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East Asia 2019 Part 2 (Japan)

Part 2 (Japan)

This time I’m going to narrate the rest of my holiday in Asia this year. It was also the third time I went to Japan but this time I was going to meet several people there, whom I have already met before at a meetup in London; and coincidentally they were all women: Kayla, Eri, Rino, Saaya, Masayo and Yuki.

         24th Sep: I arrived at Terminal 3 of Narita Airport, feeling very hungry and preoccupied with the fact that I had to collect a pocket-sized wifi router before I left the airport. Terminal 3 was relatively new; the décor appeared to be simiplistic, the walls and floors were grey and white; and the floor was made to look like a racetrack. At customs the guards laughed when they saw that ¼ of my suitcase was filled with Yorkshire Tea and biscuits (for Yuki and Rino) before they searched them for drugs but it was fine.

For lunch I had a nice, long awaited meal at a 7-11 that involved more than one course and (if I remember clearly) either a bottle of Pocari sweat or milk tea. I took the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori station in 40 minutes. At the hotel I started to decant the souvenirs to the respective recipients. Later I walked to Yanaka (I went there last year, very nice area) and back before eating ramen for dinner.

25th Sep: I went to collect my JR rail pass and then I went to Ueno Park and then the National Museum of Tokyo. Sadly I did not get to spend enough time there because I had to meet Kayla in Meguro at 12pm because she was on her lunch break. I waited for her in a local ramen shop and I took a picture of her trying to pull open a sliding door to her embarrassment. I give her the first of my souvenirs and we ate pork chatsu ramen together.

After lunch I went to Odaiba and took a light rail train to the area that looks very much like London’s Docklands. I went to Pallet Town and visited Tokyo DECKS, a shopping centre with a classic arcade with games like pinball, gift shops and a toy shooting range. There was a Takoyaki restaurant with a small shop, I ate some but it wasn’t quite good because it didn’t have sauce nor bonito flakes but the restaurant did sell other varieties of the fried octopus balls. I returned to the hotel to relax and that night I took a local line to Shibuya to visit a meetup where you spoke English and Japanese. It wasn’t as good as the meetup in London because they weren’t many people and some of their rules were restrictive such as no eating. Afterwards I went back to Nippori for a katsudon dinner.

26th Sep: Today I left early to take a train to Nikko. However, I went into the wrong carriage that had solely reserved seats (my pass was only valid on non-reserved seats) I made my way through the carriage (known as a “bangousha” in Japanese) until I stopped at the exclusive first class Green-Car carriage and waited until it stopped at Ooyama station. There I got off, sprinted all the way to the non-reserved carriage and got on before the train took off again.

At Nikko I took a bus to Rinnoji temple and walked around for a bit, visiting a mausoleum of a shogun. For lunch I went outside the temple and had yubasoba for lunch, which was dried and solidified soy milk with soba noodles. The meal was very nice. There was a vast lake just beyond Nikko that I wanted to visit but I didn’t have enough time so I had a good look around Nikko. And once again I encountered two hoardes of schoolchildren waving “HELLO!” back at myself.

Back in Tokyo I went to Kanda to meet Eri for a drink and some Tsukimiyaki (that is a fried meat skewer dipped in a bowl of raw egg). Sadly Eri couldn’t stay for long because her son was sick so I went back to Ikebukuro (where I first arrived in Tokyo on my very first trip), had fried squid with beer and turned back.

27th Sep: I checked out of my hotel but asked if I could leave my luggage there before 4pm and they agreed; before I realised I left my JR pass in the suitcase. Retrieved, I went to Asakusa to see the Tokyo Skytree to have one last look at the capital. After I walked through the downtown area near Yoshiwara and back to Nippori to collect my suitcase.

I left Tokyo by shinkansen and arrived at Shizuoka at 5.50pm to meet another Japanese friend: Rino. We went to a small izakaya for fried snails, snacks and beer. 90% of the time we spoke in Japanese. Before leaving I gave Rino her gifts of Yorkshire Tea with custard creams and jaffa cakes, as well as her picture. When I tried to hug Rino at the station I almost punched her in the nose by accident, but she was okay, 大丈夫 です. When I was on the escalator to the platform, she was still standing there, watching me leave which I actually found a bit heart-warming. I left Shizuoka and arrived in Kyoto rather late and relatively tired.

28th Sep: I woke up late and left for Osaka to meet another friend: Saaya. We took a train to Nara together while listening to Japanese singers from the 80s (like Anri and Mariya Takeuchi). When we got off the train we walked to Nara and I kept humming 80s Japanese songs which soon irritated Saaya, to the point where she turned around and said ダニエルは杏里が好き! Daniel wa Anri ga ski! (Daniel likes Anri!) さあや “K” ポップが好き。

We went to the park to see the famous deer (famous because they bow down to you if they want food) and feed them. We bought some biscuits, fed deer, baby deer, old deer and one that was having a dip in a pond. We saw a lot of Chinese tourists around taking photographs (yi, ar, ban!) One of the temples we visited nearby had a giant buddha statue inside that was over 50ft high. There was also a hole carved into one of the wooden support columns that was 5ft thick and it was said in ancient folklore that anyone who would squeeze through the hole would receive good luck. I passed through in under one minute. We were soon tired so I had a rest in Starbucks with Saaya and we found a UK style supermarket before taking the train back to Osaka.

