28 September 2009
The sun so bright
The wind so fresh
The air so clear
The fields so broad
The horizon so wide
The spaces so open
The feeling so free
The trees so tall
The flowers so colourful
The fences so long
The hills so rolling
The people so familiar
The language so easy
The food so congenial
The smells so homely
The moon so silver
The stars so bright
The night so dark
The silence so deafening
I am back in my home country... Australia.
[I (Brad) wrote this poem the day after I arrived back at my home in Australia after living in Japan for 2 years].
13 September 2009
It's nice to be back! Familiar scenery, people, language, brands, towns, shops and everything (as well as food). Now, I'm in Cairns and I'm staying at my Richard and Beckie's (my oldest brother's and sister-in-law's) place. They have a lovely baby girl, nearly 1 year now. She's so cute!
I've been resting and relaxing well. Today, apply for a job online, and just chill out. Tomorrow, we'll all go and meet up with Jared, my second older brother and hang out for the day. I'll stay at his house (also near Cairns) and then catch a train from Cairns to Brisbane on Thursday morning, arriving Friday afternoon.
In Brisbane, I'll go to Big Camp, a Christian conference where I'll catch up with many, many friends from school days and church. Really looking forward to it!
For now, just chilling out, and refreshing after 2 years of work in Japan. Enjoying!
11 September 2009
Good-bye Asia. I've been there for just over 2 years. On 20 August 2007, I entered Asia at Singapore for a 3 day stop before going to Japan to teach English and Bible for 2 years. I have so many good memories. Have made many good friends. Have shared the message of Jesus. I will miss many things about Asia, but mostly the people.
We are well an truly on our way back to Australia now. I can't see anymore lights. It's about 5 hours to Darwin, stop for a couple of hours, and then another couple of hours to Cairns. Finally back in my home country, Australia.
Today I got up early to have breakfast with John, the kind man who let me stay at his house. We chatted over breakfast, he went to work, and I had a bit more rest. I began the day late, did some emails, packed and left for Palau Ubin. It's a small island, part of Singapore, but just off the eastern edge of the main part of the country. It's not far from the airport.
By the time I caught the bus, the train, grabbed some lunch, caught another bus, waited for the boat and got onto the island, I only had a bit over an hour there. I rented a bike for $5 and cycled along the tracks there. It's a great little island for cycling. There are so many rental bikes there! Headed back to airport, checked in, had a shower for $8.40, caught up with Gaby for dinner and went through immigration.
The day before yeserday, I caught the train from KL to Singapore (about 7 hours). Before we crossed the boarder (from Malaysia to Singapore), a lady came through the train and stamped our passports to say we'd left Malaysia. After we crossed the water and entered Singapore, the train stopped, we all got off, walked through immigration to enter Singapore, and then got back on the same train and kept going. When I went through immigration, I didn't have the address of where I was to stay, since I was just planning to meet my friend at the train station, and I'd forgotten to write their phone number down too, and, I didn't have a printout of my plane ticket for leaving Singapore 2 days later.... not good! I consider it fortunate that they let me in (maybe because I'd been to Singapore before, and my passport looked reasonable and my attitude wasn't confrontational). Anyway, next time, I'm going to make sure I have an address, phone number and departure ticket with me.
Finally reached John's place about 11pm, and got some rest about midnight. Didn't think I'd need to set an alarm, fell asleep quickly, and the next thing I know (after dreaming) was .. Whao, it feels like I slept reeeeally well, and it's probably late! It was 10:03, so, I freshened up, headed down town and caught up with a good friend.
We went to St Andrews Church, the first church in Singapore. It was quite nice! Then, we saw soe of the Dead Sea Scrolls! Well, only a couple of fragments, but it was a pretty good display on the history of the Bible, including the ancient manuscripts, preservation, transcribing, translations, and even about the reformation. I was really glad I cold go, see it, and even see some of the original Dead Sea Scrolls!
We headed down by the river for lunch and ate some nice Thai food. Walked around a few other nice places, including the Merlion, museums, parks, shops etc. Overall, it was a very pleasant day.
Reflecting on my trip through Asia...
Well, basically I have travelled in Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore in the past 3 weeks.
From Tokyo, train to Shomonoseki (western Japan), night ferry to Busan (1 day), train to Seoul (5 days), night ferry to Tianjin (near Beijing in China) and bus to Beijing (5 days), night train to Shanghai (2 days), night train to Hong Kong (2 days), flight to Thailand (4 days), flight to Penang in Malaysia (1 day), night train to Kuala Lumpur (1 day), train to Singapore (2 days), night flight back to Australia.
