Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hong Kong

To see the pics from this trip, click here.

Hey all! I just got back from Hong Kong, what an amazing place! I had to go there for a few days to take a couple of job interviews, so I killed two birds with one stone and did some sightseeing as well. Check out all of my pics and you can really see what I mean.

The flight from Japan to Hong Kong was fairly short, only about 4.5 hours. However, it was delayed getting out of Narita, so as a result I had to scramble once I got to Hong Kong airport so that I didn't miss the connecting trains to the island. Anyway, I made it to my hostel in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island at about midnight the first night. The hostel was quite hilarious, as it was TINY! The buildings in Hong Kong are all very narrow, and are built straight up, as there is no threat of earthquakes as there is in Tokyo.

The next morning, I headed to Central Station and caught the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak. This is the spot high in the Hong Kong hills that all the famous night shots og Hong Kong come from. Although I went up in the morning and it was quite hazy, the view was still quite amazing. I got great look down on the city of Hong Kong, and you could see scross to Kowloon. I stayed up there for a couple of hours and then headed off.

Next, I made my way to the harbour and caught the Star Ferry across to Kowloon. Once there, I did a lot of exploring and ate some great food. I tried Dim Sum, Taiwanese noodles, egg tarts, shishkabob, and numerous other great things. After some more exploring, I headed to the Ladies Market. Although the name suggests different, the market has goods for all people. It was a vey busy and crazy area. From there, it was a short trip to other makets, so the majority of that day was spent walking around and checking out the various marketplaces.

Later that evening, I headed back towards the harbour on the Kowloon side and walked doen the Avenue of Stars, which is kind of like Hollywood's Walk of Fame. I stopped to check out Japckie Chan and Bruce Lee's stars, and then went and found a good spot to watch the 8pm Symphony of Lights show. Every night at 8pm, all of the buildings on the Hong Kong side come to life with lights, lasers, and music, and there is a cool light show that you can see. It lasted for about 15 inutes, and was pretty amazing to watch (despite the painfully bad accompanying music). After the show I made my way back to Causeway Bay and crashed out.

The next morning I was up bright and early and made my way over to Wan Chai for my interviews. I had one at 9am, and another at 11am. They were pretty intensive, as each interview consisted of a 20-minute essay, a 30-minute panel interview, and then another 20 minutes of document evaluations. Each interview was done by a group of 3 people, both Chinese and foreign. It was tough to get a feeling of how I did on the interviews, but I will just have to wait and see what happens.

After the interviews, I decided to walk home to Causeway Bay from Wan Chai. The walk was not all that far, but it gave me a great chance to see a lot of local places, markets, side streets, etc. The walk took about 1 hour, and then I quickly got changed at my hostel. After that, I took a long stroll down Lockheart street, whic had dozens of Chinese, Japanese, and American restaurants (as well as the usual 5ooo Starbucks shops...). From there, I caught the Star Ferry back over to Kowloon and did more exploring. This time I walked Nathan Road and saw a lot more of the upscale shopping districts. Although the prices are obviously not as expensive as Tokyo, I was still surprised to see how high they really were.

I spent the rest of that day exploring, eating, taking pictures, and just soaking in the atmosphere. By 9pm I was pretty exhausted, as I had likely walked around 30 km in the last couple of days. Luckily for me, there was an amazing movie theatre right across from my hostel, and that was just a perfect way to relax at the end of the night.

The next morning I was up at 5am, as I had to be at the airport by 7am to board my flight back to Tokyo. Although the time was short in Hong Kong, I really did get the full experience. I will keep you updated on how the job interviews turned out, so keep you fingers crossed for me. More to come...

Thursday, March 08, 2007


To see the pics from this trip, click here.

At the end of February, all of the people in my program who are leaving Japan in the summer were invited to a 3-day conference in Yokohama. Although the conference itself was useful, it was just as fun to be in Yokohama.

The funniest part of the trip was my hostel. A friend and I booked a room in a hostel for 2 nights, as hotels in Yokohama were crazily expensive. When we arrived at the hostel we had a good laugh. The room was a 3-tatami mat room, which is TINY! We could literally touch the walls at either end of the room at the same time. And there was 2 of us staying there! I`ve uploaded a short clip on Youtube about it which is hilarious. Click here for it.

