoy reading as much as I did travelling
Ever since my first stay in Japan I kept saying that I also wanted to travel other Asian countries more but due to a lack of time and money nothing of that sort happened during the six and a half years that have passed since then. Then in the middle of March this year I finally decided to travel. After all, I had been working and researching almost non-stop since January and needed a break. And thanks to all the work I even had enough money to actually go on a trip. I also thought that I need to visit an unknown place to break out of my usual thinking patterns. Japan had become familiar, I had become somewhat Japanese and I wanted to get to know other countries before I became a victim of the “safe Japan dangerous overseas” belief.
So, I knew I wanted to travel Asia but Asia is pretty big so where should I start? China? But the pollution… Korea? I definitely want to go but it’s so close (geographically and culturally?) I felt I could visit easily anytime. This time, I wanted to go a bit farther and so I decided to follow up on my promise to visit my friends in Thailand. I hadn’t met some of them for five or six years and I remember how we said Goodbye in Osaka telling ourselves that we would meet again one day…
I contacted one of my Thai friends to ask for advice on hotels and started searching for flights. I could manage to go a few days before Golden Week, one of Japan’s busiest travel seasons, so I got a very cheap flight with China Airlines. From my friend I had heard that the area around Khaosan was a safe place to stay and looked for hotels in that area. Khaosan is Bangkok’s backpacker’s ghetto, a very fitting name as I should learn later, but I am not a backpacker and didn’t want to stay in a dormitory which would be the cheapest option. However, after scanning several travel websites I found a hotel which offered single rooms with private bathrooms at a dormitory’s price. Opinions on the quality varied greatly but you get what you pay for and I didn’t expect anything more than a clean, lockable room and my own bath. No amenities, no service. The fact that the hotel offered air condition seemed like an exorbitant service already! What more could I wish for?
So I booked one week in Bangkok, a place I knew nothing of except what this song told me:
(You knew I couldn’t post about Bangkok without mentioning it, didn’t you?)
At the end of January, I had the opportunity to visit the Tohoku region of Japan, because I went to the conference of the Japan Society of Health Evaluation and Promotion which took place in Sendai. The conference wasn’t very interesting, but it was a nice short trip to a region of Japan I hadn’t been to and I used it to the fullest.
Sendai itself is just a typical modern city like many in Japan. Life seemed to be concentrated around the shopping streets in the city center. And yet, it was really astonishing how normal this city was. Nothing would indicate that it was hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Unless you looked to the sea…
It has already been a strange feeling landing at Sendai airport which had been flooded but didn’t show a trace of that. But looking over Sendai from Westin Hotel showed a different picture.
In the evening of the second in Sendai, it began to snow and by the next day, the city was covered by a thin layer of snow. People were cleaning up streets in the morning, even these OLs in their pumps:
Living in Osaka, which rarely sees any snow, I am used to people not wearing winter clothes, but in Tohoku I expected the people to adapt a bit more to the cold climate. Obviously, this wasn’t he case. It seems like the Japanese pride in their four seasons doesn’t lead to distinct clothes fit to each. Also cleaning your car before you drive wasn’t very common and so the sight of people driving with snow on top and undetectable lights was the norm. Even the buses were no exception.
After the conference was over I had just enough time to go to nearby Matsushima. My colleague joined me and we caught the last ship going around the many tiny islands of Matsushima Bay. Here, too, the tsunami didn’t have much of an impact because the islands had stopped the water, but the influence was still there. In fact, the train wouldn’t go any further than Matsushima Bay. If you wanted to continue your way north you had to take a bus. I can only imagine how it would look like there. Probably like the empty area in Sendai, but much bigger…
Anyways, it was snowing in Matsushima, too, but I enjoyed the tour around the islands nevertheless. It truly is a beautiful place. In fact, it is so beautiful the haiku poet Matsuo Bashou dedicated more words in his famous “Oku no hosomichi” (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) to Matsushima than to any other place.