I have to say, Singapore is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is quite aesthetic. Almost every part of the country (well, city) has a beautiful appearance. There is plenty of vegetain, trees and parkland in between the many apartments and office buildings. It is quite clean, well designed, and appealing to the eye. Unfortunately, there isn't much "untouched" or "virgin" land left in Singapore.
After being in Japan for 2 years, then travelling in Korea and then China (both of which have cars driving on the right-hand side of the road), when I arrived in Hong Kong, I felt refreshed, and I think it's because it was setup by the British. It just felt more "normal" (for me, that is), and more similar to Australia, which was also a British colony. I would have to say that Hong Kong (and also Singapore, since it was also setup by the British), are the most liveable of the places I visited in Asia. This is possibly true for most other Australians.
Thailand had a nice feel. It has more of a "mysterious" or "exotic" Asian feel... they kind of feeling you get when you hear/see the temples of Asia, the fine foods of the East, the soft-natured people and the tropical jungles. Bangkok was quite a well developed city with pretty much all you would expect in any world city. I had no problems there. The Thail massage was really good at AUD 10 for 1 hour!
I was quite tired most of my time in Malaysia, so I took it easy and enjoyed it. China was the least clean of the places I visited. The people were the most aggressive there, compared to the other countries I went to. Many people trying to sell you things. People pushing to get places, but not unbearable. Plenty of construction going on in China. Even though I was only really in Beijing and Shanghai, it was possible to see the strides China is making in it's development.
Korea was quite a fun place, probably because I was with groups of friends. Seoul is a very safe and convenient city. It was nice there.
After a while, all the train networks of the cities I went to felt the same. Tokyo, by far, had the most complicated one. Beijing had the most stable (least rocky) trains, maybe because of the wider gauge, and it was also the cheapest (at 40 cents anywhere in the city). Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul had the cleanest and nicest networks. Almost all of the cities had trains fairly frequently (every 5 minutes or so), which I thought was quite good.
Cars in China and Korea drive on the right-hand side of the road (same as US), but cars in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore follow the UK (same as Australia).
Power plugs in Japan are same as US. In Korea, they use two round pins (like Europe, I think). In China, I found almost every power outlet had fittings for US, Europe or Australia type plugs, quite convenient. Thailand had 2 or 3 round plugs. Malaysia and Singapore had plugs like the British (3 large chunky plugs).
Am very glad I was able to see different parts of Asia on my way back to Australia after working in Japan. I travelled fairly cheaply, catching ferries and trains, budget flights and economy seats. Stayed at friends places or caught overnight transport mostly, paying for less than 7 nights. But, spent money when there was a chance to see something interesting or eat something declicious!
People are people. Around the world, people have the same hopes, same desires, same needs. The same hurts, same happinesses. We all want to live good lives. We all want safety, health, kindness and love. Many people have religions and want to be close to God, and want Someone to hear their prayers. Everyone deals with conflict and working together.
How should we live our lives? Live lives responsible to our origin. Where do we come from? We come from a Designer, a Creator who cares and loves each one of His children. We are also accountable to those who we know and interact with. As we come to be in harmony with the God of heaven, and seek peace between ourselves, we will be preparing for eternity.
08 September 2009
07 September 2009
I just locked the door to this 2-bed cabin on the train. Then put the chain on. The conductor emphasized to me that I should keep an eye on my things. A few minutes after we left Butterworth, I heard a small bang, an orange thing alight move towards the train and a few guys about 10 m from the train. I think it was harmless... maybe just some youths having some fun (I hope!) Anyway, hope it'll be a safe trip!
It's a nice cabin... TV, fan, mirror, sink, 2 beds (one up one down), little table, roomy enough. You can tell the train is kind of old, but this is comfortable. Nice clean comfy bed. And, some powerpoint which you can charge up your phone and laptop from :-)
There are toilets on the train (which you would expect). There are economy sleeper beds which are just beds... not real place to put your things, so not very safe as far as others taking your things is concerned. There are sitting cars (glad I don't have to try and sleep in that tonight). And, there's a restaurant car. They don't have much to buy... well, not now anyway. It's getting later in the evening.
And, the have the doors of the train open as it's cruizing along in the night at about 70 km/h. You could just fall out! Then I talked with the train officers and it's because the air-con is not working in that carriage. Bit dangerous, but I'm not complaining. To be honest, it's kinda cool. Sticking your head out the door of a moving train at night, feeling the wind blow past your face, is a nice experience.
Then, a bit later, I looked out the train door again as we were going along, I could see the moon in the night sky, the train slowed down for the corner, the wheels squeeked on the tracks, I could see the jungly-rainforest in the moonlight, and touched some of the leaves as we rolled along. Then we went through a tunnel and back out again into the dim-dark blue summer evening sky as the train continued to snake its way through the mountains and forest of remote Malaysia towards Kuala Lumpur.