 We had dinner in an izakaya followed by another meal where we cooked our own okonomiyaki. After we went up to the 15th floor of a nearby building to watch the view and then we crossed over to another building which had a huge hole in its centre criss-crossed by escalators. We took more pictures of the Osaka skyline up there and afterwards we went to the station to say goodbye. Like yesterday, that was another enjoyable day.

               29th Sep: I went to Arashiyama in western Kyoto by myself. I went to the monkey park which I enjoyed and fed the monkeys before going to Arashiyama district. I walked down its famous bamboo trail (complete with kimonos and rickshaws) right down to the level crossing but it was hot and I felt tired so I went back to my hotel and underestimated the length of Kyoto’s streets as I didn’t feel like walking again after that long ordeal. I went out to eat at Yoshinoya (a great restaurant chain, best eaten with a raw egg!); after I looked around the alleyways, ordered 4 pieces of Takoyaki but I ended up with 5 pieces (probably because I ordered it in Japanese) and went to sit on the riverside by myself at night with hundreds of locals and tourists.

30th Sep: I checked out of my hotel in Kyoto. My time in the city passed very quickly, my hotel was very nice and clean; although I was out most the time the hotel went out of their way by leaving a bag with an English speaking newspaper outside the room and they left a traditional tea set in my room as well with some powdered tea. They also left a green tea waffle snack as well and I made the mistake of thinking that the snack was meant to go in the kettle to make green tea and I nearly ruined the teapot when the waffle got clogged in the teapot and left it. I did some last-minute sightseeing by putting my bag in a locker and visiting a temple I hadn’t been before. (I’ve been to Kyoto three times).

 I took the train to Shin-Osaka and changed to take a 2.5 hour train to Hakata (Fukuoka) in Kyushu, the island in South West Japan. I went to the wrong platform and ended up running to the right train with my heavy suitcase in one hand and my lunch in another.

I met another friend I knew before in London called Masayo and wee ate local ramen together at a food stall and we did some walking around and went to Ohori Park in western Fukuoka which reminded me of Central Park in new York and I took some wonderful pictures of the park at night. I had a great time that night and so did Masayo.

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Hello Kitty bullet train, very popular in Japan!

1st Oct: The next day I met Masayo again at the hotel and we went to Fukuoka Zoo together. The zoo was quiet and I was confronted by local children shouting “Hello!” and “Gaikokujin!” (Foreigner!) Later we looked around the temples in the backstreets of Fukuoka and I found out that we didn’t really have a plan and quite strangely Masayo did not really mind.

Before I picked up my suitcase again, we found some parks and private places (including a park built on a pyramid shaped skyscraper) to kill some time. We said goodbye (at the time I didn’t want her to leave) and I took the train back to Osaka Namba where my final hotel was.

2nd Oct: I left Osaka late to go to Himeji castle – a world heritage site. When I arrived a met a local guide who ushered myself on a tour at 1pm. The guide was born and bred in Himeji and her English wasn’t perfect but was funny because she could not stop using Japanese pronouns. (e.g. kore wa famous castle). At once point she had trouble explaining why children used to be locked in the castle’s vaults back then so I had to help her a bit by finding the correct English word.

The word she was trying to say (Gyougi ga warui = bad behaviour). The guide was a very nice person and she also took pictures of me wearing traditional robes. I left Himeji after and went to meet my final friend in Osaka at 6pm – Yuki. For dinner we had a large pork cutlet with rice, soup, brown sauce and mustard. Then we went to a nearby observation deck and Yuki bought me a large bag of grapes. Then we said our goodbyes, unsure of my future post-Japan.

3rd Oct: My third JR rail pass (which let me travel smoothly across most of Japan) ran out but I went to universal studios Osaka. Despite checking the weather, I thought it was going to be sunny and I left my umbrella at the hotel and when I arrived at the park it started to pour heavily. I went on three rollercoasters and an interactive zombie experience called Bioshock where you are chased by Japanese zombies in narrow corridors. The flying dragon (Jurassic park world) was my favourite.

 I went back to Osaka and I made two new friends by accident called Ban and Chiise when I was buying a pot of oden. We had Takoyaki for dinner together at the infamous riverside and later I went clothes shopping reluctantly with Chiise. She showed me Namba station because I had to go there next morning. Afterwards we walked through Dotonburi and said our goodbyes, presumably to meet again in London.

4th Oct: I left my hotel early at 6.30am, walked the quiet streets of Osaka and made it to my train on time. I went to Kansai airport, had a Tsukimi Burger (月見バーガーがおきにいりです。) for breakfast, said my goodbyes to Japan for the third time and reminisced. I arrived back in Seoul airport for a connecting flight back to London Heathrow and there I had some food, listened to Anri (a Japanese singer) and tried to find a Kochikame manga book to no avail. On the plane I watched Toy Story 4, Men in Black: International, Pokemon Detective Pikachu and Yesterday.

