Tag Archives: Japan

I’ll have the mystery meal please.

Yes, I’m the girl next to you on the flight that brings out the buffet of food that I’ve stored in my carry on. Pre-cut veggies, dips, fruit, nuts, crackers and so on. I usually just say “No thank you” when they offer the complementary meal, as I’ve never been a fan of the mystery meat and dinner roll they serve you. This round I thought I’d branch out a bit after I realizing that you get options for specific meals as long as you request it at least 48 hours before your flight. Why not?

First up is a short flight from Chiang Mai Thailand to Bangkok. I picked “Vegetarian” since I had some pumpkin seeds with me and I figured it would be a decent combo. I was served fruit, raw veggies, salsa and a side salad of raw veggies with a dinner roll. Good thing I wasn’t battling hunger (and it was a quick flight) so I just wrapped it up to take on the go.

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First snack of the journey? Leftovers from the previous flight (seen above) with those pumpkin seeds I had in my carry on.

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Next flight was a bit longer traveling from Bangkok to Shanghai, China. For this journey I previously selected “Gluten Free”. They served me poached eggs, steamed vegetables, two servings of fruit and some sort of gluten free bread (I’m assuming made from rice). Please keep in mind this is all for the experience and hopes for something new on a flight. I am in no way intolerant or allergic to any foods nor am I a proper vegetarian. I simply love food and surprises! For this one, I chose to eat the eggs and toast and save the fruit for a separate snack.

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What’s this… left over pumpkin seeds? Perfect!

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I still had a few hours to go while waiting in China, so I busted out my other carry-on meal which was a packet of miso soup. In the Shanghai airport, they have machines that deliver complimentary warm, hot or boiling water. You’d think this would be common, but more often than not, hot water is hard to find. I usually carry my own tea and oatmeal so I’m frequently in search of a cafe that will just put hot water in a cup for me or I settle for paying for the water since they “have to heat it”.

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Quick photo break! Here’s a few shots from the airport in Shanghai, clean with an open layout and traditional shopping options.

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Moving on to the flight from China to Tokyo, Japan. I wasn’t able to pre-select my choice for this 2 1/2 hour jaunt, so when the stewardess came around, I just asked for which ever had the most vegetables. My surprise platter consisted of fruit, rice crackers, veggies, potatoes, beef and a chicken salad. For dessert (I think) was what looked like a firm white custard-type jiggly puck shaped item.

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Although I’m not a vegetarian, I’m certainly a picky meat eater and airplane beef and questionable chicken is far from my first choice of protein. With that said, I transferred all of the veggies to one dish, stashed the rice crackers for later and offered the rest to my neighbor (a teenage boy that was eager for more food). Even he stared at the “dessert” for awhile and with a confused look just covered it up with his napkin.

Landing back in Tokyo my mind is satisfied with the experiment and my stomach is horribly confused and probably a little frustrated with me. Oh we’ll, I’m still happy, healthy and no longer have extreme curiosity of the meals I’ve always skipped on flights.

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Hello Japan, home sweet home? For now.

Trains, planes and a tuk tuk equals an emotional high!

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you’ll know that my experience has ranged from volunteering in small villages to helping out in grand hotels. Ive gotten to live in a tree house, van camp, hitch hike and lets not forget the random events of spoiling myself during “holiday” with friends from home. I’ve crossed paths and reunited with many other backpackers and have stayed with numerous friends from around the world. All of these events lead me to realize that I’m extremely (fill in the blank here with any positive word that represents or resembles lucky, blessed, fortunate, kissed by karma, etc).

After enjoying a luxurious month in Japan with my cousin, I’ve decided to return to my solo backpacking and spontaneous volunteering adventure that I started this whole expedition with.

I packed a small bag, bought a one way ticket and boarded a flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia… Butterflies included.

To give you an idea of where I am and what I felt getting here, I’m going to take you on a quick 24 hour journey from a train station in Japan to the very bed I’m sitting on as I write this.

“Hey Brandon, would you mind giving me a hand please? So, Ill be back in…. Hmmm, probably just… Well, I’ll let you know”.

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First flight served up Japanese noodles with sauce and seaweed sprinkles, a tomato based spicy seafood pasta, what I think was a shrimp potato salad, bread and butter next to some orange juice. Complimentary red or white wine was also an option.

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The snack of the morning was hot tea, a bag of peanuts, a mini snickers and a triangular rice patty stuffed with salmon.