Earlier today, I arrived at Penang Airport from Bangkok. Short trip of about 90 minutes, and had to change my clocks 1 hour forward. The first thing that caught my attention after arriving in Penang Airport was the presence of Muslim ladies having their heads covered. After being in predominantly Buddhist countries in my travels so far, and, Malaysia being the first coutry I've been in with a strong Muslim presence, this was quite noticable.
Also, there are many Indians, Chinese, Malay and also tourists, that I've seen. Most signs are in Malay (which uses English letters A-Z) but English speakers can't understand them. But, this is easier than Thai or Chinese etc. There is also lots of English, and a fair amount of Chinese.
The other thing that struck me after arriving in Penang, was that it really reminded me a lot of Queensland! It felt a little like home, and I was surprised at the similarities... the weather, the vegetation, building and town layout, and, probably some other subtle things. I've been in quite a few different Asian countries lately (and away from Australia for more than 8 months), and Penang has come the closest to being like my home, as far as physical appearances is concerned.
I was really tired after arriving in Penang (after only a few hours sleep the night before because I uploaded photos, got a Thai massage, and woke up at 4:30 am to get my 7am flight). Caught the bus to George Town, and then another bus to Batu Ferringa, which is a nice beach resort area. I was quite tired (and feeling a little sick because of the bus travel, but that passed soon).
Ate half a Malay-style pizza and relaxed down at the beach. I could have gone parasailing, jetskiing, horse-riding or probably something else, but I just decided to lie down and rest a bit, then I played in the sand and water for a bit. I needed this, and I felt good afterwards.
Then, after shower and massage, made my way across on the ferry from Penang to Butterworth to get on this train. Now for some sleep. Good night!
Arrive Thursday night late in the rain at Bangkok Airport. No dramas. Friends' friend picked me up and drove 2 hours to campus in the countryside.
Friday: Woke up nice and late, check out Uni campus where friend works, had beautiful Thai lunch under one of those wall-less hut type things in nice garden area with fountains and music! Checked out a local market... nice experience. Had campus worship at night and really enjoyed singing (it'd been so long since I'd song English songs with a good-sized group!)
Sabbath: Morning worship... felt closer to God. People from all different countries worshipping together. Enjoyed singing again! Shared lunch together... really nice food. Took bus into Bangkok.
Saturday Night: Ate out with friends at nice Korea restaurant and then enjoyed some night views of Bangkok over dessert from 17th floor. Stayed at church nearby.
Sunday: Enjoyed really nice buffet Japanese restaurant... man! It was good! Visited Grand Palace... very beautiful temple and palace. Took boat up and down the river. Met some new people and ate out at Thai restaurant... very cheap! Only about $1.
I'm enjoying traveling, and learning that "racing around trying to see
everything" is not the way to travel... I've been taking it easy and
just seeing a few things, and it's much nicer, more enjoyable. And,
after a while, every city, country, train network, motel and all that,
ends up looking much the same!
Many more thoughts to share, but need some sleep (after a good Thai massage!) before leaving about 4:30 am for airport tomorrow morning. Off to Penang, then train to KL and then Singapore. Last leg of Asia trip. Been great!
03 September 2009
Hong Kong... nice city. Caught up with two school teachers who taught me, plus a friend. Very pretty at night. Went up on the Peak Tram. Well worth the ride up. Hong Kong is big, many sky scrapers, plenty of shopping (and very nice), plenty of business and finance and commerce.
Well, off to Thailand now.
Had a good long sleep. 10 hours. Slept quite well, waking up a few times to turn over. I like sleeping on trains. Looked out the window after waking up, and found it to be fairly mountainous, but not high mountains. Hilly, you could say. On the flatter areas between the hills, there were old Chinese houses among the rice fields, vegetable patches and bushland. The odd lake and river. There are some banana trees, also, reminding me of this area's semi-tropical climate. This was about 2 hours by train north of Guangzhou.
At breakfast and did some reading...
I think we are now in Guangzhou. The train is meant to stop at Guangzhou East station, before travelling another 2 and a half hours before arrive in Hong Kong. Out the window, I see old apartment buildings about 5 stories high, industiral equipment (rail, factories etc), overcast weather, trees between buildings etc.
Interesting, when I left Shanghai, I asked the hostel staff about getting to the train earlier because I might have to go through immigration. Although Hong Kong is part of China now (since 1997 after the British handed it back to China), it is an SAR (Special Administrative Region) and, in may ways, still feels like a seperate country (eg. currency, economy, democracy, no internet controls, immigration, etc), and means that you need to pass the "border" (get passport stamped, and maybe need a visa etc) to go from China to Hong Kong or vice versa.