 

Final review: I would say it would be an understatement to say that I liked the holiday because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only parts of the holiday I did not enjoy were:

* Sitting next to the man on the plane to South Korea; I saw him again in the toilets in Beijing airport, he gave me a funny look and walked off.

* Being left alone in Gangnam at midnight by a drunken Korean lady in a place I’ve never been to, with no idea how to read the bus timetables nor how to get back to my hotel. That almost triggered an anxiety attack and I had a similar experience in Berlin in 2014 but I found a taxi rank nearby and I managed to call a taxi because that was the only option for me and felt lucky that I had enough money for the fare.

* Rushing between stations in Kyoto and Osaka in humid weather trying to buy a bento box and some beer with one hand while hauling a suitcase with the other hand and 3 minutes before your bullet train for Shin-Osaka leaves.

* My second day in Fukuoka. Most of the time I felt like I was the tour guide instead of the other way round with Masayo.

As it was my third time in Japan, I felt more comfortable travelling around the country and because I met several friends on the trip, I did not feel lonely at all. The days where I was by myself felt rather strange and I felt I was missing something; compared to last year in Asia where I was largely by myself. People still ask me “Are you going back to Japan this year?” and my answer for them is simply, No.

My reasons being that:

  • I want to travel to new places across the world
  • I don’t have a relationship nor a family commitment to visit Japan again. If I had a career or a wife over there then I would have a commitment to go back there.

I have considered living and working in Japan, but I’ve put it off firstly because travelling and working in another country are completely different, Japan has an overly stressful and fastidious work culture that can severely restrict your lifestyle and it’s unlikely that I’ll get a job over there, even as an English teacher because I don’t have a master’s degree in anything. Yes, in Japan if you have a degree in ANY subject, they’re guaranteed to get you a job as an English teacher, even when it doesn’t match your skills.

I’ve also wondered what I’m going to do now since I learned enough Japanese to impress a native but I don’t want to waste my skills. Sometimes I go to a meetup in London but I don’t get the chance to practice properly and I sometimes meet a friend on Friday to speak Japanese but I haven’t had to chance to do so lately due to other commitments. This will be harder when he goes back to Japan in October.

As for the people I met in South Korea and Japan, Jihyeon came back to England last November to study again and now lives in Birmingham. I saw her again and gave her a 2-litre bottle of Old Rosie hard cider as a gift. She still cherishes it.

Rino (the one from Shizuoka) is coming back to London in mid-February to visit and of course, I will be meeting her again with a bag of Custard creams and Yorkshire Tea in tow. As for the rest of the people I met on holiday, they have no further plans to visit the UK again.

As for my next big holiday for 2020 I was thinking about going Asia once more but maybe not Japan again…

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Me in a ramen restaurant in Meguro, Tokyo with Kayla
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This is Saaya, one of the people I met in Japan.
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Bento box heaven; but beware they’re only replicas.
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Even the very hungry caterpillar has made it far as Japan, gorging on okonomiyaki and melonpan instead of sausages and cheese.

East Asia 2019 Part 1 (Korea)

In this one I am actually going to talk about my holiday this year where I went to South Korea and Japan for three weeks. This is very similar to my holiday last year where I visited multiple countries in Asia for three weeks. One big difference was that I had planned to meet several people in South Korea and Japan whom I had met previously at a club in London called Japanese meetup so that I wouldn’t be lonely and all of them turned out to be women. I was just meeting them as friends, most of them were too young for me anyway and the ones who are older were already married.

                15th Sep: I arrived at Heathrow Airport in the afternoon and was worried that my ticket (bought on a third party website via Skyscanner) would be rejected. I checked in and the attendant couldn’t understand my ticket and was left waiting for over ten minutes. I was relieved when she returned with my ticket, fully approved and allocated, my bag going to the hold.

My plane journey was an uncomfortable one that required a stopover in Beijing and took roughly 15 hours. The man who sat next to me was travelling to Japan to see the rugby but that wasn’t the reason I went there and I felt a bit uncomfortable with him. At one point it looked he was trying to play the piano while asleep because his hands were raised from the armrest and fingers were wiggling. I saw Beijing and all I saw were miles and miles of tower blocks, some looked like they were spelling out a secret message. The boarding area at Beijing Airport had a huge fountain, a shrine and a KFC.

16th Sep: The only problem that I had when I arrived in South Korea wasn’t the jet lag (although I had some crazy dreams) but a quarter of my suitcase was filled with teabags, biscuits and jaffa cakes (for my Japanese friends) and they weren’t shipshape when I arrived. The custard creams packet may have split open but they survived and I still gave them to Rino.

My hotel was on the 8th floor of a guesthouse in Chungmuro and although was small, there was plenty of seating space outside the room. On my first night I ate a deep fried hotdog, found a 7-11 store, planned an itinerary in the guesthouse and drew a picture of a Korean lady as well.

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A picture of a Korean lady, Jihyeon to be precise.

17th Sep: I left very early for a 7-11 breakfast (choosing random items from the shelf) and went north to the national museum and Gyeongbokgung. But neither of them were open so I walked south to the King Sejong statue and went to Bukchon Hanok village, passing Insa-Dong. I spent a good amount of time at Bukchon looking through its secretive, picturesque alleyways and shrines where local artists were painting.

