Archive for October, 2005
Do you have a long flight coming up? Travelling from Dublin to Moscow via Buenos Aires? This week, I’d like to share some tips with you for surviving long flights.
• It is often suggested that during extended flights your body’s extremities will swell up. Therefore, most airlines recommend loose clothing and removing shoes and socks during the flight. Bearing this in mind, just think how comfortable you’ll become by wearing a mu-mu and going commando. Let it all hang out!
• The airlines recommend not drinking alcohol on long flights, as it will serve to further dehydrate you and leave you feeling wretched at the other end of your flight. “Utter bollocks”, I say. You’re going to feel wretched anyway, so you might as well have an excuse.
• Young children flying with their parents can be a source of annoyance when trying to sleep. They often make a lot of noise and tend to become impatient and kick seats. A good remedy for this is to soak some candy in valium and scatter it around the different seats before the flight. If you’re lucky, the parents might eat some too.
• Emergency exit seating provides more leg room, and if there is an emergency, you can be the first to get the hell off the plane.
• It is sometimes possible to get upgrades to business class if there are free seats. The stewardesses often keep this a secret, so make sure to nag them every 5 minutes to see if a place has become available.
• Many planes now have individual TVs in the seatbacks, showing a varied selection of the latest Hollywood blockbuster movies by directors like Michael Bay. It is therefore highly recommended you bring a good book.
• Remember that not all airlines are created equal. Singapore Airlines is an example of a good airline with good service. Kazahkstan Northeast is probably not so glamorous.
• The American carriers now charge $5 for alcoholic drinks, even on international flights. The cheap bastards!
• If your main luggage it full it is now apparently possible to carry on 23 items weighing a total of no more than 468kg. At least that’s what the woman sitting next to me thought.
• Always read the safety card before take off (someone has to).
• Knives, scissors, nail clippers and cigarette lighters are now banned on all international flights. To bring them on board, place them in a condom and swallow it.
The Cynical Traveller
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of an ekiden, the literal translation is “station race”, indicating that the participants run between train stations. Unfortunately, when asked to participate, I misunderstood the concept to be a “stationary race”, which seemed right up my alley, and hence I volunteered.
Strangely enough, despite the daily exercise of walking to the fridge and back, and repeated viewings of “Chariots of fire”, I found myself awaiting the race with a certain amount of trepidation.
My leg of the race was held in the local park, and I was gratified that the competitors at least represented a wide variety age groups; if not weight categories.
Now, my own build could be described as “Willowy”, if by “Willowy” you mean I weigh as much as a rather large tree. Generally, my competition was somewhat slenderer and more athletic. In fact, I could probably eat the equivalent of their combined body weight in hamburgers in a single sitting. However, as I was lining up next to both eight year old girls and ninety year old men with Zimmer frames, I felt it imperative that I at least attempt to do my country proud.
For the results, let’s turn to the following report from the Japan times:
The Cynical Traveller
There comes a time in the life of every foreigner in Japan, when he wants to escape the concrete jungle and crowds, to be one with nature for a while. In which case, he’s basically buggered.
Japan, particularly Eastern Japan, is not noted for its open spaces with low population density. People don’t often come to Tokyo to, “get away from the stress of modern life”.
That being said, it is still possible to escape from concrete buildings in a few places in Japan. Generally these places are on mountains, where it’s either impossible or economically unviable, to rip out all the trees and build a 25 story apartment complex.
The best part of living in the country in Japan is that, for a few weeks in autumn, the view is transformed into a dazzling landscape of orange and yellow. Of course if you live in Tokyo, this happens every night around 6pm.
So stunning is the mountain scenery that you can almost forget the power lines and rusted cars in the background. The only real problem with this explosion of colour is that you have to share it with every other bugger in the country.
Japanese people are inordinately proud of their seasons, particularly autumn and spring. I am often asked by Japanese people if we have four seasons in Australia. In fact, I have been asked so many times that I now reply, rather sarcastically, that for economic reasons we had to cut down to two. Strangely enough, this statement seems more often received with patronized understanding, than with expressions of incredulity.
