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Today is my idea of a pretty perfect day. It is calm, with only a light breeze at times. The sky is clear, with just the occasional cloud making an appearance, breaking up the monotony of a plain blue sky. It is still cool, but not cold. I like that. It was chilly enough this morning to appreciate a woolly coat, but there is starting to be some real warmth in the sun. The harbour was sparkling and beautiful, even if the sight of a middle-aged man emerging from the water in speedos was a bit shocking.

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The dullness of winter is also over, as blossoms start to appear, camellias flower everywhere including our garden, and on my walks around my suburb, I see the blooms of numerous flowers I can’t name. As I look out my windows, I see splashes of yellow all over the valley, and these gorgeous yellow kowhai flowers intoxicate the tui, who are chirping, clicking and clacking wildly, happy that spring is here.

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Kōwhai flowers in my supermarket carpark

 

 

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I’ve never been one for taking lots of photos of myself, and so I’ve never quite understood the whole “selfie” obsession. But I recently realised that up until my trip this year, I’ve never been truly exposed to the “selfie” generation either.

I love to take photographs. As I’ve said before, it means I actually notice more around me, and appreciate where I am, and what I’m doing, even more than if I didn’t have a camera/phone in my hand. But I’m lucky to be in New Zealand, were there are few tourists. And my last trips were to Australia and Iceland/Norway, all of which also have low populations and were not filled with tourists when I was there. So I was blissfully unaffected by selfie-takers.

Tokyo, Kyoto, and Seoul, on the other hand, were filled with both local and international tourists. A majority of the tourists were taking selfies, frequently ignoring the beautiful flowers or the architectural details or the historic places, just hoping (or ensuring) they look good on camera. It happened everywhere in Japan, where renting a kimono for a few hours is popular for visits to temples or gardens. It was maybe worse in Korea.

Our first day in Seoul took that theme to the extreme. It was a Korean public holiday – Memorial Day. We decided to go to the Palace, and found that not only were there international tourists, but it seemed a lot of locals on their day off, or families out for the day or travelling within Korea for the long weekend. In other words, it was quite busy. As in Japan, both locals and tourists love to dress up in national costume (with the added bonus that wearing national dress gives free entry), and take photos. As inveterate people-watchers, we found it fascinating. There were families all dressed up, a group of Korean-American guys, having a great time, the occasional ethnic-Europeans looking a bit awkward, tourists from Asia (we heard Chinese, Thai, Singaporeans) There were a lot of groups of girlfriends, all taking endless photos of each other. And couples.

The vanity. Oh, the vanity.

I imagined the conversations:

Boyfriend: “What do you want to do on Memorial Day?”
Girlfriend: “I could dress up and we could go to the Palace and take pictures.”
Boyfriend: “ Sure … that sounds … um … great.”

Sometimes the boyfriends/husbands were dressed up too. But frequently they were the ones behind the cameras/phones. I felt sorry for a woman on her own, carefully posing for her selfie, scrutinising her face after the shots, no friends or partner to share the experience with. I hope she got a good photo to put on social media.

In the museums, or the off-the-beaten track locations we visited in Japan and Korea, there were fewer bus tours, tourists who tended to be older, and independent travellers from NZ (yep, that was us), Australia and France. Selfies were not the focus for anyone. Sanity reigned once again.

Then in Vietnam, we spent six days at a beach resort. I put my camera away for the whole visit (though my phone came out to snap the occasional photo of a cocktail at happy hour), but every day we saw young women getting into the pool in elaborate, carefully chosen swimsuits, purely to get their photos taken. They all did exactly the same poses. There was no originality – except perhaps in their choice of swimsuit. The pressure to conform, to display their bodies, and to do so in a sexual manner, to be as perfect as their photo/camera apps can airbrush them, to objectify themselves. It made me sad for them, and for women in general. We haven’t come so far after all. And that’s not how I thought this post would end.

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Sightseeing in some cities (Tokyo) involves taking subways, which are usually convenient, cheap and easy to take. In other cities, it involves the adventure of local bus services, especially adventurous in places with different languages and scripts, though locals are generally friendly and helpful, telling us when to get off (Busan, Korea) because they can guess where we want to go! In many cities though, it involves walking, a lot of walking, and we certainly got our step counts up in many of the cities we visited in the last couple of months. In some countries, we can supplement the walking with taxis and cyclos/rickshaws etc if we wish. Walking in the heat and humidity is another issue. Coming home, though, we realised how easy it would be to lapse into a habit of only occasional exercise. So, on days when it hasn’t been raining, we have ventured out to pound the streets.

This morning, it was an absolute joy to put on my walking shoes, my cap, sunglasses and a lightweight walking jacket and head out. It was a perfect winter’s day – still, clear, cold but not too cold (about 11C probably). The greens of all our evergreen native trees were very green, the blue of the sky was blue, and the tui were going mad in the macrocarpa tree just down the street. The harbour was calm and blue, with container ships and ferries gliding across it. A few trees and shrubs were in flower – I don’t know if that’s by design, or because this winter has been unusually (or perhaps the new norm) warm.

School holidays started this week, so the park at the bottom of our street was full of boys at a football camp, whilst their parents were at work. A new home-owner was out digging up her garden, doing some serious restructuring with a pick-axe at this time of year. Another woman further on was pruning some trees, taking off major chunks. New parents ventured out of their driveway with their twins all wrapped up against the cold in the double pram.