I found a church and went to Changdeokgung Temple, which was an expansive place with a lot of passageways and photo opportunities. After I was very hungry so I went to Deoksugung and Seoul Plaza, found a 7-11 and had a pork cutlet meal with kimchi in the shop. I was very tired at Deoksugung to the point where I laid down for a nap and the groundskeeper told me not to do that so I left and returned to my room to rest and continue writing this blog.

18th Sep: I had breakfast at the hotel and took the metro to climb Bukhansan Mt, the highest mountain in Seoul. The climb was 3 hours long, I made a wrong turn and found a temple; and the climb was more difficult the further I went. There was a metal rail bolted into the cliff that separated myself from falling (I had to put the camera away and use both hands) because a single slip can be fatal. I had lunch on the peak, a stranger gave me a slice of melon; a gave her some snacks from Piccadilly Circus and I saw a dog and a cat on the mountain, living on bento and sashimi. On the way down I saw a teenager attempt to climb while wearing a tracksuit and designer shoes (and failed) and I witnessed an old lady fart in front of a climber and we laughed.

(Even in different countries farts all sound the same) I was going to Ui Bukhansan and I met a local called Dong Kyu who kindly showed me the way because he was going down there as well. Later that day I slept and went out to Dongdaemun to see the market, ate fried goods including Korean black and pudding and saw a lot of octopi ready to be eaten.

 

19th Sep: I went back to Gyeongbokgung and this time I saw the changing of the guard ceremony. I spent a good 3 hours there because the place was so vast and went to the neighbouring park as well. Then I went to Myeongdong district, saw the cathedral and ate a lot of streetfood. I fit weren’t for the streetfood I wouldn’t had liked Myeongdong because it was too crowded like Oxford Circus and my feet were sore.

Then I was guided by a Japanese lady to take a foot/leg massage and later I went to N Seoul Tower at night. It wasn’t as good as I thought because I did not plan it well, the queue to get on and off the tower was horrendous and couldn’t take good pictures on my camera but the night view with my own eyes was superb. I had a generous bibambap meal for around £10 that included six unlimited side dishes and that made up for all the travelling that nearly killed my feet that day.

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20th Sep: I left very early again to embark on a tour of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The guide was called Dora (not her real name) but the first stop was the Dora observatory where I could see North Korea for the first time. Then we went down a very long tunnel that was 350 metres long and no photography allowed because it was an escape tunnel built by the North Koreans. Then we went to Dorasan station and a ginseng museum before the tour finished.

I took a break at the guesthouse again and got ready to meet my first friend on holiday: a Korean lady called Jihyeon. I met her at Dongdaemun and went to Gwanjang market together. Together we ate live octopus, raw beef, nori and beef soup. There was a bit of a communication error when we went to Yeongnaru because Jihyeon promised to go to the shops for some whiskey. Then it turned out she was actually asking if I had whiskey, but all I had was a bottle of pink gin for her in a duty free bag. So she ended up trying to get drunk at the riverside on coke and pink gin.

 

21st Sep: I went to Jegidong in east Seoul to embark on a 3 hour cookery course that was repeatedly postponed by TripAdvisor because of an internal error. We went to a nearby market to get ingredients; and then we made beef bulgogi, kimchi pancakes and Japchae, which was a birthday cuisine. It was one of my favourite experiences I’ve ever had.

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Some of the food I helped create at the Korean cookery course

In the afternoon I went to Dragon Hill Spa for three hours to relax; I used an ice room that wasn’t cold enough and a heat room at 99C that was so hot that I left in three seconds because I couldn’t breathe. I went to Sinnonhyeon (nr Gangnam) to meet Jihyeon again and her friend Min. We had fish stew for dinner and drinks at a Korean meetup and went a bit awry when Jihyeon kept taking my picture and I counter-attacked by taking hers and we fought for a bit. The last I saw of Jihyeon, we were in 7-11 at midnight trying to eat noodles and said I should take a bus and left me alone at a bus stop in a foreign country.

I took a taxi instead because it was safer and didn’t know which direction the buses were going. It was something that I would never want to do again and something similar could’ve put me into a panic attack.

22nd Sep:  I checked out of my guesthouse but I couldn’t stay long to say goodbye to Seoul because there was a typhoon approaching Busan and I had to arrive in that city before the conditions got worse. Unlike a certain film, I did not take the last train to Busan because of the typhoon; the journey was 3 hours long and the weather changed dramatically. In Busan it was raining heavily and I tried to cut time by taking my suitcase up the subway stairs instead of the lift and I actually tripped carrying a 20kg bag on wet concrete stairs in the pouring rain and cut myself. Never again I’ll try that.

I only left my hotel once for dinner and found another bibambap restaurant that was one minute from the hotel. The bibimbap was around £9 and like the one I ate in Seoul, came with generous side dishes. I didn’t so any further sightseeing because of the typhoon.