Anyway, the staff said I don't have to get my passport stamped, but if I come back to China from Hong Kong, I need to. Well, I allowed the 30 minutes they said, got a bite to eat with my last few Chinese money (now I'm down to about AUD 1, but I'll be in Hong Kong in a couple hours anyway). Then, I found I did have to go through immigration! Well, it was very painless and I was probably the last person to go through, but got on the train with no dramas.
Reflecting in Shanghai... Compared to Beijing, it's much more progressive. The buildings are much taller (a few more than 400 m) and much more stylish. The roadways are narrower (or, to me, seem more normal... the roads in Beijing, especially the main roads, were very wide!) Shanghai is much more of a commercial, financial and shopping city, whereas Beijing is more government, historic and cultural. Subways, buses and taxis are just a little more expensive in Shanghai. Shanghai is more internationalized, and would better qualify to be a world city. The driving in Shanghai is more aggressive and noisy (when I thought Beijing was interesting!)
In Shanghai, I went to Wu Gardens (old, historic district), a local market area (which sold frogs and snakes!), Nanjing Road shopping and walking streets (East and West), the Bund (a street by the river of western style sand-stone bank and government buildings), Shanghai World Financial Center (with the world's highest observation deck at 474 m on 100th floor), the Bund Sight-seeing Tunnel (it's ok). Just a short trip, but was happy to go there for 1.5 days. And, I was happy to see the Pearl TV Tower, the most iconic building in Shanghai.
I'll arrive in Hong Kong in just over 2 hours! There 2 days. Meet one of my high school teachers from Australia, fly to Bangkok Thursday night and spend a few days with a previous colleague from Melbourne :-)
A bit more about the train I'm on...
I got a hard [economy] sleeper. The beds are 3-high. I got the top bed which is about 2m off the floor. I can't sit up in bed, or I'll hit my head on the room. There are six beds to a "room", and seats in the side aisle. There are a few powerpoints in the aisle. In fact, in China, every powerpoint I've seen takes the Australia, US (and Japan) and European (and Korea) plug shapes, but the voltage is 240 volts.
The toilets are "pit" or "squat" toilets, which make for interesting balancing as the train goes along... not my favourite. There are some basins for cleaning teeth, washing face etc, which power plugs for shaving or hair dryers (althogh I haven't seen anyone use hairdryers here yet). I haven't seen any showers. There is no cold drinking water, but there is drinkable hot water, which is great for making up some instant noodles (bought before I got on the train).
After living in Japan for 2 years, and learning some Japanese, I got used to knowing a little bit of a second language. Coming to China, I now realize how much Japanese I did learn, and I feel like my linguistic "hands" have been chopped off! I can't speak a thing in Chinese (except 1 to 10, good morning and thank-you, basically). It's a bit of a let down, and I'm faced with the "new language" feeling again.
In Japan, I could often say a few words in English and someone could help me, but in China it is harder. One time, at the shop, I asked the clerk where the toilet was, but I couldn't communicate the message that well, but some young 10 year old boy who was there, helped me out. His English was pretty good!
Anyway, I have my Japanese phone with me and can write some Chinese characters (many of which are the same in Japanese and English, although many are different). So, sometimes I've communicated with Chinese people by writing on my phone and showing them the Chinese characters. An English-speaking Australian and a Chinese person communicating using a Japanese phone... interetings!
01 September 2009
last train, Asian cities starting with "S".
Tonight, it happened again! I was a bit surprised to find the last
train was before 11pm. After checking out "The Bund" and "Pearl
Tower" (at least trying to see it past all the contruction that's
going on), I was walking to the nearest station, when I saw a Dunkin
Donuts. I don't know why, but I just thought I'd have one.
That done, found the last train had finished. Walked to the next
line, and missed the train by about 10 seconds. Hmmm... So, taxi back
to the hostel. It was about 10 km, maybe 10 or 15 minutes. About 30
RMB or AUD 5... taxis are so much cheaper here in China! But, beware
of the rip-offs (unmetered, unofficial, dodgy ones). Just as a side
note, the trains are usually between 2 and 4 RMB (40 and 60 cents).
And, tonight was not the first time this happened. Last week in
Seoul, the same thing happened. Donut, miss last train, taxi back to
night's accommodation. That time is was about AUD 20, about 25
minutes drive, maybe 20 km? I don't know. Anyway, it was more
expensive, but still a whole lot cheaper than taxis in Australia, let
alone Japan. (And, Seoul trains are about $1 or $1.50 to most
So, what do I learn? I learn that it's ok to do this in China and
maybe Korea, but not in Japan (too expensive)! More importantly, I
1. Find out when the last trains are
2. Don't eat late at night
3. Don't eat too many sweet things
4. Get to bed at a decent hour
And, now, time for bed. Good night!