Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to find the perfect girl

I think I've cracked it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Buk, Buk, Bukchon

I failed again today. It's nice to be back on form after the uncharacteristic success of the used panties vending machine quest and Geisha hunt. That thing I said about Korea not being the easiest country for tourists is holding up - they're even going to the length of closing down tourist spots without letting anyone know. That's commitment!

So I didn't get to visit the egg-di-frying ('edifying') Museum of Chicken Art in Bukchon today, but as I'd already worked out that egg-cellent ('excellent') pun title in advance, ei (that's German for egg) had to find something to make the trip worthwhile (like a worthwhile egg. Watch Histor's Eye for more desperate egg puns).

Despite signs like this one, I couldn't find the museum anywhere in the neighbourhood and the pretty waitress in the cafe nearby told me it had recently shut down. Who'd have thought that basing a museum entirely on poultry-related art wasn't a recipe for success? This waitress was also one of two people who told me I was a 'very handsome guy' this afternoon, which is probably more times than this has happened in my entire life before, so I recommend that any single men visiting Korea don't bother shaving for a month, don't comb their hair and walk around in a slightly sweaty T-shirt, it seems to do the trick.

Though she did specifically single out my big nose and big ears as particularly attractive features, so maybe she was taking the piss. Or maybe these women are bored of preened Korean men and want a bit of rough? Whatever the reason, I was too chicken to do more than just laugh about my bad Korean and bid them 안녕히가세요.

Speaking of chickens, here's what you can do in Bukchon when the museum's clucking closed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bukhansan and Gretel

I didn't see a lot of Korea's green side last time I was here, mainly because the green was covered in white and the routes carved through the wilderness for my convenience were frosted over and more treacherous than if I'd just crunched through the snow and branches.

I don't know what's happened in the months since I've been gone, but miraculously the country is now warm and its national parks are more accessible. Well, as accessible as Korea gets for people who don't speak Korean, anyway. At least this meant there were no other bloody foreigners. I've noticed that tourists don't really seem interested in visiting these pastoral places on the outskirts (I only saw Japanese people in Takaosan), maybe because a mountainous forest is admittedly much the same in any country with bumpy terrain and a temperate climate. The only distinctive features are the occasional temples, tombs and shrines, but international visitors can see those more conveniently by hanging around in the city centre or boarding the tour bus.

I didn't come here for the temples though, and while Korea's national parks don't have much else that can't be found in the English Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and other places back 'home,' I'm not there right now. So I enjoyed getting away from civilisation and spending the day wandering around Bukhansan National Park accompanied by the rustic folk tales of the Brothers Grimm narrated by amateurs.

As I've pointed out before, I'm like a combination of an old man and a child, with none of the stuff in-between.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Japan vs Korea

I'm not suggesting that the State of Japan and Republic of Korea should have a fight to decide which one is the best, though Korea would probably win. The Japanese might outnumber them more than two to one (127.5 million to 48.9 million), but Japan isn't allowed an army after being a bit naughty last time, whereas you can't walk down a Korean street or get on a bus without seeing drafted teenagers in military garb, thanks to the country's dodgy neighbour to the north. I'm hoping that by using such childish language, I can downplay the severity of these things.

Those are the only things resembling facts or statistics you're going to see in this post by the way, which will be an entirely subjective, meandering analysis of which country I personally like spending my time in more out of two countries that I like quite a lot. These are definitely the places I feel most comfortable in Asia without getting bored - Singapore falls at that second hurdle, as well as for its over-the-top commercialism and general corruption. Plus, there's only so much unpleasant spitting and public bogie evacuations I can take. And it's a bit hot.

Japan's larger size and tectonic plate boundary naturally mean it's got more going on and there's more chance of an interesting volcano or forest sprouting up, but this has the contrasting effect of making Korea more appealing to my obscure tastes as the underdog. I'd heard a lot about Japan before I went there (there were still some surprises), but I knew practically nothing about Korea before I started travelling, and slowly put the pieces into place as I went along by making friends and more-than-friends. If you want to pretend this blog and my travels have any story behind them to make the random nature of life more meaningful, I had Japan in mind as a possible, far-off destination before I even started, but it was arriving in Korea that really felt like I'd accomplished something.

And now I'm back for a bit more, now the sun's come out, the ice has melted and I can visit all those national parks that would have killed me last time.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Just as sloshed as Schlegel

I didn't feel noticeably wiser after traversing the Path of Philosophy (哲学の道) in Higashiyama, which connects many of Kyoto's most significant historical sites, though that could have been partly due to the fact that my soundtrack to the journey was Daniel Defoe's celebrated imperialist horror Robinson Crusoe, and the rage was clouding my judgement.

Don't read it unless you're the sort of person who thinks the extermination of backwards indigenous cultures by the progressive regime of Catholicism is a good thing, especially if you've visited countries where this has actually happened. If that sounds like you, you can stop reading my blog while you're at it.

Despite my unwise choice of audiobook, this was a nice walk and a pleasant way to spend my last few days in Japan. This time. It's ridiculous and very bad news for our planet that it's cheaper for me to leave this country and come back again later than it is just to take a train between cities. I'm screwing our environment and putting human civilisation in jeopardy. I'm like a 21st century Crusoe.