Our escape from the rigours of urbanised Japan was to a small town called Nakatsugawa. Of course, you can never really escape crowds in Japan, and the train to Nakatsugawa was full of people heading into the mountains for a day’s hiking. Hiking is popular with people of all ages in Japan. There were a couple of men on the train who were so old, they shouldn’t have been carrying backpacks so much as colostomy bags.
One thing you have to give the Japanese kudos for; when they take up an activity, they make sure they have the right equipment.
My preparation for this trip involved emptying my work backpack out and throwing a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of water in it. Contrastingly, the Japanese men next to us had proper hiking bags, walking poles, sturdy boots, Gore-Tex jackets and a Sherpa guide called Lakpa.
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to put aside my cynical nature for a few minutes to admit that it actually was quite beautiful.
The hike was about 5 kilometres and was punctuated at regular intervals by Japanese cries of “Kirei” (“beautiful” [or so I’ve been told]).
One of the strangest sights was an enormous group of people obsessing over one specific tree. Apparently, it is famous for turning a particularly vivid shade of purple or something. Now, call me arboreally challenged, but personally once I realised that it wasn’t going start to tap dancing or making profiteroles, I lost interest.
Our hiking map also indicated a point of interest called Suwa falls. Detouring for around a kilometre, we discovered that the Suwa falls appeared to consist of a concrete drainage system where a trickle of water was redirected by concrete walls to pour over a 6 foot drop.
It was about as much a waterfall as the guttering on my parents’ house.
Despite these setbacks, it was nice to escape to the fresh air for a while. Now, if they could only invent a version that could be enjoyed from inside my apartment…
The Cynical Traveller
I’ve never had what would be referred to as one of the world’s great smiles. It certainly wouldn’t stand up to, to pick a name at random, say Jennifer Aniston. In fact, if I’m being totally honest with myself, it probably wouldn’t stack up to Austin Powers.
For starters, I have gaps between my teeth large enough to drive a light utility truck through. I also have four dead teeth; the legacy of an active, if somewhat brainless, youth. However, it has to be said, compared to some of the people in Japan, I have a million dollar smile.
Dentistry in Japan is not considered an exact science. Indeed, in some country areas, it is still possible to find dentist offices where patients are still anaesthetized with a rubber mallet.
Living in Japan, you often hear horror stories about other foreigners’ visits to the dentist. They usually run along the lines of, “I went in for some minor bridgework and left an hour later with two root canals, a chipped tooth and a missing kidney.”
The main advantage of visiting the dentist here, is that it is so cheap! So, if you do manage to find a good dentist, it is imperative that you keep him.
My dentist is a lovely man called Mr Tanaka. He speaks English and is quite charming and friendly. When a man has half his hand crammed in your mouth, it’s the little things like this that make a difference.
That being said, his assistant is a little weird. On my first visit, she came in to watch, citing that she had “never seen the inside of a gaijin’s mouth”. Another time she kept trying to lift up my shirt while I was lying on the dentist’s chair.
What can I say? I’m irresistible to Japanese dental assistants.
So, this visit was to have a wisdom tooth removed. For those of you who have managed to avoid this pleasant process, it involves 1 part dentistry and two parts excavation. The remaining 7 parts consist of excruciating pain. I had a different tooth taken out a little over a year ago, and it has taken me this long to recover. So it was with some trepidation that I approached the procedure again.
My nervousness was hardly abated when after ten minutes of cutting and prying, my dentist commented, “You have a hard bone.” Now, this could be construed as quite a compliment, were it whispered by; say a 20 something model, bent on a bit of extra-curricular shenanigans.
However, when it is uttered by a 40 something man intent on ripping said bone from your skull, it somehow loses the intimacy. When he later announces that the root of your tooth is shaped like a screw, you know you’re in for an unpleasant afternoon.
Anyway, the upshot is, that after 1 ½ hours of pain and torment, I have had half a tooth removed and I still have to go back in 2 weeks time to finish the job. Meanwhile, I’ve got a massive hole in my gums that rice keeps getting stuck in.
Oh, and I seem to have misplaced my kidney.
Wish me luck and stay Cynical,
The Cynical Traveller