 

23rd Sep: I woke up in Busan, bought some pastries and went straight for Yonggungsa Temple, cited “The Most Beautiful Temple in Korea”. I met a local man at the metro station who told me the best way to get there and his advice turned out to be very helpful. I made it to the temple, took lots of pictures, ate street food and returned to Haeundae. That was a coastal resort with many hotels; the markets were good but I was nearly run over by a minivan reversing. I watched the waves for a bit and went back to my area but I made a mistake when I tried to do a shortcut by walking between two metro stations and misjudged it and ended up at Beolim station.

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Behold, the delights of North Korea!

Later I went to Nampo to see the harbour, saw Busan tower, but I felt sore so relaxed at the hotel. I went to an Irish bar to order a beer; waiter came back with one pint, big bowl of crisps, plate of nori seaweed and two pots of sauce. The waiter refilled all the bowls when they were empty but unfortunately he didn’t refill the beer for free. I had street snacks like fried chicken and gyoza and while strolling the markets I almost got soaked from an upturned rain cover.

24th Sep: I said goodbye to Busan and took the metro to Gimhae Airport. I got confused when the baggage attendant said I have to declare my goods before going in the hold but got dismissed by the handling staff. I bought a lot of duty free but not a lot of food because the queues in the narrow shops were long and it wasn’t a good combination for me. From there I left South Korea, ready to embark on the second part of my adventure in Japan.

…which I won’t be discussing right now because this blog took over 2 hours to write. But I really enjoyed going to South Korea for the first time. It felt similar to Japan but one big difference is that the Korean are very generous when it comes to portions of food, infact food is pretty much the foundation of Korean culture and it’s notoriously cheap as well. Although I only spoke basic Korean words, I did meet a lot of Japanese people in Seoul on my travels and found them easier to understand than the Koreans, but that’s only because I know more Japanese than Korean.

Another thing I noticed while I was at the DMZ tour is that I’ve had hordes of asian schoolchildren waving to me and saying “Hello!”, this was something I was going to endure several times on holiday.

Part 2 (Japan) will follow soon…

 

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One of my favourite foods; a katsu cutlet sandwich. It’s known in Japan as a “katsandou” and more popular over there.

 

 

My personal view on 2010-2019

In my next story I’m not going to talk about my holiday in Asia because that’s far too long to write, nor about that time I almost broke down in central London back in March but I’m going to talk about 2019 and in this particular this decade as it draws to a close.

From 2010 to 2019 I have seen a lot change over this decade and in particular myself. From a global perspective you can certainly agree on that one; especially in the UK where we’ve had four general elections and the increased use of social media and the internet makes time seem longer than it really is. But if I want to do that, I have to write another blog as I’m talking about my own experiences on this one because it’s much easier. From my perspective I can simply summarise the decade into three ages, or eras depending on how you personally see it.

2010-2012: Writing my first book while working in a car park and playing on the Nintendo Wii with a blue Dunlop jacket/hoodie

2013-2016: Writing my second book while living away from family and making multiple trips to the countryside

2017-2019: Going to Asia and studying bookkeeping and accounting with new glasses

The reason I split it into those three specific categories was that firstly I lived in a different house in each “era”, although it’s not entirely accurate because I didn’t move on the 31st December 2012 but I moved with my mother temporarily around the 12th December and moved somewhere else on the 3rd March 2013 to a room in a shared house. Also my clothes were more consistent with the eras because I wore the blue Dunlop coat from 2009 and discarded it around 2013 and replaced it with a black waterproof that I’ve used ever since as a winter coat. I also have a green hoodie that my sister bought me in 2015 and only used regularly from 2017 to today and wear it often to the point where it’s my official spring/autumn coat.

I don’t have a favourite year for this decade but to help things out I try to summarise each year and pick out the good parts and bad parts. For personal reason I will not share anything that I or my family find very sensitive apart from one event in 2012. So here goes:

2010: I started the year unemployed and depressed. After encountering several problems that involved work and the DWP, I found my first proper job at the end of the year. I also volunteered at a furniture shop at the same time and joined a local club in an attempt to make friends. My first niece was born as well.

2011: With a full time job, I started to travel abroad independently for the first time by going to Jersey for one week. I also bought my first laptop which I am still using today. The first news event that comes to my mind is the Arab Spring riots.

2012: I went on more holidays abroad but December was an anticlimax because I had to move out of my house of 13 years and a family member passed away so it was a terrible month. I went to Prague, Amsterdam and Cork, Ireland.

2013: I had my own space when I moved into a room in a shared house. It felt like I had my own house but the feeling soon wore off. I went on five holidays and quit my volunteering job at the furniture shop. I also had my first book (The Idiot of Lord Nelson) published, while writing the second book.I went to Brussels, N.Ireland, Dublin, Warwickshire and Copenhagen/Sweden.

2014: I had several problems at work and started to feel depressed and trapped. I spent most of my Fridays visiting the countryside. On the upside a lot of global dictators had succumbed or passed away in this year. I went to Ireland and Berlin.

2015: I started wearing contact lens and was overjoyed when I found a new job. Another climatic event occurred when my mother and stepdad got married and I had to give my mother away. I tried online dating for a few months and gave up. I also tried to arrange monthly pub nights with a social club in order to get a close circle of friends. I went to Switzerland, Ireland and Spain.