On the last day, I went to Yamadera in Yamagata prefecture on my own. It takes almost an hour by train to get there and the more the train got into the mountains the more snow there was. Even in Sendai the snow had accumulated to around 10 cm but at Yamadera it must have been at least 40 cm. I was very lucky that the snow had already stopped falling but was still fresh enough to lay on the trees.
Yamadera is a temple built on top of a hill so you have to climb many stairs to get there. It isn’t a very long or difficult way though. Under normal conditions that is… It was said on the temple’s website that it could be visited anytime, even in winter, because the path would be cleaned. Well, the snow was piled up on one side of the path but there was still enough snow to make it super slippery. So I struggled with every step, especially when the snow was piled up on the side that would have provided a handrail… I should have listened to the woman where I paid the entrance fee of 300 Yen and borrow boots for the hike. But the first stairs were easy to walk and so I thought I could go on in my own boots. What a big mistake!
Going up was easy compared to the way down. Only the last stairs to the hall on top weren’t cleaned at all and I couldn’t have reached it if not some kind Japanese would have reached out their hands for me. There was a couple from Nagano prefecture who helped me a lot. The husband first talked to me in English but we switched to Japanese later. His wife was faster and had already seen all the temple buildings (which were closed that day) when we arrived at the top. On the way, I took some pictures of the amazing, snowy landscape:
Then we had to go down, which was much more difficult. It was already difficult for those wearing hiking boots but for me in my no-profile-at-all-city-boots it proved to be impossible. If I hadn’t had that much help I would have had to slide down on my bottoms. But the man from Nagano lent me a hand and another man gave me a stick he had borrowed near the station and so I could make it down. It was still not easy though. Most of the way, I held the handrail and moved my hands forward step by step while my feet just followed slipping down. It was like going down a slide made of ice. I had sore muscles for the following three days. It felt like after hiking Mt. Fuji but this time my arms also hurt as hell and I couldn’t lift them above my shoulders… I swear, next time I get an offer to borrow boots I’ll take it! On the other hand, what would life be without such small adventures?
Remember the oysters I ate at Matsushima? Two of them were raw and must have been carrying the norovirus. The next day after I returned to Osaka, my stomach got terribly sick. I couldn’t even sit upright and slept the whole day. I was feeling better the following day but couldn’t eat anything for three days without upsetting my stomach. Of course, my colleague wasn’t any better… But how lucky we were that the virus takes a day until it causes symptoms so we could enjoy the last day of our journey
If you – like me – have watched the anime “The Rose of Versailles” (Berusaiyu no Bara or short: BeruBara) as a child, I don’t need to explain any further, but for those who haven’t, it is a very popular manga written by Ryoko Ikeda in the early 1970s. Maybe you’re more familiar with “Lady Oscar” the main character, who despite being born a girl is raised as a boy to fulfill the wish of her father, a general, for a successor. Although it is a fictive story it takes place in France around the time of the French Revolution and parts of the storyline are based on historical events and characters.
I really loved the anime when I was in elementary school – in fact, I still do and I can still sing the German intro. You can imagine how excited I was when I heard that the Takarazuka Revue is going to play The Rose of Versailles – again, I have to say. Because The Rose of Versailles is actually the most famous play of the Takarazuka Revue and played a crucial role in reviving the musical after television became its enemy.
As explained in the documentary below (in Japanese), when TVs spread and the stars could be watched at home, very few people went to see Takarazuka shows. The Revue faced a crisis when one of its fans suggested to turn The Rose of Versailles, the most popular manga at the time, into a play. But this wasn’t as easy as imagined.
The actresses struggled with the problem of how to turn the poses from the manga into movements on stage. They managed to overcome this problem with the help of Hasegawa Kazuo, a famous actor in film and theatre. He was familiar with playing both male and female roles and used his experience to translate The Rose of Versailles into the musical we know today. For example, he told the actress playing Oscar where to stand by using what is called the “golden position” in Kabuki theatre. He also told her where to look to make use of the lighting and let her eyes sparkle just like it is drawn in the manga.