I won't lie to you, this post is pretty much all temples, shrines and pagodas again. But if you behave, I might throw in some more unpleasant schoolgirl costumes. Aren't you lucky?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Geisha not from around here

When I headed to Gion on my first day in Kyoto, I was hoping to snap a couple of photos of elusive geishas in the wild, like I failed to do with Yakuza gangsters in Kabukichō. But I wasn't planning on being too obvious about it - a blurry, over the shoulder stealth shot would satisfy my sightseeing checklist, without getting in these women's way or making them feel like freak shows.

But I forgot this is Japan, where taking photos is as necessary as going to the bathroom (camera functions are often easier to get your head around than their complicated sci-fi toilets too), and these painted ladies seemed happy/resigned to stand around for five minutes each time they turned a corner and were swarmed by a new crowd of Japanese and foreign tourists.

Come and gawp then.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Kyoto-tal recall

If Tokyo was a sci-fi utopia (let's face it, it practically is), its jumbled anagram namesake Kyoto would be the evil dystopian twin. But once you've spent some time walking between pleasant temples and gardens on this city's convenient grid layout, you realise it's sprawling Tokyo that's the evil, unhinged one. The used schoolgirl panties vending machines should have been a hint, really.

But evil is always a lot more fun, so Kyoto unfortunately seems a little boring by comparison. I hope you like temples and things.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Q: Are there really used schoolgirl panties vending machines in Japan?

This was the question I and some people I was talking to in the hostel became committed to answering after we read contradictory and doubtful accounts of this unique and extremely dubious aspect of Japanese 'culture.'

If you've been following my excellent adventures for a while, you might remember how disappointed I felt at the end of my Malaysia trip when I failed in my quest to find the world's largest pencil. This new task felt similarly vital, and I knew I couldn't move on from Tokyo until the matter was settled, and I could be sure this city's more depraved residents had a convenient way to get their perverted fix. I don't think I could have stomached another failure, though admittedly the prospect of success was similarly stomach-churning.

I didn't really want these things to exist, but I had a mission and I intended to see it through in spite of taste or decency. Join my unholy quest.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A childish day out again again again again again again again again

In retrospect, this looks less whimsical and a lot creepier than intended

I didn't have any kind of plan when I took the JR train to Ueno, feeling restless and assuming there'd be something to occupy me there.

It didn't take too long before I ran into some critters that inspired me to visit my sixth zoo in a year and a half (not counting sanctuaries and wild critters). By myself. With lazy beard growth and wearing a T-shirt of an infectious parasite. I wonder why all the parents and school group supervisors were making sure the kids kept their distance? Just courtesy, I guess.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Maid in Japan

I hadn't heard of maid cafes before I saw these morally dubious flyer girls on every street corner in Akihabara, but as someone who was brought up with the controversial world view of gender equality, and having seen enough preachy Star Trek allegories to know that servitude isn't generally something to be encouraged, things didn't look promising.

When I later found out what sort of stuff goes on behind that cheery facade it wasn't quite as bad as I feared, but was still pretty sickening. Which basically means the girls are paid to find all of their customers' conversations fascinating and their personal quirks endearing rather then creepy, but that any excitement the customer may get from this endorsed superiority has to remain a secret. He has to keep his hands to himself, and not in that way.

I'm using the third person because I decided not to cross the moral line and visit a maid cafe myself, but once I'd come up with the blog title I had to mention it some time. Plus, it was pretty expensive and I wanted to save my yen for the cat cafe, which isn't an outrageous Are You Being Served? style euphemism for pussy. They're cafes where you hang out with some cats. It's ridiculous, but at least they don't make the cats wear debasing French maid outfits. Actually, what am I talking about - they definitely do.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Where are my goddamn freaks?

There are no freaks in this picture. Even I'm not that mean

I don't like being a slave to someone else's schedule, and usually go to places when it's convenient for me. But having heard that Tokyo's resident misfits, show-offs and other assorted, self-appointed freaks like to gather in Yoyogi Park on Sundays to spend time together and out-weird each other with sexy or horrific Cosplay outfits (or both), that gave me a clear deadline for my day out in west Tokyo.

Maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe The Man is stamping down on these freaks' freedom of confusing expression, but I didn't get to gawp at the freaks today... or did I? Who's to say the businessmen, shoppers, students and tourists dashing across the five-way intersections and packing into the narrow lanes of Shibuya and Harajuku aren't the real freak show?

No, I just double checked and the ones who dress up like dead school kids are the freaks, obviously. I don't know what I was thinking. At least the park was nice.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tokyo good experiencing joy you 6 garden

Enough of wilderness excursions, cosmic choreography and minging museums, I know what you want from Tokyo. Shibuya is probably the best place to see iconic Tokyo sights like too many people crowding into cramped streets, cyberpunk fashions and deafening arcades packed with pensioners, though these static photos probably give a misleading impression of how stressful and frenzied it all isn't.

Even when my senses are being overloaded, I still feel a lot more relaxed in Japan than in most other countries I've visited (Korea excepted), and even during rush hour, the scales are tipped more in favour of order than chaos. That doesn't mean this city always makes sense and isn't completely bewildering on occasion - it's Tokyo, after all. Perhaps you've heard of it?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Another totally disgusting museum

Another ghastly blog you shouldn't read if you're squeamish or were planning on eating today, about another macabre museum I urgently needed to visit as soon as I read about it.

The assorted tapeworms and other organisms displayed at the Meguro Parasitological Museum in Tokyo aren't as shocking as the deformed baby corpses and crushed skulls of Bangkok's Siriraj Medical Museum, but this research centre still probably isn't a place to take your kids on a family day out in Tokyo. Unless it's me as a kid.