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Showing posts from April, 2011

History: Escaping the ratrace

Here's an account that I've copied across from elsewhere on my websites. It describes how my family found ourselves leaving Melbourne and living in Queensland. I was nine and a half when we packed up our bags and left Melbourne to explore Australia early in 1984. According to my parents, their intention was to leave the ratrace of the city behind them and live a life much closer to nature. In other words, they had read plenty of Simply Living and  Grass Roots magazines as well as watching The Simple Life on the tv. No doubt their story of our departure would be different to mine. I shall tell this tale from the perspective of someone not yet a decade old. Distances are longer and time is slower when you are that young. Our parents had pulled us out of school the year before and begun teaching us at home. There were both positive and negative aspects of home schooling, but I was to learn much over the next six months that many fail to see during their lifetimes. The hou

Flying home: As late as a Thai train

Australians... You know that you are back in Australia when there’s a women in the train scraping her toenails clean over the seat. B asks “Can we eat in this train?” I remind her that this is CityRail. How sensibilities change when you’ve been overseas for a while. There was a older Australian man and his similarly aged Asian wife who queued ahead of us at the airport and continued on with us all the way until Wolli Creek. He was wearing mauve trousers and a purple shirt, almost matching his wife’s outfit, which looked far more sensible on her. There is something wrong with this. I took an instant dislike to the older Australian couple seated across from us on the flight home, especially the woman. When the flight attendant asked them to raise the blinds for take-off the woman, in a schoolteacher voice, says “Please.” “Sorry?” “You didn’t say please.” They then complained, complained, complained all the way in loud voices. “We weren’t told of the delay!” (No, you di

No kicks in KIX

Sitting here in Kansai International Airport when we should have departed almost two hours ago. Our Jetstar flight is delayed by four hours and nothing is open here. At least we were each given 1000 Yen vouchers for food, enough for two decent sized dinners and drinks. And there's free wireless close to the gate. Today was otherwise pretty unremarkable. Our rail passes finished all we did was shopping. We caught the subway to Shinsaibashi, then emerged from the underground shopping complex of Crysta Nagahori iinto Tokyu Hands. The Osaka branch seems a little tamer than some, though the science section was interesting, with multihued fish skeletons preserved in jars and a great deal of chemistry equipment. Across the road to clothing stores and Loft at the beginning of the Shinsaibashi Arcade. Loft again seemed to lack some of the quirky stuff of elsewhere, but was good for lunchboxes and a fold up floor seat. Then we walked through the arcade, shoe shopping, shampoo shoppin

Blossoms, canals and shabu-shabu in Kyoto

There is so much to see in Kyoto. Unfortunately, the sights are spread out across the city, the rail network inconveniently structured and the bus system so slow that you might as well walk. When we made the decision to visit Kyoto the question was how we could fit in all that we wanted to see. I wanted to catch the Sagano tourist train in the beautiful Arashiyama area and walk the Path of Philosophy under the cherry trees in Higashiyama, stopping at the little shops along the way. In the end we saw nothing planned and discovered places new instead. Part of the reason that we lacked time was a shopping detour in the Isetan department store of the huge Kyoto station. Up at the children's level there was a slide for children and Alex joined in the other kids in climbing up and sliding down while B went looking for clothes. At least it was better than him playing with all the toys. We got him out with a promise of the use of a lift, then caught a subway up to the Karasuma Shijo

Anpanman Torokko

I promised Alex a ride in the Anpanman train. Anpanman is a Japanese children's cartoon character and, just as wood was the big thing for Kyushu trains, he's the focus of Shikoku Island trains. I've never seen more than a short YouTube grab of Anpanman, but we did ride in an Anpanman train all the way to Matsuyama back in 2008 . Then we bought an Anpanman train book for Alex with buttons that play soundgrabs from the ride, and an Anpanman train toy. So I thought it would be good if he could relate the experience to the real thing. When we left late from the hotel I was in two minds: explore Kyoto or Anpanman train today? Oh let's just get it over with so B can do more shopping. We caught another Sakura Shinkansen to the rail junction of Okayama, from where trains to Shikoku leave. My understanding was that the Anpanman trains ran on the route to Uwajima, very far away. So my plan was to take it as far as Marugame, then change for another train back to Takamatsu o


Sakura is Japanese for cherry tree and is also the name of the Shinkansen that brought us to Osaka. A tram brought us to Suizenji Koen, a strolling garden in Kumamoto. It is landscape to represent the 53 stations of the Tokaido Road, including a reduced size (but easily recognisable) Mount Fuji. It's quite a lovely garden for a stroll, with bridges, ponds, shrines and a tea house. Alex thought that it was good for running around chasing birds. There were families sitting on the ubiquitous blue tarpaulins under the cherry trees, the petals falling like snow in the wind. I cannot get bored of watching the sakuras in bloom and it is a national obsession here, complete with forecasts from the weather agency. Sadly, we didn't have all day to lie around and relax under the trees. The decision on our next destination was only made as we collected our bags from the hotel and walked to the train station. I wanted Takamatsu, on the island of Shikoku, home to the beautiful Ritsuen

Hell and flowers

Here's the thing about Japan. This country is so densely packed with sights and scenery that it usually doesn't matter if your plans change: there's so much to see! Instead of going northwards on to the main island, as had been my original intent we went in the other direction, to the southwest and further across Kyushu. And it was wonderful! I think Alex must have been dreaming about ice cream because that's what he demanded as soon as he woke up. He had to wait a while longer, and when he got it his choice was... unusual. The hotel breakfast was rather uninspiring, except for the beautiful soft, thick Japanese toast. Then we lugged our bags across to the station for the quick ride up to Beppu. Beppu has a reputation as an overblown tourist town, but in truth I rather like it. The ride up was scenic, alongside a placid seascape. Mountains loom over the city and you can see the high bridges of a motorway threading through them. It is most famous not for its scener