Anyway, we were free to raom the Minato-Mirai area of Yokohama for 3 days. The harbour area is quite beautiful, and there is a large Chinatown there as well. On the last day, Natsumi came and joined me and we spent the day looking around Chinatown, exploring the harbout, and just hanging out.
That evening, we had a special treat. Natsumi gave me my be-lated Christmas present, which was a 3-hour reservation in the Sirius lounge at the tope of Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan. Landmark Tower is 72 stories high, and the view from the top is incredible. We could look back towards Tokyo and see Tokyo Tower, Shinjuku, and other Tokyo landmarks. She had reserved a "nomihoudai" or "all-you-can-drink" plan, which was a lifesaver, as drinks ran about 25$ canadian each.

We had a great time, and before long it was time to leave. But it was really nice and capped off a nice stay in Yokohama!

Mountain climbing!

For all the pics of mountain climbing madness, click here.

Near the end of last month (Feb 24th), a fellow teacher and I went on quite a little adventure. We had been tossing the idea around about going for a day of hiking for a few weeks prior to that. I was pretty interested, as I had been trying to get some friends to go hiking with me for a long time, but no one ever seemed to want to go. Anyway, we decided to head to west Saitama to the Chichibu mountanis. Mr. Ishii, the teacher who planned the trip, had found some information about a hikeable mountain called Izugatake. We decided that was the plan for us.

We met that morning at Minami-Koshigaya station, and made the 2 hour trip out to the mountains. It was a nice trip, and we had a great view of Mount Fuji out of our window along the way. We arived at Shomaru station around 9:00 am and began our climb.

The first little while seemed to be the leisurely hike that we had anitcipated. The path we were following wound its way through little villages, ran past little waterfalls, and was not steep at all. However, that all soon changed. Once we rounded a bend, we were faced with a gnarly slope, covered in the roots of big trees. There ceased to be a path, and we basically just climbed hand-over-hand up the slope. This would be the way it would go for the better part of the next 6 hours...
Although the grade was steep and the terrain was bit dangerous, we had a great time scaling that initial face. The mountain itself was not very high, only 851m (Mount Fuji is over 3000m). There were a lot of places where you had to use a rope to lift/lower yourself, and the tree roots made excellent handholds. About 2 hours into the climb we arrived at the first peak, which was nicknamed `the Olympic peak`. We rested there for a while and then continued on.

Finally, we arrived at the top of Mt. Izugatake. At 851m, we were still afforded agreat view of the countryside. On one side, we could look back and see the Chichibu mountains, and on the other we could see all of the urban sprawl of west Saitama/Tokyo. We could even see the Seibu dome in the distance (the home of the Red Sox`s new Japanese pitcher, Matsuzaka). It was a bit early for lunch, so after having a quick victory beer, we pressed on.

We thought that after reaching the top we would be able to head downhill for the remainder of the trip. Wrong. The rest of the way down was an up and down route that was quite hard to deal with. Luckily we were not high enough for the air to be thin or we would really have been in trouble. Either way, we pressed on.

Later in the afternoon, we came to a break on the trail and stumbled upon a Buddhist temple and monastery. It was very beautiful, and was situated in a perfect spot high up in the mountains. Mr. Ishii showed me the proper way to pray at a Buddhist temple, which differs slightly from the rules at a Shinto shrine. We also bought some insence to put in the offereing "bowl", and rang the big gong over the shrine. There were also giant replicas of Japanese kimono sandals outside the temple, and several large statues that were quite beautiful.

After pressing on for another couple of hours, we finally ended our journey. Unfortunately, the hot-spring (onsen) that we had planned on going to at the finish had already closed for the day. So instead, we hopped on a train to Tokorozawa and went to a nice onsen near the station. Japanese onsens are quite amazing. In this particular onsen, there were several different baths of varying temperatures to choose from, as well as a sauna, and a rotemburo (outdoor bath). After soaking our stiff muscles in the baths, we retired to the "Rest Room", which is not a toilet, it is literally a "Room of Rest". The staff give you relaxed-wear clothing (kind of like a baggy nurse`s smock) and you are ushered into a different are. In this area, there are rows of deluxe vibrating Lazy-boy recliners, complete with TVs, and you can order food and drinks to be brought to you. There are also tatami mat areas, and places to get massages. We sat down in the tatami mat area and ordered some well-deserved beers. After realxing there for a couple of hours, we hopped on a train and headed home.
Although this trip wasn`t as physically demanding as the Mount Fuji trip, it was still a great time. Next on my list is Mount Tsukuba, which should be a fun hike too.