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My layover in Kuala Lumpur, brings me a smile and the first new friend of this trip. Meet Rochaq, born in India, raised in Australia and currently on his way to surprise his mother near the Himalayas. Over hot milk tea, (thanks again for that treat!) we had an in depth conversation of health and fitness followed by the usual travel wishes and stories. I joked about having different currency to tip with and just as quickly, he matched my pile. Combined, we money from India, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and the USA. Our time together ended with info exchange and a “see you again…somewhere…sometime”.

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Who’s this? It’s the glowing smile that sat next to me on the flight from Malaysia! Bree is from the states and is now traveling from Bali to Cambodia. I think the most beautiful part of our conversation was the undeniable energy we shared trading opinions of yoga and backpacking to living a life with an open mind while maintaining a conscious awareness. Considering our Asia map has similar destinations, maybe… just maybe Ill see this sweet girl again!

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Landing in Phnom Penh gives me a sense of freedom. I’m not sure why, but either way, my heart is racing with excitement while my shoulders drop a notch with each step. I feel at peace.

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Why do I look like a giggling rabbit? Instead of taking a bus or cab, I opt for the $7 tuk tuk ride to my first volunteering home. A tuk tuk (dependimg on the type and location are also known as a Samosa, tempo, trishaw, auto, rickshaw, autorick, bajaj, rick, tricycle, mototaxi, baby taxi or lapa) is a motorbike with an open air carriage attached to the back for its passengers. The obvious choice for financial and entertainment purposes.

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Backpack between my legs and my bag tied around my shoulders, I’m ready to hit the road!

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Rather than describing each photo, I’m going to highly suggest that you actually take a moment to look at each one. You’ll see mothers with children on their laps, locals hard at work or hardly working and abundance of other random sights.

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By this point in the journey, I’m fighting back the lump I feel in my throat and trying to keep my focus on the vibration I feel in my body (and I’m not talking about the motorized bumpy tuk tuk ride). These emotions can only be expressed as the deep appreciation I have for being exactly where I am at this very moment in time.

I am so grateful for my life.

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Upon arriving to my new “home”, I’m instantly invited out for lunch by one of the house roomies. Ill introduce you to that cozy place and the others soon. For now, I hop on the back f her scooter and head to a vegetarian restaurant.

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She ordered an egg sandwich and I had a mushroom patty with cucumbers and soup. In the middle we shared fried tofu with black pepper and lime juice. Including the warm tea, all together this lunch bill totaled $5 (in USD). Kind of pricey for these parts (sarcastic giggle) but we got to sit at a table, with silverware and additional sauces. Amazing!

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We arrive back and I’m shown to my room which is where I sit at this very moment writing about my last 24 hours.

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It’s only just begun…

Wait, it’s not Halloween yet… Is it?

After a day of exploring the Shrine we decided to keep the energy going and visit the popular Takeshita Street that leads to the crossing of Harajuku Street. For all of my California friends, think of it as the “Haight and Ashbury” of Tokyo if you will. This energetic strip has it all! Unique gift shops, local eats, costume boutiques, candy buffets and lets not leave out the 90’s themed collectors store!

Ill start off fresh with a picture that I snagged for all of my “car loving” buddies. This beauty caught my eye simply because you don’t see things like this very often while “backpacking” around.

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It’s not Halloween, however year round you’ll find girls dressed in eccentric costumes just out doing their thing and always willing for a photo.

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There’s definitely no question if we’re here as we approach the main entrance to Takeshita Street. Time to kick it up a notch!

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Let us take a photo tour, walk with me!

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You know, my backpack does have quite a bit of wear and tear. Maybe it’s time for a new one?

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Sweet tooth anyone? Fruit on a stick or crepes and ice-cream!

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Fruit not good enough to subside your sugar craving? How about a candy shop! A few things to be looked for in this set of pictures:
#1 The adorable host outside that is passing out free candy.
#2 The size of Jessica’s marshmallow and the gummy worm (I mean snake!) that Brandon found.
#3 The girl dressed in all black needs to be added to the list of crazy attire you’ll see around here.

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I skipped out on the candy store so I could snag a Japanese single serving dish. This little bowl had root veggies, soybeans, green squiggly things and dark brown circular objects. All glazed with what tasted like a ginger teriyaki sauce and it even came with chop sticks! Is it just me, or am I starting to take on a Japanese appearance?

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With the sun down and a walk behind us we slowly made our way back towards the station.

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Street food! Octopus and squid balls that consist of fish, egg, spices and flour pressed into a circle before being deep fried and served.

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Although I love a tasty Kabob once in awhile, I had plenty of those in Europe…

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Wait! I can read a part of that menu and I see, “healthy… green…” and “…exotic”!

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Salad coming up!