2016: I was getting used to my new job and went on two huge holidays with my family that year; the best being three weeks in USA and Canada. After some thinking with family I decided to consolidate my second book with The Idiot of Lord Nelson and republish it. It’s still on Amazon if you want to buy it. A lot of celebrities passed away in this year which made 2016 grimmer than the last year. Also I did not expect Brexit to happen either, just like the presidential election. I went to Ireland, Canada and the USA.

2017: I felt that I was wasting my time at work so I enrolled in a part time accounting course for two years. I also become the first person in my family to travel to Japan for the first time. The only downside for this year was that I was repeatedly bullied and harassed at work. My twin sister has her first child.

2018: I continue my studying and get a qualification. I spend most of the year trying to plan another trip to Asia. Halfway through the year I get a transfer to a better and less stressful position at work that becomes permanent. I started joining a meet up in London after my holiday because I learned a substantial amount of the Japanese language and did not want to waste it.

2019: I was in the last year of my accounting studies and almost had a few mental breakdowns earlier this year over trying to achieve several things at the same time, such as study time, holiday planning, learning languages and being invited to too many outings. I managed to pass my accounting course completely, visit Korea and Japan (for the third time, meeting Japanese friends I met in London); got two people dating together, orchestrate a 30th birthday party and plan a Christmas party.

 

My least favourite year was 2014 because of problems at work and another problem that I found worse was that I stopped keeping contact with people I met from a voluntary job in a furniture shop (whom I thought were friends) because they stopped replying to my messages and stopped contacting me as well. That made me very sad and lonely because I considered them to be close friends because they were very friendly, knew them for 3 years and had their numbers as well. One of these people actually lives 5 minutes away from my house but feel it is best not to see her because I still despise her and I might end up with a negative encounter*. It also put me off from being nice to people because I did not feel like getting attached to people and making new friends because they would disappear and stay with their own close circle of friends. It would also explain why I don’t miss people because I’ve seen so many people come and go I do not want to become socially or emotionally attached to them.

One of the reasons I started doing pub outings with autistic people in 2015 was to try and build a circle of friends and feel less lonely. I would say that it’s had a 50% success rate. I have made new friends from doing this along with other people but I fell out with people I’ve invited as well. I don’t do pub outings every month because simply I don’t want to and I’ve no legal obligation to do so (despite meeting people who think I do); but I’ve made friends who haven’t disappeared and at least one of them is actually constructive and invites me out to his outings which I am grateful for.

If you want to know my most favourite year it would probably be 2015, followed by 2011 and 2016. I chose these years because these were when I had the least problems. But in 2015 I changed my job, (I thought was impossible), tried on contact lenses which meant I didn’t  need to wear glasses all the time and my mother got re-married so it pretty much like a new chapter in my life was beginning. I would say that 2019 has been my favourite next to 2015 but it hasn’t finished yet so it doesn’t really count.

If you look on a global scale (and not mine), 2019 has been an unstable year in terms of politics and the environment. I’m not going to point any fingers at anyone but if you want to help reduce the effects of climate, there need to be less people on the planet, less red meat production (I say production because even if we boycott eating red meat it won’t necessarily stop production taking place unless there is major legislation passed , eliminate coal mining and reduce short haul flights that don’t have enough passengers booked.

Anyway to see off 2019 here are some pictures:

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This was from Bruges in 2011, my third independent travel
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Me in Prague back in 2012
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Me in 2015 at my Mum’s wedding
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An obligatory picture of Japan; I put this one up because I never thought I could make it to east Asia by myself, let alone the first person in my family to do so.
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This was from my holiday in South Korea this year. I don’t know why I took a picture of this; I could say you should always put your best foot forward.

 

Using the Lilliputians to explain your experiences

As I haven’t wrote anything to this blog in a while I thought I would like to share some more personal experiences.

My bad moments of the week in brief:

  • I felt like strangling a man lining up at my work because he accused myself of cutting in line of an untidy queue to a canteen. I don’t think anyone else had any idea what the queue was for because most people thought they were queuing for one specific meal and other people were cutting in front of myself to go to other meals.
  • Anyway I was in a very bad mood after that and a day later I felt like strangling a rude kitchen porter as well with a length of rope as well before ordering an angry mob to disembowel him. That shows you how much I can’t control my stress.
  • I damaged my toe yesterday when it got caught under my foot when playing badminton. I thought I’d like to share that just to show you how clumsy I can be.

Anyway I have autism, work full time and people think my life is just dandy. When I’m at work I feel that I stand out because of this, but to other people in my workplace, they would probably think that I would stand out, but not for the same reason. But when I go to a club or an event for adults with learning disabilities, it’s a bit different. I do meet those who have the same conditions as myself but sometimes I would get a complex that can be likened to the book “Gulliver’s Travels” where I’m in another setting completely surrounded by adults with disabilities, but stand out because my condition, personal ethics and level of self-independence is on a different level to the majority of those disabled adults.

