travel


This country would have to be one of the most repressed I have ever visited, with an extraordinary return of the repressed at all sorts of levels. On the one hand, everyone is impossibly polite, nice, tidy and meticulously rule-abiding. Everyone bows at the slightest meeting. Even on a train, the person wheeling the trolley with food will bow at the end of the carriage before making her way along, offering drinks and snacks. Police officers assist you with the most trivial detail, all the while wearing a huge smile. Everyone drives about 10 km below the speed limit, for fear of breaking the law. And forget about crossing an empty intersection if the pedestrian light is red. Even more, excessive noise is a no-no. You can speak on a mobile phone in a train only in vestibule of each carriage. Hotel regulations make a big thing about quietness. Every word is spoken softly.

At the same time, Japan has one of the largest prostitution industries in the world. Worth an estimated 10,000 billion yen a year, it is in your face – so to speak – everywhere you turn. In grocery shops, leaflets advertising local services can be found. If you live in the country, your letterbox will be full of such leaflets. But call it prostitution. Ah no, is it ‘health delivery’, or ‘soapland’, or you can engage in a ‘romantic’ getaway in a ‘leisure hotel (the latter are a cheap way to travel in Japan). Keep in mind that prostitution is technically illegal in Japan.

However, you don’t have to go that far to see such repression and its release at work. Take the toilets in a standard hotel. They all come with a curious panel of buttons on the side:

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Initially, I ignored such devices, but then I became intrigued. How do they work? I tried pressing the buttons, but to no avail.

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However, after sitting upon such a toilet a few times, I noticed that the green light went on (square button) after some water noises. I then pressed the ‘bidet’ button. At this moment, a phallic like tube emerged from the back of the toilet:

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And before you know it, a stream shoots right up your anus:

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Now let me be clear, such a photograph is not possible until after sitting down, pressing the appropriate buttons and waiting for that tingling feeling down below:

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In fact, it requires significant dexterity to leap up from the seat while one’s underside is being doused, aim the camera and take a shot before the stream stops. After numerous attempts, I became somewhat damp, but now I wanted to try the ‘shower’ button. What would that do?

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Yes, this one was for the ceiling, since it shot almost straight up with significant force:

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As I said, Freud would have wet himself with excitement over all this. Return of the repressed – and how. But as I dried off, I also realised that Japanese cleanliness goes a long way, since it seems to me that anyone who uses such a device cannot help but having one’s whole internal system washed clean.

Forget the propaganda about the Shinkansen (‘new trunk line’) trains in Japan. Images and stories would have you believe they are sleek, aerodynamic things that race about this tiny country at high speeds. Not true, for they actually look like this:

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Obviously, they travel at very high speeds, occasionally hitting 40 kilometres per hour.

Earlier this week I had to get from China to Japan. Since flying is a crap way of travelling, I took a ship from Shanghai to Osaka. Two days it takes, across the East China Sea.

The ship was the Suzhou Hao:

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Simple and with none of the silly additions, like shops and multiple restaurants. We had one dining hall, where everyone ate the same food:

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My cabin was exceedingly simple:

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We made our way out the the busiest port in the world, at the mouth of the Chang Jiang (Yangze):

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Only to join a flotilla of ships leaving and entering the port:

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Meanwhile, I made sure not to take the slipper on deck and keep my fingers attached to my body:

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Night at sea is one of my favourite experiences, so I make sure I am on deck when everyone has gone to bed:

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Or perhaps sunrise at sea is the best:

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Later that morning I became entranced by the passing water:

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Although I took to heart the warning not to become too entranced:

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Especially in light of a curious pair of shoes on deck:

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Or did he have the same strange desire to take a ride in one of these?

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Then we had our first sighting of Japan – always a thrill in a new place:

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The Japanese even sent out a fleet of welcoming vessels … or were they a warning, especially since Chinese people are not allowed to travel in Japan on their own?

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Up between the southern islands we went, with another day of sailing:

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Then it was all hands for the arrival in Osaka:

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Arriving in a new land by sea is like a wary kiss – after a patient approach – and then a slow embrace:

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2,500 km over two and a half days – from Newcastle to Cairns in the tropical north and all the way in a regular train seat. One of the best rail journeys in a long time. A few highlights, from the journey and around Cairns itself (Kuranda to be exact). It was on the old Sunlander, which is being ‘retired’ at the end of the year, after more than 60 years of service.???????????????????????????????

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In Kuranda and hereabouts, it was difficult to decide on the best of the many highlights:

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A new travel story story – of sorts – over at Voyages on the Left. This one follows Joseph Stalin, or Osip as the locals called him, to the Arctic Circle in Siberia: ‘A Sign of Intelligence.’

On my recent overnight flight from China to Australia, I found myself seated in a row of four with two seats free and a woman at the other end of the row. Dinner was eaten, a movie watched and then each of us sttempted to get comfortable for the night. We tried to stretch out on two seats each, without much success. So I suggested she stretch out her legs and lie against the seat backs and I would stretch out in reverse and lie down in the remaining space. So we were able to lie down at full stretch, heads at either end of the row of four seats. I found a pair of smelly socks close to my nose, my consolation being that my socks were even more aromatic beside her nose. But I soon fell asleep. Some hours later I woke to find my hand resting on her somewhat ample thigh. I sheepishly removed it and smiled a good morning.

I was not quite sure what to expect: a slap or a kiss good morning. Instead, she was keen to talk and asked me what I did. I mentioned writing on Marxism and religion, researching in Australia and teaching in China, my children, travel etc. She, it turned out, was the head of a major company, married and with a brood of children. To top it off, she was a fundamentalist Christian who had found the command to obey her husband immensely helpful – she told me with Bible in hand. She was used to calling all the shots, so it was a relief to be able to let him do so some of the time. So on we chatted until the plane landed. But neither of us mentioned my wandering hand or her thigh. At least it broke the ice.

Recently the Australian Tourism Board posted a sample of the questions potential visitors ask before coming to Australia, along with answer from the tourism board (copied below). However, I have one to add that may possibly trump them:

Q: Where does the sun rise in Australia?

A: In the west – the world spins the other way here.

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Original list:

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia ? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (UK).

A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

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Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)

A: Depends how much you’ve been drinking.

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Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney – can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)

A: Sure, it’s only three thousand miles, take lots of water.

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Q: Are there any ATMs in Australia ? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane , Cairns , Townsville and Hervey Bay? (UK)

A: What did your last slave die of?

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Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (USA)

A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe. Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not … oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.

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Q: Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)

A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.

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Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia? (UK)

A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do…

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Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA)

A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is … oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

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Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia? (UK)

A: You are a British politician, right?

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Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (Germany)

A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers. Milk is illegal.

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Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)

A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.

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Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia , but I forget its name. It’s a kind of bear and lives in trees. (USA)

A: It’s called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

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Q: Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)

A: Yes, gay night clubs.

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Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)

A: Only at Christmas.

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Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)

A: Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first.

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