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That special feeling

I’ve lived in 4 countries and speak 3 languages fluently. I learnt Japanese for 6 years in high school but still didn’t master it or able to carry out a conversation of any sort. I take every opportunity to travel there but never had a chance to work or live there (yet). My favourite word in the Japanese language is shiawase 幸せ [しあわせ] (adj-na,n). Literally translated it means happiness, good fortune, or luck. But it means much more than that as it implies a state of contentment and joy beyond words can describe. When you say the word it has a really good flow on your tongue and when spoken softly it brings your hair standing. It’s exactly that feeling you get when someone makes you feel special and treats you like the most important person in the whole wide world. It’s things like when…

…he makes you giggle like a little girl

…he looks at you like you are the only person in the world

…he ditches his mates to bring you chicken soup

…he holds your hair back when you are being sick

…he sends you a text as soon as he wakes to say he misses you

…he watches you sleep then tells you how beautiful you are when you open your eyes

…he encourages you to achieve your potential

…he compliments you without being prompted

…he rescues you from your troubles

…he gives you a big hug that goes beyond words

These things happen often in movies as promoted by our great Hollywood but in reality only happens once in a life time if you are lucky enough. Interestingly, I had the best shiawase feeling on Saturday and it came from my soon to be 5-year-old little friend. It’s been a year since I first met him and we have developed a special bond as I try to enter this world spending every Saturday afternoon together. We sit in silence sometimes just wheeling around a train for 45 minutes without break. We climb up and down his bed repeatedly. We played letter games and number games, now he can write short words – I’m so proud of him!!! At first he wouldn’t make eye contact with me and shies away but now he looks me right in the eye. He pee on me one time but now he is fully toilet trained. We recite stories together that he has memorised from cover to cover. He even starts to recollect experiences and tells me how he went to the zoo and Thomas’ birthday party!!! Last Saturday, a special moment passed when we played the ‘I’m stuck’ game where he throw himself at me full weight so I can’t move and I have to yell ‘I’m stuck, I’m stuck!’. Then we reverse roles and all throughout we giggle crazily. That feeling is so precious, irreplaceable, and not comparable to any other.

***Photo by bgorsphotography

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Snowy Niseko@ Hokkaiddo – Japan

The Japanese are humble cultured so when they call themselves number two ski resort in the world that really says something. I have been skiing / snowboarding in Australia, Austria, Italy, France, China, USA and now Japan. Each time it’s a completely different experience depending on your age, fitness, weather, accommodation and of course people you go with as well.

This time was absolutely awesome. We stayed in a self serviced apartment with laundry and kitchen facilities which is always convenient. It is a little bit further from the chairlift and gondola but they have free and frequent shuttle buses to take you around so it’s manageable with all the gear.

I’m impressed with how they have organised their resort with good transport facilities like buses to nearby shops and supermarkets for your essential needs. Nightly buses to nearby towns so you don’t have to be ‘stuck’ in Niseko all day or all week. They even offer excursions to the nearby Sapporo and Otaru city for those who want to do some sight-seeing or souvenir shopping.

The weather was out of my comfort zone. Since it is famous for its powdery snow, it snowed pretty much everyday that we were there. But visibility was extremely low and it was hard for me to navigate where I was going. On the day where we decided to embark on a cross mountain adventure, I could hardly see 10m ahead of me with fog. Lucky everyone was dressed in very sharp red, yellow and green gear so it stands out a bit. Lucky their slops are very wide compared to the European mountains which is a big plus especially for beginners who want to learn and not be afraid of falling off the cliffs.

They have three mountains areas offered although if you are only there for a few days just Hirafu would be good enough. I’m impressed with the variety on ski passes as well, you can purchase by hours or days depending on your needs with a selection of just Hirafu area or all three mountains.

Japan has top-notch service with always well-mannered staff even on the chair lifts they treat you like royalty as you get on. After a tiresome day of highly active sport, you can relax in one of their hot spring or bath houses. Of course everyone knows I love Japanese food, I had my fair share of sashimi, sushi, sukiyaki, ramen, curry rice and ice cream made with Hokkaido farmed milk was the highlight.

There was a funny thing – I saw and met so many Australians there in the few couple of days I almost thought I was in Australia. Even the apartment owners and some shuttle staff were Aussie. I suppose Australia’s snow mountains aren’t that great and Japan would be an ideal easy to reach option.

Everything added together made a great trip but something complimented my week even more. We had 20 of us which were a fun, active, out-going, adventurous bunch. We had great laughs even on the 5 minutes chairlift rides. We sharing quality food during all three meals of the day and most nights we cooked which was quite homely. After that we had alcohol infused poker nights.