An example of this happened last Wednesday where I went to a monthly club for adults with difficulties and disabilities. I met a few of my friends there who were of a similar age, quite relaxed and I was able to have a good conversation with them. The rest were men and women in their fifties who were slightly more severe and were the kind of people who coughed without neither covering their mouths nor apologising. Personally I would tell them off for doing this but because I know they are disabled, I can’t because this would turn into a bad situation with the person accusing me of bullying them.

There was another moment where a man and woman were helping themselves to some snacks that I bought in. They did not ask anyone who the snacks belonged to but when I told the woman that the snacks are mine and they are for everyone to share, she got annoyed and being me of being rude, while she was still munching on my snacks. Luckily I didn’t get as angry as I did at work because I have met her before and let’s say she is the type of person who would interrupt a group of strangers talking at a bus stop and start huffing and moaning about something irrelevant.

If you look at the last two paragraphs and compare with the bad moments at the start of this post, you can see a small comparison to the scenarios. For example look at bad moment 1), me at the club talking to the lady eating my snacks and the man at work telling me “I think you’re in the wrong part of the line for the chicken”. I did not speak to the man or accuse him of being rude but I did get angry because it felt like the man was trying to scold me like a child.

With bad moment 2), I was angry at the kitchen porter because he was very rude and had no manners at all. Also I couldn’t tell if this person was rude because either he had learning disabilities (in relation to my experience at the club; or he had a lack of judging how his behaviour would affect other people, some autistic professionals call it being “mindblind”), or he was just a very nasty person.

You might see why I used Gullivers Travels as an example; Gulliver felt like he was above the Lilliputians both physically and mentally but when he was in Brobdingnag (the land with the giants), his perspective flipped completely.

In my next story, I will another personal experience that happened in March…

 

Bulgaria in 5 days (Part 2)

In this chapter I will discuss the rest of my time in Eastern Europe with some, but not too much detail. To leave Ruse and travel to Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, I had to take a four hour coach journey. The reason why I did not take the train is because in Bulgaria they are infrequent and very slow so if I did take a train to Sofia, it would’ve taken up to seven hours.

Ruse did have a train station but it was stuck behind an oversized concrete building (obviously built in the Soviet era) and did not have any signs nor had people around it which made it look vaguer. The petrol stations were more distinctive in Ruse just because the town’s other amenities did not look as I expected them to be. (The coach station was hidden behind a row of cafes)

I bought my coach ticket to Sofia online a month early to avoid any problems I would face but I knew that something wrong would happen eventually. I went to a ticket kiosk (all the signs were in Cyrillic) and I showed my ticket to an old lady to validate it. She hissed, checked the ticket, used her phone and handed back the ticket and that was when I started to get anxious. I had only 10 minutes to fix this problem but before I asked someone, a Bulgarian English teacher called Irina asked if I needed help and spoke to the old lady. She told me in English the ticket was valid but the only lady needs to validate it once I got on the coach.

Irina’s friend showed me the correct coach I could use (which was helpful) and her mother (called Elena) was on the same coach so she helped me as well. I sat next to Elena on the coach which I was half-comfortable with and she was actually half Italian which meant she also spoke Italian but not a lot of English. Halfway on the coach we stopped for a 20 minute break and I parted ways with Elena before the coach moved again. The coach stopped again at a town called Pleven and that was when I had another big problem. The old lady who validated my ticket earlier did not assign myself a seat and a woman turned up and claimed I was in her seat and this gave a driver a problem as well so they sent me to another seat next to a man. The man spoke English and his name was Radko and we watched the scenery into Sofia which wasn’t bad at all. It turned out that Radko lived 5 minutes away from where I lived back home and worked as a local pizza delivery driver. When we got to Sofia, he showed me which tube station to get off, missed a train and parted ways.

My hotel was a 10 minute walk from Sofia city centre, which had a mosque, Orthodox church and synagogue all a five minute walk from each other. Just like Bucharest, this city had trolleybuses as well. I had two full days to spend in Sofia and my first attraction to visit was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia’s primary landmark according to the tourist leaflets that I picked up at the hotel. I took a few pictures of the cathedral and felt like going inside until I saw a coinbox and an elderly local guarding it which meant I had to pay to enter and try to converse very badly with the person so I gave that a miss.

Another attraction that I wanted to see was a cemetery filled with Soviet artefacts that were picked from the communist regime. I took a metro line south east to the area, walked around a housing estate with a bad map of the area and found the place, except it was hidden behind a private housing estate. I could see a huge concrete hammer and sickle behind metal railings but I couldn’t see an entrance; the only one was behind a barrier to local flats guarded by locals so I got anxious again and went back to the capital.

I went to see the church of Saint Sofia (where the city got its namesake), the church had a really interesting underground area where you could walk along the original foundations of the church that were constructed over 500 years ago and also explains how the Ottoman Empire almost wiped it out of existence as well as the original name of the city (Sredets).

After lunchtime it started to rain and I walked to the train station to see if I could take a train to Vratsa the next day. That visit did not pay off at all because I found out that staying in Sofia was 100% more convenient and less stressful planning a 2 hour train trip to a Bulgarian village I only knew about because I had a Japanese friend who went climbing there last year. So I left the station, walked past hundreds of coach tour operators, had a slice of pizza and relaxed at the hotel.

