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January 2018

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Osaka & Kyoto: A Japanese Folktale

This post is sponsored by Osaka Guesthouse Hive. We are so thankful for the hospitality they showed us during our recent trip to Japan! If you are heading to Osaka and looking for a fun hostel, we recommend checking out their website.

There are some questions that frequent travelers get asked all the time:
“How do you find the time for your trips?”
“Isn’t traveling expensive?”
“How do you stay safe?”
And “What has been your favorite country?”

The last one is always hard to answer because every country is so different, it’s hard to really compare them. Instead of naming one, I usually have a short list of several that span from Iceland to Vietnam.

Our most recent long holiday added another to the list: Japan.

Once you share a favorite, the next question is usually “Why?” This is even harder to answer – how can you understand the energy of a place without experiencing it yourself? It’s tough to explain.

There was something about the landscapes, people, and culture of Japan that I just loved.

As regular readers have undoubtedly noticed, I am fan of myths and legends. This delightful Japanese folktale about two frogs somehow encompasses a lot of what I appreciated about the country if you can read between the lines.

The story begins with the two frogs living separate lives – one is in Osaka and one in Kyoto. They are strangers. In fact, neither has ever left their own hometown.

But they both want to – they have a curiosity about the rest of the world and long for a bit of adventure.

So on the same day, they both come to the same conclusion. It’s time to embark on a journey. The frog from Osaka decides he will start walking in the direction of Kyoto, the second frog will head down to Osaka. They are on the same path heading toward each other.

Of course, they meet halfway. As most solo travelers can relate to, they are excited to meet a like-minded friend. So they take a break to talk to each other and share their stories.

And as most first-time travelers can relate to, they haven’t always had a smooth journey so far. They are asking big questions.

Questions like, “will this really be worth it?”

“How do we know that our destinations will offer us anything we can’t find at home?”

“Can we get a guarantee that the cost and time and effort won’t be regretted at the end of all this?”

So one frog comes up with an idea. He will stand on his back legs and lift up the other frog on his back legs, allowing him to look in the direction of Kyoto. Then he can see where he is going and decide if he still wants to continue.

The plan works. Except – neither frog realizes that they are actually looking backwards while on their back legs.

The frog from Osaka, believing he is seeing Kyoto, actually sees his own home.

“It’s exactly the same!” He says, disappointed. “There is no difference at all!”

The other frog gives it a try.

“You’re right! What’s the point?”

And both frogs shrug, grab their bags, and turn back home. Their desire for travel is gone because they have come to believe that there is no variety in the world; that every place is the same.

In reality, Kyoto and Osaka are two very different cities, despite being quite close to each other (we stayed in Osaka but took a quick train ride to Kyoto for the day).

From my point of view, Osaka was more industrial, and it had a very prominent political history to explore. Kyoto is more well known for its spirituality, with its top attractions being several famous shrines. People love Kyoto for beauty and traditionalism. Osaka is more fun and modern.

But the point of the fable above is that you cannot really know either city, or any city, in Japan or the world, without experiencing it closely for yourself. If you try to find a shortcut to the benefits of travel (whether it’s the opinion of a friend, a book, or even the view from a distance), you will cheat yourself out of a genuine experience and you will find that you adopt many mistaken beliefs.

So now it’s your turn to answer the hard questions: What is your favorite country and why? And if you’ve been to Kyoto and Osaka, how would you compare them?

The Airplane Plea!

The modern age is full of so many technological advances. Drones are flying around taking breathtaking pictures. Our phones can do nearly anything we dream of, they practically cook our dinners for us every night and tuck us into bed. So we just have one question.

How is flying still so shit?

Surely there is some way, any way, airlines could make the flying experience at least 1% better.

Here are a few areas we believe could use some improvement.

1. Seat Reclining

Let’s just ban it – remove the button!

Can’t we make all the seats the same, along with making them more comfortable? There’s always that one rude twat on every flight who thinks they are the only one flying. We’re all suffering here, and we should do what we can to make it a better experience for everyone. There is already such little space without the person in front of you reclining their chair.

Solution – Give everyone the same seat at the same recline, and don’t give us the option to change it.