I love walking in new places, to see new things. But it’s nice walking here at home too.

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I’m ba-ack! We’ve been home for 24 hours. It always requires some adjustment:

  • Delays – it’s better they happen on the way home, than the way there.
  • Everyone I see looks familiar. That started in Hong Kong, when we got on our Air NZ flight!
  • Boarding an Air NZ flight feels like arriving home, even if we still have 10+ hours to go before we get to NZ, followed by more waiting and another flight before we’re home.
  • Unpacking and holiday washing is much easier when our check-in bags get stuck in Hong Kong. We hope to see them today.
  • There’s nothing like our own bed – though it is noticeably smaller than those super-super-kings they like in hotels in SE Asia.
  • That first glass of water, straight from the tap, reminds us how lucky we are.
  • I hit Peak Breakfast (after seven weeks of hotel breakfasts most days) a week or two ago, so the lack of a buffet breakfast spread, with eggs as-you-like-them, Asian and Western food choices, pastries and exotic fruit, plus coffee on tap, wasn’t a hardship at all this morning. (Usually, I can easily miss breakfast, but when travelling find I need the energy injection.)
  • It’s so nice not to be too hot!
  • There’s a real feeling of disorientation the next morning when our body clocks are still five hours behind. Everything looks slightly different, through a slightly different lens, the temperature and the air feel different (though the change is welcome), and even walking in different shoes feels odd.
  • Even though the house was clean when we left, seven weeks away means dust. Lots of dust.
  • We don’t even remember what we were watching seven weeks ago, so we don’t care whether the recorder (for our cable TV) worked or not!
  • Though that’s not entirely true, as last night we watched the final two episodes of GoT.
  • Oh yeah. I forgot my laptop takes AGES to boot up. It is six years old, so that might be my next major expense. And that brings me back to earth with a thud.

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At the beach

By the time you read this, we’ll be at the beach. Precisely which beach, I might divulge later. The last time I was at the beach was over four years ago, at Byron Bay in Australia. We’d been at a family wedding in southern Queensland, and headed just an hour or so south to this relaxed spot. When we arrived, we grabbed some lunch near the beach, and sat at the table outside eating and having a beer, as a bunch of nude cyclists biked past. We took just a few days to explore the region, to relax, and to swim at the beach. It wasn’t a relaxing beach though – the waves prevented too much real swimming, and the beach didn’t have trees where I could hide from the fierce southern sun.

I came to love beach holidays when we lived in Thailand. There’s something about lying under palm trees and hearing the gentle lapping of waves at the beach. We’ve been to quite a few beaches – in the Pacific, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia, Spain and Italy. We have very definite preferences. I don’t want wild or choppy seas. It must not be too crowded or noisy. A pool is always good. The accommodation needs to be comfortable. Our favourite beach was probably Krabi in southern Thailand, but Bedarra in Queensland comes a close second, mainly for the bottomless Bolly we got at the time. Although at one stage we did come to question whether we had outgrown beach holidays, as I struggled with the heat, and began to yearn for cold temperatures and cosy hotels. That didn’t last though.

This year, after such a long break between warm beach interludes, I have big plans for our holiday at a beach. They might be a little aspirational. After all, I have been known to ambitious with my time in the past. (Or rather, to find I procrastinate writing a blog post when I should be doing something else!) So this is what is on my to-do list for my time at the beach.

  • Swim daily.
  • Take an afternoon nap.
  • Read a book, or preferably more than one. Finish said book.
  • Get, in this order, a massage, a mani/pedi, a facial, another massage. Throw in a dedicated foot massage too.
  • Set Beer O’clock at 11 am.
  • Indulge in happy hour cocktails.
  • Eat good food.

Yes, I know. Life’s a (cliched) beach!

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Thoughts about travel :

  • I’d rather take my time and be able to relax and people-watch than run around ticking off all the sights
  • Awareness of the people around you is only polite
  • A good museum is priceless
  • Experimenting with different food is great fun – watch the locals to figure out how to eat it
  • Beer is the same in every language!
  • Have the hotel’s name printed out in the local language for an easier taxi experience
  • Public transport is worth figuring out, to see the local people and – if you are using buses – to see the local neighbourhoods
  • A smile goes a long way
  • Take fewer clothes and more laundry detergent
  • Retain a sense of humour – it turns disgust into delight
  • Building in a little extra recovery time in an itinerary is useful as you get older!

 

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… so far …

  1. Ice-cream is an accepted major food group
  2. The women all wear hats or, even better, carry umbrellas in the sun
  3. There is no shortage of restrooms
  4. Speaking of which, heated seats and privacy music
  5. Pine trees are decorative
  6. Shinkansen (bullet trains) whisking us across the country
  7. Public transport systems that work for millions
  8. Vending machines everywhere for drinks and of course, ice cream
  9. Bento boxes
  10. Japanese bathrooms in our hotel rooms – a true wet room, with separate basins/dressing areas
  11. Seven Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson’s – where you can buy just about anything, including breakfast, lunch and dinner
  12. The way a bow of the head means so much – “go ahead” or “thank you” or I’m sorry” or “never mind.”

Things I don’t like, so far:

  1. Crowds, crowds, crowds, foreigners and Japanese
  2. Plastic packaging in the extreme.
  3. Walk or ride escalators on the left or right, I don’t care – just pick a side and stick to it!

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