Later that evening I walked around the south of the city centre, saw the National Palace of Culture (another oversized Soviet structure) and wandered around aimlessly before I overcame my anxiety of going into a restaurant by myself.

I spoke to the receptionist about scenic areas near Sofia and she recommended going to Vitosha mountain. So the next day I left early and set off for the central metro station. I really liked the central metro station because it contains historical foundations and artefacts they dug up while constructing the station and instead of moving them, they built around them. I’ve shown two examples below, this one was in a subway, not a museum.

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The tourist information was hidden behind these foundations so it took myself three times to find it. The guide behind the desk was very helpful and showed me which buses to take to Vitosha; I took one trolleybus to the outskirts of Sofia, bought some lunch and took a bus to a village close to the mountain.

The walk up the mountain was very pleasant but I must say I was not properly equipped for the ramble. I didn’t have a backpack, a detailed map of the mountain and I kept checking my pockets every five minutes to ensure that I hadn’t lost anything. There was an old couple and a young couple walking up the same route but several yards ahead of where I was. I did not feel comfortable confronting them while I was on my own and another thing I didn’t want was to overtake them several times on the mountain path as that would lead to awkward conversations, so I held back. The walk up the mountain to the waterfall took over an hour and a half and on the way there was a good viewpoint of Sofia which had a local sunbathing on a rock overlooking a valley. On closer inspection I realised that the man was naked and hurried off before he saw me. According to the map I found the waterfall although it was much smaller than I expected it to be and had my lunch there. I took several pictures and made my way back to Sofia using the same route, meeting several other ramblers on the way, which meant conversation was unavoidable.

I took the trolleybus back to Sofia, had a slice of pizza and relaxed at the hotel for a couple of hours. I went back to the city centre, saw the National Palace of Culture again, saw a few wild dogs at a park, found a Soviet monument that hasn’t been removed by the city and walked through the main promenade aimlessly, looking for something to eat. I had chicken yakisoba and a local beer in a Korean restaurant, not far from my hotel.

The next morning I had my last Bulgarian breakfast, packed up my souvenirs, took pictures of my room and left the hotel one last time. Before I took the metro the airport, I wasted around 20 minutes trying to take a selfie in front of Sofia’s buildings before changing my mind because I do not like taking pictures of myself. I took one last glance at Sofia, bought some obligatory souvenirs like gin and chocolate before leaving Bulgaria. My favourite part of travelling home was probably the Stansted Express section because it passed the beautiful Lea Valley Park and it made me wonder I haven’t taken a chance to actually go there.

Overview of the trip

Overall I was initially anxious about going to Romania and Bulgaria for the first time and I knew that I was going to face some social problems while I was there but it was just curiosity that bought me there; and maybe Soviet remnants from past times. In terms of having a good time over there I had to work harder compared to being in Western Europe as most of the tourist amenities are easy to find and use, finding such things in Bucharest was much harder compared to Sofia and the staff were very friendly and fluent in English, despite the information kiosks being hidden underground and next to metro stations so it was very easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the ticket barriers, thinking that the kiosks were in the station. (No, this did not happen to me, but I accidentally scanned my ticket on the wrong side of the turnstile, so I had to buy another ticket)

Travelling around London and western Europe nearly built up a false perception that every city had clear directions, tourist information and a transport system that could be quickly understood by anyone on this planet. Apart from the map I picked up at my hotel in Sofia, all the maps I used were printouts just incase such help was hard to come by in that part of Europe and that paid off very well.

In my own opinion, if you really want to know what it feels like to be an autistic person, you should try visiting a town in the middle of Bulgaria (or the outskirts of Ruse) with only a small map, a few local phrases and try being a tourist in the area. Train stations that don’t look like train stations, dirt tracks that are international trunk roads and coffee that did not taste like coffee and served with a little paper straw. I think a lot of people take their city breaks for granted in terms of having everything served to them on a plate and everything to go their way, but that’s just my opinion.

If I were to rate each city on my holiday, I would give Bucharest 5/10 due to lack of ******bility (sorry, I forgot what the word was but if you don’t have a tour guide nor a map, you will find it hard to get around and enjoy the city). There were a lot of pizza takeaways in the capital which was nice; and it was a reminder that Bucharest had a lot of Mediterranean influence in the past, the language itself is similar to French/Italian.

I would give Sofia 7/10 due to much easier to get around, the history and geography of the city would impress anyone and the transport is very easy to use and you can buy a one day ticket on all the transport for as little as £3. Some of the buildings were run down as well like in Bucharest but it was concentrated on one corner of the city, unfortunately the northern side of the city close to where my hotel was. Bulgaria’s local pastry banitsa (thin pastry stuffed with white cheese) was tremendously delicious and I ate it for breakfast every morning.

If I were to return to one of these countries I would most definitely visit Bulgaria, but this time go to Plovdiv and Varna, where they have an abundance of historical bits such as obsolete Soviet structures that are still standing in obscure places. I would like to go to the coast as well but not Sunny Beach, maybe perhaps Sunny Beach until degenerate Englishmen turn it into Benidorm 2. I think I’ve said enough now…