451: long way home

I always dreamed at that some point in time, I would get to take the road below. That I would either drive along it, come across it, get to take a picture like it. I spent my days in California winding up and down those mountains, camera in hand, waiting for the moment this vista would appear. As it turned out, it didn’t, and I was driving more than I thought I would.

I always dreamed that at some point in time, I would get to take a road trip. Drive along the endless roads, windows wound down, the wind in your hair. Feeling young. (I know I make too much fuss about this sentiment and that people are tired of hearing about it, especially when there was a time when I was all like, “fuck this ‘把握青春‘ shit”, but funny how time flies, and funny how things change, huh?) As it turns out, the windows were closed much of the time. The sun was crazy hot and I got sunburnt through the open roof. I stuck my camera out the top and hoped it wouldn’t get whipped away as we wound up the mountain. We started off listening to the Eagles (“Take It Easy” near Winslow, Arizona — always a dream) but slowly it became cheesy 90s pop music and the nostalgic songs of our childhood. Sugar Ray, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Texas. The New Radicals. Spice Girls. And while we drove into Los Angeles, a mini karaoke session, with 张惠妹 in the air.

The country is so different from anything I’m used to, simply because it is so big and everything I imagine can be there will be there. There is everything and nothing. There are miles and miles of nothing. The rocks cave in and lean towards the highway like lovers. They are only restrained by nets. The streets in the city are grids, and sometimes they cage people in, walking round and round in circles with nowhere else to go. Round the block and you’re back where you began. You go somewhere by not going anywhere at all. There are endless pancakes and burgers and limitless views and sprawling metropolises to see if you climb high enough. The clouds are fluffy and white and always have a silver lining. You can always see the storms from a distance. Funny how this land of plenty keeps pushing against the debt ceiling. The debates played on and on in the motels at night.

Comfort is sometimes such an unnecessary thing and it always needs to be earned. I drove an SUV. I drove on the wrong side on the road. I forgot, after a while, which side was right. I was confused, just like how it was when I first stepped into Holland. I nearly got knocked down looking the wrong way for traffic, as I did before. But this time, not on foot, not on a bicycle, where the repercussions are few. At worst, it would have been a broken arm and a few scrapes. (Been there, done that.) But here it was a car, and the cars are always speeding and always enormous. The highways are freeways and are not always free. The roads go on forever and there aren’t always lights. In the darkness, we must somehow find our way. When the route loses itself in the distance, sometimes we begin to cry. But we get home safe, and so all is fine.

The truth is, dreams are dreams, and the reality is sometimes better.

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436: may all your wishes come true

DisneySea and Universal Studios. Probably the second and third happiest places on earth. But I’m a ride junkie, even though I love Winnie the Pooh to bits. So the theme park that gets my vote is Universal Studios, just because it has a rollercoaster that I got to go on five times. It was the first time in the history of me visiting theme parks that I didn’t have to queue more than 45 minutes for the most popular ride. My longest wait (for Thunder Mountain Railroad or whatever it’s called)? 3 hours!!!!

Joy at the height of summer. Much love.

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435: all this hate and love

Maybe it’s true what they say about big cities; maybe it’s not. What is more certain is that life goes on the way it has for years, regardless of the tourists that come and go, snapping pictures for their travel albums back home. Funny how scenes of every day life translate into souvenirs, as if you would make a lovely picture just standing outside and taking in the laundry. But you do make a lovely picture. I don’t know what to say about Japan. Most of these were day trips, achieved by taking a train out from the cities, filled with skyscrapers and illegible Japanese neon signs. Here the lights go off by ten, and the streets are empty after dinner. We wandered slowly and tentatively, afraid to break the hush. Once in awhile we pass by a convenience store (truly convenient), refuel, go on our way again. A bicycle stops, and a high school jock gets off. He wears his track suit, his dyed hair is painfully brown, illuminated against the harsh flourescent lights. They step in to flip over magazines along the aisle, filled with covers of pretty girls with big boobs.

These cities are old and quiet and the residents cycle through everyday life with steady momentum. People are less brash, more polite. The air is fresh and cold. The mountains continue to exist, as they always have, without our presence or help.

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423: we no speak americano

I’ve been on a shopping roll lately, even though I’m extremely broke, just because I feel like I need to buy something. These days my purchases run the entire gamut of strangeness — last month I bought two pairs of black wedges, one which I’ve been going clubbing in (4 hours’ dancing! No pain! JOY!) and one which is finally getting shipped to me on Thursday. Yay! Then the ASOS sale came and I bought crazy and retarded and useless things. Like a bright yellow leather satchel and pin-studded sunglasses and a mesh top, all of which are completely unsuitable for work. But who cares!

