noticing birds (again)

One of my most distinct memories of Japan (of which there are many) is standing in the above ground train stations – in Kyoto and Hiroshima and maybe a couple of other places, but I don’t remember exactly – and noticing all the little birds flying around. Finches or sparrows or something – I’m not really sure, but they were tiny little things, and flew about energetically and ceaselessly. I was in awe at the presence of so much birdlife in the middle of these big cities.  Continue reading

rationalising my commute

Over the last few months, I’ve been driving to work more. I still catch the bus/train on most days, but if I know we’re going to have a late finish, or if the weather is bad, or if I leave the house a bit late, then I decide to drive. Also, if I’m bringing cake/pie/fudge/whatever, it’s a lot easier to transport by car than by bus.

There were a couple of weeks around Easter that I drove to work every day. It was great – I cut down my commute time significantly, I got to work earlier and had time to enjoy tea/coffee before I started, and I often got some reading or studying done before work too (while drinking said tea/coffee). I walked with colleagues to the carpark after work, and complained with them about the lack of spaces in the lower levels. I listened to music while I was on the road, and had a chance to energise in the morning and to wind down in the evening.

After a time, though, it didn’t feel right.  Continue reading

Asahikawa pt 1 – Asahiyama Zoo

I’ve lived my whole life in Australia, in a place that doesn’t snow. Growing up, I’d watch American movies and TV shows (and probably some British ones too), and always see those stereotypical scenes of children waking up to snow (usually on or around Christmas), and I’d think how wonderful that would be (on any day of the year). So you can probably imagine my delight, on the morning February 7th (yes, these posts are taking a lot longer than I’d originally foreseen), when I peered out the window of our Sapporo hotel, and saw flurries of glorious snow falling from the sky!

The snow continued to fall quite heavily as we left our hotel and made our way to Susukino Station. I could not take the smile from my face. (I was probably also still on a high from the Sapporo Snow Festival the day before.)

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pocket wifi

It’s been a busy week-end, so just a quick post today. This one’s another more general post, similar to what I wrote about the trains. Also realised (after I posted that) that I forgot to mention how I used hyperdia.com a lot to find train times, but also to figure out which platform we were supposed to be on to get wherever we were going. (I remember being in Hiroshima, and being unsure which train line would get us to Miyajima Guchi, so I just searched which platform we had to be on, and we took whatever train was there. It worked out well.)

It was actually really useful because you can refine the search to exclude non-JR lines (since we were using JR passes mostly). You can search all the bullet trains (shinkansen) on their too.

But, anyway, what I really wanted to write about was the “pocket wifi” that we utilised for the duration of our trip. It’s a little device that allows you (and up to nine other people) to have wifi internet anywhere you go. And thank goodness for that because, as I learnt on that first night, Tokyo (and the rest of Japan) is massive and intricate, and I don’t have the best sense of direction. I actually left most of the navigating responsibilities to KF.

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train adventures / Tokyo – part 1c (densha)

Hmm ok, so it’s been about four weeks since I got back from holiday, and it seems like I still haven’t made a very significant dent in the documentation of the trip. I mean, I haven’t even gotten up to the most important part of the story.

But, don’t worry, we’ll get there. Can’t rush these things. Well, I guess you could, but I don’t want to.

Today I thought I’d take a break from plain narrative, and write about some of the practical aspects of the trip because they were important too. (“Densha” is the Japanese word for “train” – specifically those that run on electricity.)

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Melbourne ’09

Well, as some of you may or may not already know, I was in Melbourne from the 6th to the 24th, so I figured, since I sort of abandoned the internet for that time, I should probably write something about what I did in Melbourne. Ok, so I didn’t totally abandon the internet (that would actually be sort of irresponsible because it’s, like, good etiquette or whatever to check emails regularly and stuff like that), but my use of the internet was quite limited and infrequent.

Alright, I think I’m going to try to get back on topic before I (unintentionally) make this about the internet instead.

So… Melbourne was fun. Actually, to be honest, I think I have mixed feelings about how great a city Melbourne really is. Being proudly Brisbane born and bred has sort of made me intent on finding every other city to be not as great as Brisbane, so I suppose I’m not exactly being objective with my judgement here. And, yeah, I do realise that it would be hard for some/most of you to consider Brisbane to be better than whatever other city/cities you love, but I guess that would just be a greater indication of my pride then.

My main reason for going down to Melbourne was to visit family. (I have a lot of family down there, so it is sort of easier for us to go down to see them rather than for them to all come up to see us.) Consequently, a great part of my time there was spent with family. This time was often spent shopping or eating.

Anyone who has been to Melbourne, or who has even heard of Melbourne would surely know that it is like a shopper’s paradise. After all, it is supposed to be Australia’s “fashion capital”. Personally, I’m not really in to shopping that much, but even I can say that Melbourne shopping is quite good. There are just so many places to go to. I can hardly even begin to list the places we went to, so I’m not going to bother right now.

I suppose Melbourne’s also quite a nice city in terms of their buildings and their streets and stuff. I particularly liked the streets and boulevards and parades that had tree cover all along the entire road such that only specks of sunlight ever got through anywhere. (Not sure if that description will make total sense to people who haven’t seen it before, but, yeah, not sure how to put it – sort of like a tunnel whereby trees make the walls and roof. The only such road I can remember the name of is Highett Street in Richmond.) I would love to see these places as autumn’s coming. If anyone knows a place like this in Brisbane (I can’t think of any at the moment) please tell.

As for the buildings, I suppose the first ones that come to mind are those at that Swanston-Flinders Street intersection: Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, and those buildings around Federation Square. One of my uncles was saying stuff about heritage listed buildings and houses one time when we were driving around, and I guess I can better appreciate the point of heritage-listing things now. I mean, it seems sort of impractical if you’ve had to use a heritage-listed building, but if you’re just visiting (and, I guess, have some appreciation of history), you’re sort of glad that they did preserve it.

I think it would be reasonable to assume that many people would assume that Melbourne’s public transport is of a higher standard than Brisbane’s, but, in my opinion, I think, at best, it’s just on par. Of course, this is probably greatly influenced by there being good public transport around my area. I have become so used to frequent bus services that having to wait more than about 20 minutes for a bus is somewhere in the vicinity of ridiculous.

I will admit, however, that Melbourne’s train services are quite good (I don’t catch the train often enough in Brisbane to do a proper comparison, though). But, even having said that, I reckon every issue of mX I looked through while I was there had “Connex bashing” (as one person put it) in the “Vent your spleen” part. There was always someone with some sort of problem with the train services. As for me, if the seats were all a bit cleaner, I think I would not have so much of a problem with it.

Don’t think I have much of a problem with the trams, though. It’s just weird having to get on and off in the middle of the road. And also that (as I’ve been told) the whole point of the seemingly pointless “hook turn” is so that trams don’t get held up.

Moving on now… I actually quite like how close the beach is to the CBD. Of course, their beaches aren’t that great, but ease of access is nice anyway. Only visited Saint Kilda Beach for a while to have a look around and collect some shells (which I have since misplaced).

And, of course, I couldn’t possibly write an entry about Melbourne without mentioning Breadtop (an Asian bakery chain thing, for those of you unfortunately unacquainted with it). I don’t know what it is about it that I like so much. My uncle actually said he got sick of it after a while, so maybe it’s just the novelty of it for me. For now, anyway, I am eagerly awaiting the day when Breadtop franchises open in Brisbane.