More KitKats!

I found these KitKats in the store yesterday. The flavour is a sweet green bean paste called Zunda, a specialty of the Tohoku region.

Tohoku is the region affected by the earthquake and a portion of the proceeds will go to relief efforts.

Fundraising KitKats. Impressive.

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Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

I just got back from a trip to Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands. In a moment of extreme foolishness I decided to bike from Honshu across the inland sea, a distance of ~75km.

The bike ride is a popular one for Japanese tourists and biking enthusiasts and crosses six islands and offers beautiful views. Unfortunately there are also 7 bridges. 7 bridges which have to be at some distance above the water. Which means hills….

Having read online that ‘there were no large inclines’ and carrying everything I needed for a weekend with me, I choose a Mama-Chari with three gears and a basket over the mountain bike with no basket at the bicycle rental station. Big mistake. I knew it as soon as I saw this guy.

He had a speedometer, a GPS, a light, sweat bands, four water bottles, 21 gears and spandax. I had this:

An old lady’s bike, flip flops, and a weekend’s worth of stuff in a backpack.

Needless to say, he soon left me behind, but as he took detours for scenic outlooks and museums and I chugged along the main route, we ran into each other several times. He was very nice, stopping to make sure I was on route and even helping me successfully return the bike.

The route was well marked, with painted road signs every kilometer and larger directional signs at every turn. Unfortunately, at the beginning, the route signs were more discouraging than anything. After biking for what seemed like forever (actually 13km) I saw the sign that said 62 km left, and knew I had to stop for some sunscreen.

In true Japanese tradition, there were stamping stations at each bridge. I managed to find one.

I almost gave up at km 50 when I looked at the elevation map and saw two gigantic hills ahead of me, but I’m glad I persevered. The views at the end were definitely worth it.

In summary, if you do this bike ride, get a bike with more than three gears and leave your backpack at home. Also, make sure to try the gelato on island three.

How to: Take the train to Onomichi station in Hiroshima Prefecture. Across the street from the station and three blocks to the right you can rent a bicycle for 500 yen, with an additional 1000 yen if you want to return it on the other side. Tolls on the bridges cost about 500 yen total. There are many restaurants and convenience stores on the route. At the other end you can bicycle right to Itoshima city, or if you’re a little lazier like me, drop the bicycle off right away and walk to the closest train station Hashihama.

 

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My Personal Paradise

Found in Shikoku: Citrus island –  the place I would live forever.

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Hilarious English Menu Translations

It’s incredibly easy to travel in China when you speak English. In most restaurants we went to, even outside of Beijing, the menu had been thoughtfully translated into English. However, some of the translations had quite obviously never been checked by a native speaker.

A few of my favourites.

Whets the appetite fish head emperor indeed!

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Japan’s weird food: KitKats

Strange flavoured KitKats were one of the strange foods I had heard of before arriving in Japan.  It was still a shock when we saw soy sauce flavoured KitKats in the Tokyo airport. Using our ten dollar voucher from an apology for a flight delay  we picked some up. Not everyone liked them, but I thought they tasted like maple syrup.

Flavours vary by region, so you can’t get them everywhere. OUr regions specialty is yuzu and chili. Some other flavours I have tried: citrus, chili, soy sauce, cherry, white and dark chocolate, wasabi, green tea and sweet potato.

Some flavours I know to exist but have not yet tried include: aloe, blueberry, miso, edamame, plum and custard.

Oh Japan. So full of delicious and amazing surprises.

 

 

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Train Madness in China

 

Here’s a tip. Don’t ride the train in China on a national holiday.

We decided to take the train to Datong on May 2nd, the day after the national holiday. However, since May 1st fell on a Sunday, everyone had May 2nd off. Used to the efficiency and general awesomeness of Japanese trains, we arrived at the station twenty minutes early, full of confidence. From there, chaos ensued.

Chinese train stations have security check points, a factor we did not count on. No matter, still plenty of time. We entered the station and split up looking for food for the 6 hour journey, with vague plans to meet on the platform. This is where things really got crazy. Three of us grabbed McDonald’s and headed to the platform, which we had guessed was 7, since that was the only number on the board listing our train. Turns out our train left from platform 9. Figuring our travel companions would work it out, we headed to 9.

Upon our arrival with 5 minutes before departure, a hassled looking attendant looked at us in shock and gestured ‘run! run!’ We ran the length of the train until arriving at our car where we were shocked to see there was no room for us to get on. The attendant kept gesturing for us to board, but there were people standing in the entrance way and more people beyond them. We squished our way on, gigantic backpacks and all, as the attendant pushed on more people behind us.

This picture was taken after about a third of the people left the train.

We were on, but had no hope of reaching our seats. As I resigned myself to standing for 6 hours, several people tried to push past me. Inspired by their bravery I followed, stepping on peoples toes, hitting people with my backpack, and literally being lifted off my feet by the sea of people. At one point I was standing on someones seat to get around a man with a gigantic feed bag. Just as I was starting to have hope that I would one day reach my seat at the end of the compartment I noticed a ruckus ahead of me. Someone was actually trying to get the food cart through this mess. At this point I couldn’t do anything but laugh.

Crazy Food Cart Lady

About 40 minutes after boarding the train we reached our seats, where we kicked some unhappy Chinese people out and settled in. In my attempt to free some space I put my smaller backpack on the shelf above us, at which time my water bottle fell out, which hit the coke I had so recently secured a small space for on the shared table, which spilled all over a child’s homework. Luckily, he forgave me, and spent the rest of the train trip trying out his English and showing me magic tricks.

Scott and Alicia, sweaty, tired and relieved to have found our seats

So, if you take the train on a national holiday, learn from our mistakes and show up early. Our friends missed the train all together and had to catch the next one in. Luckily we had a happy reunion with them at the Yungang Caves!

 

 

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