Nice apartment. Good food. Nice slopes. Good snow. Great company.

***Photo by journeyexplorer

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Otaru @Hokkaiddo, Japan

April 20, 2011 4 comments

Being just an hour or so away from Sapporo, it attracts many tourists and it offers a great day excursion. With the main street lined with jewellery, glass making, eatery and boutique shops there is something for everyone.

We tried some street food like corn on cob and scallops are my absolutely favourite. The whole trip I was trying to find the famous huge Hokkaiddo scallops, but even the ones in Hong Kong have higher quality. Maybe they export all the good stuff?!?! But the one we had made fresh was really yummy. The streets had a few nice cake and ice cream shops around also although we didn’t try any. We watched people do some glass making which looks quite fun.

After a whole day of walking, we rewarded ourselves with a famous sushi restaurant slightly on the higher end. – Masa Sushi. It was not eating hours so there were very few people in the restaurant. We sat in front of the sushi bar and witnessed a sushi chef prepare our food. It was very interesting watching them as they prepare for a big feast with 20 plates of the same dish such as pickles, raw food etc etc. One of the sushi chef was very interesting, because usually they bow and smile as Japanese people are always overly polite and respectful. But this chef looked like he had no desire of being there and didn’t even respond when the waitresses yelled thanks or respectful phrases at him. I can’t deny their food is of high quality though and I would recommend it to anyone who goes to Otaru.

Otaru is such a romantic little town especially with the snow, but I was in a bad mood that day which ruined everything. Sigh, so typical of me!

***Photo by bgorsphotography

Around the World #18 – Lake Akan, Hokkaiddo @Japan

***Photography by journeyexplorer

Around the World #16 – Biei @Hokkaiddo, Japan

***Photography by journeyexplorer

Do you enjoy travelling alone?

April 1, 2011 5 comments

Sometimes I go on holidays alone. For example, I spent Christmas and New Years in Tokyo when I was working for the Australian airline Qantas hence the 90% off airfares, and no one else wanted to pay premium price to travel during peak season. I also spend two weeks in Osaka doing nothing but shopping the whole time, walking up to 12 hours a day. There is just so much to see and buy in Japan, I love their food, culture and everything about it – can’t get enough.

Sometimes my friends had passport issues as they arrived at the airport and I end up going on holiday on my own for the weekend. I have roamed the streets of Lisbon, Berlin and Florence on my own. So I got to practice taking shots of myself everywhere, although it did seem a bit sad and you get people who offer to take my photo for me.

I think the hardest part in travelling alone is eating, because usually there is so much food I want to try out and order but there is only one of me. Or something tastes really good and I wanna tell someone to taste it or share it with someone straight away, but lack the company.

I find that travelling solo in Asia seems a little bit less lonesome, because I can do more stuff like pampering or shopping. But in Europe shops close a lot earlier and you can’t enjoy much of then night life when you are on your own.

But I do enjoy the ability to take my own pace and do things at in own timing. Because I really enjoy people watching, and sometimes I just sit in the square for an hour or so and just watch people go about their lives. There was this one time in Japan, there was a bunch of youngsters just listening to music and enjoying themselves freely. Or I would watch locals and tourists in the course of their day whilst I sit outdoors of a cafe. It’s so interesting what you can see and absorb from observing people, not just ticking off the tourist sightseeing spots in the guidebook.

What about you? Do you enjoy travelling alone? What do you enjoy most about it?

***Photo by bgorsphotography

Eat Japan

March 31, 2011 14 comments

Today I read Lonely Planet’s poll about If you could travel to any city for the food… The Top three were Bangkok, Rome then Paris. Wow I’m surprised Bangkok came out first by far, probably because it is so cheap and their food really appeals to ‘westerners’. Well Rome I guess makes sense since pastas and pizzas are so much part of our lives and you really have to try it at its origins. Then of course I love French food’s fine dining with well matched taste and precise presentation.

It reminds me of the movie Eat, Pray, Love. It inspired me to think about where I’d choose places to go to for each of those purposes. For Eat, I have decided it definitely has to be Japan. They have such a wide variety of food such as fish, seafood, skewers, teppanyaki BBQ, desserts, miso soup, sake, rice balls, ramen noodles and the list goes on. But I guess raw fish doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, but you have not tried real Japanese food until you are in the country. I have NEVER tasted bad Japanese food, because their culture has such high demands for quality food, presentation and taste. It is also not surprising that Japanese has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, because of their diet is so healthy and you rarely see a fat Japanese person. It is devastating to know that the earthquake, tsunami and radiation incidents will affect so much of its ecosystem, from its seafood to vegetables to meat and milk and water.

***Photo by bgorsphotography