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422: shanghai days

The crowds in Shanghai are getting to me. They are rude in the most uncomplimentary way possible. On the trains it is a war, to see who can get in or out the fastest. A woman drops a newspaper through the platform gap while jostling her way through the door. She bends to pick it up, and gets her head pushed by someone else. Nobody apologises. It is normal. It happens all the time, every time. Somewhere someone is rushing off to save a life or attend to an emergency or meet a lover. Or not. The crowds seethe.

In every country the big cities are the most unbearable. Under the skyscrapers the shadows cast by the bright lights hide the ugly actions of a people. Everyone is moving, moving, inexorably moving; towards an unknown destination, or perhaps unknown only to me.

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420: shanghai nights

Shanghai is overwhelming, and full of dust. My face is going crazy (again) adapting to the weather — the air is smoggy and you can’t see much beyond the next few buildings, though it has cleaned up considerably. A walk along 南京西路 revealed lots of lights, which line the sidewalk, and now it looks like any other street in any other city. Who knows if it’s because of the Expo? A leafy boulevard, flashing lights, but believably Shanghai, because the crowds still jostle at every opportunity possible and refuse to apologise, and crossing the road is a game of who-dares-wins. Rules exist, but are rarely followed. People rush through the roads as if they own them, while cars honk frustratedly as they stall on the tarmac. It doesn’t matter if the light is red or green — the road is a sea of people, moving inexorably towards the Bund as if they were the water. We walked all the way to the Peace Hotel before deciding the adventure was pointless. And then made our way back along the entire stretch of road, the same way as we came. Weekends in big cities are inevitably crippling — nothing can be done, because the entire city is out on a mission to conquer their vacations the same way tourists come all the way to Shanghai to do.

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417: i hope you get your dreams

I could say a thousand things about Japan, but nothing quite beats the visuals, and the way the city lights dance in your eyes. Mishaps, stress, mangled Japanese, almost-missed trains aside, there was loads of fun, laughter, alcohol, and a shit load of things to see. Every time is different. Every time you go back, you always get to know a country better.

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415: awesome possum

I’m back! But only for awhile. I’m trying hard to keep up this writing thing, or I fear I’ll lose it forever. Already I’m falling (way) behind on the travelogues (I was supposed to write about Turkey & the epic Europe trip many months/a year ago; will I ever get down to it? The answer is possibly — no) and before I know what’s happening I’m being whisked away on yet another travel adventure. This time back to Japan (cue collective shout: “Again?!”; so yes, I confirm for the benefit of all disbelievers, again), then Shanghai, then Bali! I haven’t told my mum about my $98 air ticket to Bali, though…

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339: remember 2008

The year has been eventful, to say the least. I ushered in the new year at the beginning of the year (last year, now) in a variety of circumstances; every year with the Hwa Chong people, screaming “Happy New Year” at the top of our voices around the swimming pool, and then drinking Raffles beer at the front of Block B, our cars parked in a perfect straight line along the parallel parking lots. I was wearing a red dress, I remember, and the rest were happy and drunken.

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307: all your stereotypes

Americans are noisy, Spanish girls are hot, Japanese guys are super hot, the Germans think Erdinger is good shit, the Chinese are fucking everywhere, and omg. OH MY GOD.

HOLLAND FUCKING SMELLS OF WEED.

(OK. That was my update. Other than that orientation’s been fun. But there is so much alcohol, and especially when it costs 1-2 euros a pint, everybody drinks like crazy. At orientation functions beer is FREE, and it’s pretty good beer, the pubs are everywhere, people are happy, and omg the weed. Today there was an impromptu party at the hostels near the university, so everyone went down to the lawn and brought down couches and like 5 cases of beer and a couple of bottles of wine. So many people turned up, from everywhere, and it was so good talking to everyone. The weather was great and it wasn’t cold at all, we were warm from the alcohol and talking so much nonsense, and Sharm has just stumbled off to bed. On the bad side it cost us $20 (11 euros) for a cab ride. Yesterday there was a welcome drink in the city centre and everyone was just. Drinking. And drinking. And drinking again. Tomorrow there is another party. Everyone is crazy and high and it is kind of funny listening to them talk. My liver is fucking going to die.)

