Friday, August 1, 2008

Tokyo Sojourn (Part I) - Intro & Sights

Note: My Tokyo Sojourn entry will have to be broken up into X entries (X stands for unknown variable as I don't know how many this will spin into..haha). But just enjoy reading the first part of many, many parts lah!
Where do I begin... let's start off with the itinerary of the trip (in Chinese - this is a tour from China what!)

I've always hated group tours as it's always touch and go, highly inflexible, food sucks, and you have to wait for late-comers (a big problem for this group!), but since it's a company trip anyway, so boh bian, follow tour like majiam Nam Ho elderly people's tour lor.

I will load all my pix onto an online album soon enough, but wanted to highlight some of the areas/pix of the trip first:

First of all, we had to gather at 5:30 am (I kid you not) at the office for the arranged transport to the airport. With the #$%^ Olympics around the corner, international outbound travelers have been advised to reach the airport at least 3 hours in advance for security clearance, so I had to drag myself out of bed at 4:45 am just to catch a 9:30am flight! Luckily I was rewarded with my breakfast meal of a Musroom Swiss Burger from Burger King at the airport. There are NO BKs in Beijing, and the only outlet opened at the airport only a few months back, so yes, I AM deprived!

He just goes on...and on..and on...

After a 3h 15m flight (Japan's an hour ahead of us), we reached Tokyo safely, to be greeted by the local guide (a Taiwanese who has been in Japan for the past 33 years). Mr. Ping Chuan is actually very "on" and enthusiastic, but he has a mole on top of his lip, which according to old wives' tale, means he is VERY talkative. He could talk non-stop for 1.5 hours (I had to raise my hand and tell him we wanted to rest at one stage, and that was when he shut up..but he continued talking to my colleagues in front - grrr...). Also, he is sibeh cheong hei (long-winded), he can repeat the same information 8,888 times over (e.g. out of the 4 times you go to Mt. Fuji, you will be lucky to spot it clearly once / pls bring along your long-sleeved clothing for Mt. Fuji / the traffic regulations in Japan are very strict / he has been a tour guide for the past 26 years / and other wu liao things that he went on about...).

Being from Taiwan, his Mandarin was also heavily Hokkien-accented, for example, he will say "hui ji chang (机场)" instead of "fei ji chang (机场)" (airport); say "hu shi shan (士山)" instead of "fu shi shan (士山)" (Mt. Fuji); say "hua lv (哗律)" instead of "fa lv (法律)" (law/regulation)...we had a hoot laughing about it (I was thinking "Today we see 护士山Nurse Mountain, when are we going to see 医生山Doctor Mountain then???")

Knowing we have such a tight itinerary, he always refuses to finish giving instructions (like where to meet/what time) before getting down the bus, instead preferring to lead us as a herd to a certain point after getting down, and then talking the same crap he did before letting us go around - this is a photo of me being pek chek (irritated/exasperated) with him for eating into my precious shopping time!

But as I mentioned, he is very enthusiastic lah, and was very attentive and caring, knowing that I am pregnant. There is another colleague of mine on this trip who is 3 months pregnant (she had her hubby come along as well), and the tour guide always referred to us as the "三个月和六个月的" (three months and six months), like as if we have no name like that...haha (I had to pretend to be asleep at times when he walked past so he wouldn't ask me the same questions of whether I'm ok..blah blah blah..shudder...). This is us, the two ladies with the babies, hehe...

OK, enough about the cheong hei tour guide and on to the sights of Japan!

Over the few days, we went to places like the below (none of the places covered in the tour required admission tickets, except those that we went to on our own accord...):

Imperial Palace
This is the residence of the Imperial Family, and is a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo. The palace buildings and inner gardens are not open to the public except on Jan 2 (New Year's Day) and Dec 28 (Emperor's Birthday), and there is a stone bridge in front called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge), so named for its spectacles shape. If you can see closely, the various granite stones on the walkway leading to the palace are indication of wealth in those days (the poor had to contend with muddy walkways).

Observatory @ top of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Also referred to as Tokyo City Hall, or Tochō (都庁) for short, this building houses the headquarters of the local government and is one of the tallest building (by roof height) in the city at 243 meters. We went to the observation deck at the 45th floor to enjoy the night view, and of course also enjoyed browsing the small gift stands.
Hakone
We spent a night outside of Tokyo in Hakone, part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park that is famous for hot springs, outdoor activities, natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji. We caught the "pirate ship" on Lake Ashi (Ashinoko)...

...
and also went to The Great Boiling Valley (Owakudani), the area around a crater created in the last eruption of Mount Hakone 3,000 years ago. We could smell the foul and rotten sulfurous fumes and see the smoke emitting from far away (imagine a thousand fart bombs exploding all at once). I did not climb up with the group as I was afraid I could not take the bad smell, so we instead hung out at the rest area with alot of foodstuff and knick-knacks.

They even sold eggs boiled in the naturally hot waters (said to prolong one's life by seven years), and you can see Hello Kitty decked in a black egg shell too!

We also caught the Hakone Peace Park, where sakura trees are planted along the pathway, with the Buddhist Lion Stone (we managed to get a clear view of Mt. Fuji from there!):

(That is all for now, I need to buzz off for the weekend liao...till my next Tokyo Sojourn posting...TGIF!)

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