The play was a great success. But there was one storyline in the manga, which hadn’t been included in the musical: The love of André for Oscar. Because of the positive reactions to the first play, it was decided to bring The Rose of Versailles to the stage a second time, but this time the story of André and Oscar would be more important than the story of the French Revolution. Hasegawa again helped to realize the play and created the famous scene between André and Oscar. The second play was even more successful than the first and led to the so-called “BeruBara-Boom” which revived the Takarazuka Review.
Ever since, The Rose of Versailles has been played by different troupes and in different versions every few years and never lost its popularity. I’ve seen a few plays at the Takarazuka Review during the last years, but I was always waiting for a chance to watch BeruBara and this year the chance had finally come.
I knew that tickets would be hard to get and so I started hunting as soon as the advance sale started. Not even a really bad cold could stop me from that It took half an hour of constantly reloading the Revue’s website until I had my tickets, but it was totally worth it. The play was as epic as I imagined. It was also as kitschy as it could get. Especially the last scene which was hilarious, but I won’t spoil you here. If you ever have the chance to watch this play don’t miss it!
While I was in Tokyo last weekend, I took the chance to visit the Mori Arts Center which currently exhibits around 100 works by Aida Makoto under the title “Monument for Nothing” (although the Japanese title is 天才でごめんなさい – tensai de gomen nasai or “Sorry for being a genius”). The video below shows an interview with Aida which gives a good impression on his person and art:
As shown in the video, two main topics of Aida’s work are salarymen and 美少女 (bi-shojo, pretty, young girls) as he sees them as symbolic for many problems in contemporary Japanese society and he seems to be constantly looking for ways to eliminate either of them. For example, one work is split into two parts like a page in a comic book. The upper part shows three salarymen gulping down an energy drink, each accompanied by a slogan praising the hard-working salarymen who support Japan’s economy. It looks just like a typical advertisement for energy drinks. Yet, the lower part shows the same salarymen dead on the ground. It turns out that the energy drinks were poisoned and that’s Aida’s suggestion how to eliminate salarymen. The bi-shojo, on the other hand, have to suffer a lot in Aida’s work, too, but are often depicted as heroines. They commit suicide rather than be killed. Anyways, they have to die as well…
I really liked Aida’s critical stance and the irony with which he depicts severe problems, although there are also some harder digestible works like his “DOG”-series. This series and other works were displayed in a separate room marked as being suitable for 18 years old or older, but I didn’t really understand the rating policy behind this. For example, what’s the difference between “Blender” in which young girls turn into a bloody juice and the “Mimi-chan”-series, which shows several ways how to eat “edible artificial girls”? Personally, I found the former more disturbing than the latter, but the “Mimi-chan”-series was kept in the 18+ room while “Blender” was not. Why?? I thought the “Mimi-chan”-series were a wonderfully ironic way to criticize how we take eating fish and meat for granted, always forgetting that those we’re living creatures, too. Imagine, someone would invent an artificial creature that offers meat, but happens to look like a young girl. Would it matter? Would we stop eating fish if it looked like girls? Where do we draw the line and why?
But what was maybe even more surprising for me was the fact that there were so many small children at the exhibition. Especially if you consider the unclear lines between works deemed appropriate for younger visitors and those rated 18+. One boy, maybe 5 years old, was watching Aida’s introductory video to his “Assisted Suicide Machine” and asked his mother what the man (Aida) was doing. She answered he was trying to commit suicide, but the noose was constructed in such a way that it would collapse under his weight. Well, while that’s a correct answer to the boy’s question I wondered, whether he understood what he was seeing and what he was thinking. What would this boy think about “Blender”? Or about any of the works showing cut out intestines or decapitated heads? What will the next picture look like this little boy draws? …
Well, I don’t know much about art and I just wanted to share my main impressions on this visit so I will stop here. You can find a much more detailed (and longer) article on Aida Makoto and his work here. But be warned of shocking images.