 

2. Water Availability

Even in the best of circumstances, no one should go hours upon hours without adequate hydration. And airplanes are not even the best circumstances. They are dry, and passengers find themselves thirstier than ever.

So jacking up the prices of microscopic water bottles is a terrible and greedy practice. If the water can’t be free (which it should be, considering how much we pay for flights to begin with), it should at least be reasonable.

Recently we were on a Thai Air Asia X flight from Bangkok to Osaka (5 hours plus), and for a small water bottle we paid 9x what we would have paid on land.

Solution – Just give people some bloody water!

 

3. Smelly People

I’m currently writing this blog post whilst on a 6 hour flight from Seoul to Bangkok on the dreadful Eastar Jet. It’s two hours in, and I can’t take much more of this man next to me. Why? Because we’re so close to each other, I can’t escape the stench of his breath. I mean you’re on a flight filled with other people, and personal space is nonexistent here. Please brush your teeth beforehand!

Solution – Offer mints or a toothbrush with toothpaste.

 

4. WiFi

Most flights claim to offer WiFi nowadays. As they should, because it’s 2018, the internet is everywhere else, and we all rely on it in so many ways.

But despite these claims, the WiFi very rarely works. We always try, and we’ve only been successfully connected once. That lasted 5 minutes before we were asked to pay a huge fee for another 15 minutes that only came with a handful of limited and slow data.

Solution – Give us reliable and affordable WiFi, please! Don’t advertise what you don’t have.

 

5. The Middle Seat

Getting stuck in a middle seat can turn an already annoying experience into pure torture. Nobody wants it – nobody can even tolerate it!

Why is it a thing? We can think of several alternatives, such as…

Solutions – Make three rows of two seats. Then everyone will have a window or an aisle. Of course, it would take time to update every plane. In the meantime, shouldn’t the middle seaters get some kind of discount?

 

6. Comfort

There really isn’t much that can compare to a long flight. The discomfort is a unique experience – but surely there are some small ways to provide relief. Softer seats? A head rest? Something to lean on?

Solution – Ideally, let’s go for beds for all passengers on all planes!

 

7. The Food

There are two types of airplane food: food that is terrible, or food that doesn’t exist. On land, even cheap fast food or frozen dinners can be good. Why haven’t these cooking innovations made it into the sky yet? Is it because there is no competition from other food vendors?

Solution – Make customer satisfaction a bigger priority when creating the in-flight menu.

 

8. Not being able to pay on card!

On a flight from Melbourne to Bangkok with JetStar, we were offered no free water, no free food, and no free earphones for inflight movies. Of course, all of these are necessities on a flight that is 8+ hours, but when I went to pay they wouldn’t accept my card or the currency I was carrying. It was a very rough flight!

Solution – Planes should be ready to serve at a global level – especially when traveling internationally. This means offering many ways to pay for things like food and water.

 

9. The Wait

Travel days always have a pattern of “hurry up then wait,” and we understand that – but there is one wait that pains us the most and we’d love to see abolished: the wait to exit the plane upon landing. Why oh why does this always take a million years? It is the last thing you want after a flight, especially the ones totaling up to 15 or so hours. You just want to get up and walk.

Was our arrival a surprise? Did the airport not know we were coming? Couldn’t some preparations be made beforehand to speed this process up?

Solution – Analyze this procedure, whatever it is, and find a way to make it more efficient. Hire people who know how to move quickly and competently.

 

10. Checking tickets again, and again, and again…

It’s almost comical sometimes how many times our tickets get checked in the 5 minute span between lining up to board the plane and actually buckling up in our seat. Sneaking on the plane seems unlikely at this stage, to be honest. Everyone has already been through security and immigration – surely just one more check before boarding is all that’s necessary. Is this just to give bored staff something else to do?

There have been times we have been checked at the airport exit, two more times in the passageway, at the bottom of the ladder up to the plane, at the top of the ladder, and then a final check as we near the seats. Seems excessive.

Solution – One ticket check is fine!

 

11. Immigration Lines

Immigration officer must be the worst job in the world, or maybe it has a long list of rare qualifications. Why? Because we’ve never seen a fully staffed team at any airport. No matter how busy the airport or how long the lines stretch, multitudes of empty immigration desks are left empty. WHY?