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Too bad we already ate, this place looked inviting with several tempting combinations. I would have went with the fig, kiwi and yogurt mixture.

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As we exit the main strip, the modern city buildings hypnotize you with their crazy structures and mind teasing appearances. The first one is actually formed with a series of angled mirrors!

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A deep breath (of city air) is necessary to take it all in. It’s reminds me of Time Square in New York City, except nobody is yelling and there’s not a slice of pizza around every corner.

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The Shinto Shrine of Meiji Jungu

Lets pause for a minute and (re)introduce you to my amazing cousin Brandon. We grew up seeing each other once every few years when our paths would cross at family gatherings. Our beautiful grandmothers are close sisters and have kept the connection tight. Describing him is simple, he’s patient and kind, yet assertive and witty…. trusting him is easy due to to his sincerity that matches his genuine personality. I know that sounds like a lot of “nice” words thrown into a sentence, but he truly is a quality individual. Here we are almost 20 years ago followed by a picture from last October.

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After enjoying a wonderful visit last year, I’ve returned to Japan to spend time with him and connect with his stunning girlfriend Jessica. She’s the gorgeous girl photoed below that naturally enhances everything around her with a vibrant smile and bright eyes. I would describe her as strong and sweet with just enough spice to keep him on his toes. Between the movie quotes, exaggerated imaginations and our compatible sense of humor, this is definitely a couple that I enjoy being around!

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Today we’re off to visit a sacred park in the city of Harajuku. Traveling throughout Japan is relatively basic due to the convenient train system. From our door step to the nearest station is a simple 5 minute walk and from there, we took a few transfers as we made our way towards Tokyo. Along with us is one of their friends Kennedy, he’s also in the Navy and has been stationed here for 2 years.

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Pit stop for two sweet treats! I feel like we should all live up to the “adult” status and have dessert first once in awhile. Mini cookies made with sweet Japanese potatoes and chocolate chips.

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Ice cream that comes in a handy pouch? Really think about this, no spoon or messy cone, just a perfect serving in a resealable container on the go. Brilliant!

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We’ve made it just in time for a short walk through the city (check out the size of the super crosswalk!) and an hour of exploring at the park. Note to future travelers, the inner park is generally open from 9am-4:30pm.

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Before entering the shrine it’s courteous to cleanse in respect for Meiji Jingu. The proper sequence is to rinse your left hand, followed by your right. Then pour water back into your left hand to rinse your mouth. Continue by rinsing your left hand again and finish by rinsing the dipper.

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Just before bowing through the entrance, I took a brief moment to capture a handstand shot and create a neat photo of this door that caught my eye.

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As you approach the center, you’ll find families, tourists, people dressed in authentic costumes and a variety of exhibits.

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On this day, we even got to witness a wedding!

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Brandon surprised me with a “safe travels” blessing trinket from the shrine. Thanks cousin!

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Leaving the location brought us through a forest that was created in honor of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken for their souls to dwell in. Each tree was placed and planted by hand!

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An upside-down handstand (in respect of the Shrine and to prevent the Japanese guard from blowing his whistle at me…again).

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After the visit, we took the long route back to the station through the popular Harajuku street. This ended up being so entertaining, that I’m going to save it for the next post! Here’s a sneak peek…

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You know you’re in Japan when…

You know you’re in Japan (and not a local) when…

…you run out with money in hand to what you think is the ice-cream man. Then after looking around confused, you realize it’s the garbage collectors truck playing that sweet music. Not funny guys… not funny.

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…you go for a jog outside, in public and alone. It’s extremely rare around here.

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…you hesitate washing your hands because the sink oddly resembles a yurnle.

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…after looking both ways, you casually walk to the other side of the road… even when the crosswalk sign signals “wait”. You’ll often see several local pedestrians patiently standing at a crosswalk waiting with absolutely no chance of a car coming in either direction.

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…you board a train without some sort of personal electronic entertainment system.

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…your friends think they order chicken and beef and instead, get served blubber and liver.

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…you go to stick a thermometer in your mouth at the doctors office and they panic before acting out the clarification. Turns out it goes under your armpit, oops.

…you return for the third time trying to by spearmint gum. What was attempt number one and two? Melon and lemon lime.

…you’re the only one not in the single file line.

…you think everyone is greeting you until you learn that “Hi” really means “yes”.

…the toilet has more buttons than your smart phone.

…your taxi driver is wearing a bow tie.

…there’s no one working behind the counter and there’s just various money left to make change for whatever you are taking out of the store.

…you stop to take a photo of the children’s “game section” of the grocery store.

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