Would you’ve thought that there will be a third part to this story? Me neither, but here it is! I moved again. The third time in less than 1.5 years and I hope this time I’m gonna stay a little bit longer. Preferably, until I finish studying at Handai, but I’m confident about that because I found a place that fits perfect to my wishes. In fact, it fits almost too perfect so I really really hope there won’t be any surprises later (I got a little bit doubtfully as you might understand if you’ve read part I and part II of this tiny series).
So why did I move again? Well, after all that happened last February I checked for free apartments occasionally without really considering to move. It was just a little playing “What if…”
Then my boyfriend decided to go to Germany in October to study German and I started to think more seriously about moving. “If he goes to Germany for a while, I could look for a smaller and cheaper apartment. Maybe something nearer to university. And with more sunlight for my desk.” The last point was crucial for me because my desk was placed at the darkest part of the apartment so I had to turn on the lights even during the day to work there. But that was against my electricity saving principles, so I ended up working on the sofa all the time which lead to back pain……………….
Anyways, I started to check for free apartments more frequently, thinking that if there was a nice one I could move, but if not that would be fine, too. I didn’t have to move immediately, so I could wait for the right chance.
There were a few apartments which weren’t too bad and I went to see a couple of them but in the end, I decided against moving. Since those were all single apartments I wouldn’t have been able to move before October and I didn’t want to make a contract for an apartment which didn’t fit 100% too early. In most cases making a contract that early wasn’t possible anyways.
Then I found the apartment I finally moved into. A rather old building from the 70s, but very clean and nice. There were lots of pictures which looked like the apartment would be very bright, too. Actually, it was even bigger, but cheaper than my old apartment, so I showed it to my boyfriend who liked it as well. If we would be able to move together we could move before he leaves for Germany, so I called the agent for this apartment.
The apartment was still available and I made an appointment to see it on the same day. After my call to the agent my boyfriend asked me whether it was allowed to move in together and I said that there was nothing written about this but since it was such a big apartment, I was sure that it was possible. But he insisted on asking about it before we would see the apartment. After all that happened last year, he was right, so I called the agent again. And got a shocking answer: The landlords don’t allow two persons to move in because it’s an old building and the neighbours would be disturbed.
I was really disappointed to hear that. I thought about it for a while and then called the agent a third time. If we couldn’t move in together, I could still try to make a contract for October and move on my own. So I went to see the apartment alone.
The pictures on the website weren’t promising too much. My first impression was very positive. Old, but well-maintained, bright and spacious. I imagined how my furniture would fit in figured that my desk could get a nice place in front of a window so I would have as much sunlight as possible. I also liked the garden in front of the house and the kitchen that actually deserved to be called a kitchen. There was enough space for a 2-burner gas stove, which is really hard to find in small apartments, and some space to prepare food next to it. Did I mention it was almost next to Handai? I fell in love with this apartment.
Talking to the agent, I told him about my situation and that I could move immediately if it was possible to move together with my boyfriend, so he said he would talk to the landlords. I didn’t expect that they would make a compromise but it wouldn’t hurt to try so I waited for his call.
The call came and the result was positive! The landlords would accept the two of us if it was only until October. I was very excited about these news but wanted to talk to my boyfriend first. After I got his OK, I called the agent again and made another appointment to see the apartment together with my boyfriend. When we got there, I asked about the landlords’ reaction. The agent said he asked the landlords if it would be alright if someone staid over night very often until October, which they didn’t mind. But that was not what we were asking for, because like this we would end up just like in the first apartment and would have nothing to say if the landlords would find out that my boyfriend actually lived together with me instead of just sleeping over. He had to be in the contract.
So the agent said he would talk to the landlords again and make the situation clear. I doubted that they would agree with this but waited for their decision. And the result was positive again! Now there was nothing left that would keep us from moving and after I got a last OK from my boyfriend I called the agent to prepare the contract.
I don’t know how many calls I had to make for this apartment in the end, but I’m really glad everything worked out fine and I am happy to be here.