Solution – Hire more people!

 

12. The Price

And the icing on the cake is that, despite all the horrible things listed above, air travel is so expensive. It’s probably where the majority of our paychecks go after rent. Since we are paying so much, we’d love to see some of these complaints addressed.

Solution – Free flights for everyone! That’s a reasonable request, right?

The SiDash Plane

We had some fun brainstorming what our dream airline would be like – here’s what you could expect:

On this luxurious plane every passenger would pay a budget rate, be greeted with friendly smiles, and receive a gigantic bottle of water upon entering the plane. They will take to their seats, which would more closely resemble beds, and be given a choice of pillows and blankets! The working WiFi password would in the compartment next to the mini TV and complimentary fruit bowl. Staff will cater to every need and provide on meal on demand!

As you can see, our wishes are simple and no one could accuse us of extravagance in the least.

Now it’s your turn – what are your biggest complaints in the air? What’s the worst airline you’ve ever flown with and why? Let us know!

5 Ways We’ve Experienced Christmas Abroad

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, whether they went back home or traveled in some random location.

We spent our break in Japan and South Korea and got back to Bangkok in time for the New Year.

This time of year can be hard for expats and long-term travelers, and it might be one of the few times we really don’t want to be away from our hometowns. But most long-term travelers do spend at least one Christmas, if not several, somewhere unfamiliar out in the world.

We have both done it many times now, and the experience is always a bit surreal and different from the last time.

Here are some of the experiences we’ve had:

We’ve spent Christmas in our “home away from home.”

My first Christmas as an expat was in Guangzhou, China and I didn’t get enough time off to go home or travel. Simon’s first year in Bangkok was the same.

The good news is that 1st year ESL teachers usually have great friends and plenty of enthusiasm for the place they’re living, so the holidays are weird but a ton of fun.

In China, a big group of us found a restaurant serving Christmas dinner and then went to a party that lasted until the wee hours of the morning (even though we had to work the next afternoon).

In Thailand, Simon had the best night out of his life on Christmas Eve and then spent most of Christmas Day trying to recover while forcing down Christmas dinner (which admittedly doesn’t sound great, but he always looks really happy when he’s reminiscing about this).

I’ve spent Christmas with another family.

My next Christmas abroad was in England with Simon’s family. If I’m not with my own family, this might be the next best thing. It was nice to spend the holiday in a more traditional setting with a big tree, a home cooked meal, parents and grandparents around, and plenty of gifts. I was still on the other side of an ocean from my own home, but I felt just as cozy and nostalgic and as ever.

We’ve spent Christmas in the perfect Christmas location.

Another excellent Christmas recommendation for a traveler? Iceland! Everything was covered in snow, decorated just right, and full of holiday spirit. It was just the two of us, but it felt like we had walked into that perfect scene on a Christmas card.

We’ve had a backpacking Christmas.

This year we experienced Christmas with bags strapped to our backs, and although we spent the actual Christmas day in a (weird, empty, slightly pay-by-the-hour-ish) motel in Busan, South Korea, we spent most of our two week trip going from hostel to hostel. Backpacking in Asia couldn’t be more nontraditional, but it is also a very social way to travel – so if you want to feel part of a community rather than alone in a foreign land, this might be the way.

We’ve spent Christmas where they don’t really “do Christmas.”

For many of our holidays abroad, we’ve been in Buddhist or otherwise Non-Christian cultures that don’t really celebrate during this time of year. Decorations are put up, but there is something slightly off about them – whether they are using strange pastel colors or making the characters a bit too cartoonish compared to what we are used to.

The day itself is the most bizarre, as all the shops and businesses stay open and you’ll find everyone just going about their lives as usual. This can be extremely interesting or extremely depressing depending on your attitude.

But no matter where you are, you are likely to find a group of fellow expats and travelers who are determined to celebrate together have an amazing time. In Busan, we holed up in a cozy pub to drink mulled wine and champagne for two days. There were many other foreigners around doing the same. It wasn’t the most traditional, but it was a great time and will make a great memory.

Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? We’d love to hear about your experience! Share with us below.