296: japan: kyoto contradictions

Some think Kyoto is all quaint shops and beauty. It is, but there’s so much more than that. Maybe it’s because it’s the old capital. Nowhere else do you feel the contradictions more strongly: time-honored tradition living next to modern amenities; something as mundane as seeing two geisha clad in kimono walking next to a taxi. The men who frequent Gion have changed their clothes as the times pass, yet till now it is the wealthy businessmen who look to entertain and be entertained, in their dapper, dreary business suits, that sing and laugh with geisha in the comfort of the teahouses overlooking the river. Not everything Arthur Golden says is true, but it’s not all false either. As tourists throng to the temples frantically snapping away with their cameras, there remains the crowd of people that stays the same, going back to the temple year after year, month after month, praying for this or that. The wooden plaques always say the same things; human nature changes very little. Many things have changed, but there is still hope. 

Here, young girls still guide their hopeful friends, hands clasped and eyes closed, towards the sunshine and in search of love.

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293: japan: osaka city riots

18- 21 May.

So, finally, here is Osaka. Most of what they say about Osaka is totally true. It’s a merchant town, and it’s filled with people who love food, love being happy, love being loud and funny and living life. It’s kind of like being Hokkien on crack. Being Japanese, they’re naturally polite, and really really willing to help. They’re the sort of people that, when you are standing alone on the train platform surrounded by your luggage, an elderly lady will totter over to you asking, 大丈夫か? (Are you all right?). At this point most of what you can say merely consists of ああ、はい (Ah, yes) which is really rude now that I think about it. Yet the same elderly lady, when getting onto the train, will fight you tooth and nail to get in and give you a not-so-friendly push if you dawdle too long at the entrance. Osaka people are always hurrying everywhere; not in the same way as Tokyo or the big cities, where everyone needs to look like they have something very important to do. Here it is pure unadulterated rush. 

We spent four days in Osaka, and they were a good four days. We visited temples and parks, castles, got lost, did lots of shopping, checked out Kennedy’s wildly expensive t-shirts, gawked at more wildly expensive merchandise, ate and walked, and ate, and ate non-stop. 

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291: it’s a bright, bright, bright, sunshiney day

I must say; it’s so hot it’s not even funny. I can just sit here and start sweating for no reason. I hate hot weather. And summer. And whatever arghhh.

I haven’t done anything these few days. I met Nurul to do our nails yesterday so now my nails are grey. It looks cooler than it sounds. I think. Other than that, I’ve only been meeting J for dinner and making full use of my Internet’s temporary connection to Megaupload (I have never been able to download anything from there before. Ever. J says it’s where all the porn is stored and MU has probably cleared all its servers so that horny Singaporeans don’t get to access it anymore…) to download 34689475968 episodes of everything. 

I now have on-going series (what is the plural?!) of Osen, Zettai Kareshi, Last Friends, and Nodame Cantabile. Also I found the subtitled version of the Hana Kimi special. GO ME! I now have a drama collection to rival Isaac’s. Who is obsessed with Nakama Yukie. Watching Gokusen for all the wrong reasons. Tsk.

Pictures of the super wonderful bento/don I ate the other day:

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289: japan: yokohama city lights

It’s early in the morning now, and as usual, I can’t sleep. The sky is red and you know what they say about red skies in the morning and red skies at night. Tonight the moon is full, as it was last night, but tonight the moon hung low behind the tree outside my house and I had to look harder to find it. It’s just like most things, which disappear without you noticing in the hope you’ll look ever harder for them. 

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This post is about Yokohama, with which I think I might have a special love affair. This is not to say that I didn’t love all the other cities I went to, but that they mean different things to me. Tokyo is the place of childhood and dreams, mainly because I went there so many times when I was younger, though as you grow older you discover its ever-increasing adult attractions. Osaka was all about food and relaxation and just generally having fun doing everything and nothing. Kyoto was full of history, but Yokohama…

Yokohama is full of lights and romance. Yokohama is the place you bring girls to when you want to impress them. It doesn’t seem like much because it’s so near Tokyo and it’s so easy to overlook, but it retains that particular, off-centre, sort of feeling. It’s near but not too near. It has its own voice, its own attractions, its own history. Some people say Chinatown wasn’t too interesting; sometimes you just need to know where to look. Stepping into Minato Mirai is fascinating precisely because we’re at an age where we can appreciate it, still: the free theme parks, ferris wheels, lights across the sea, the red brick warehouses and the smoke curling up from beneath the windows. It seriously is the number one place to bring a girl on a date. It is so romantic you can choke. 

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