Mahjong tour 2022 – India

The pandemic has been a real bummer to say the least. But despite all the negatives there has been one amazing thing that resulted directly from this event. I moved to Japan midway through 2020. Like most people around the world, I wasn’t socialising at all. The school I worked for went through large periods of time where the campus was shut so I was working from home and could go several days without interacting with another person face-to-face. This is challenging when you live alone and are a social person.

There were three other women I knew that were also struggling with the isolation so I had a marvellous idea. I had brought with me to Japan my grandmother’s mahjong set. As a girl I had learnt to play with her, Aunty Phyl and Mrs Ogilvie after Mrs Topham became too old to travel and make up the four. I have started mahjong groups in other places previously and decided this might be a good time to start a new one.

So, I floated the idea to Angela, Ari and Srishti. All three women shared characteristics vital to the success of the group.

  • No public transport needed – we all lived in the same building complex and being covid safe was very important to us
  • Single and childless – no pesky interruptions to a weekly commitment from family responsibilities
  • At least one dead parent – something to bond over

In January of 2021 our first meeting took place in my lounge room. Despite being the middle of winter, we had all the windows open and wore masks the entire time. I introduced them to the game and they immediately took to it. “The Masked Mahjongers” were born!

For the next 18 months, our weekly meetings were a life line for the four of us. Something to look forward to in very troubled and uncertain times. In June of 2022 though, two of our members left Japan for good and our group was dismantled. Not to worry though as we have decided to make a yearly mahjong adventure tour. Our first one took place in Srishti’s home of India over Christmas of 2022.

I was particularly excited as I’d never been to India. Myself and Angela travelled to Mumbai together where we met Ari the following day. We then took a car to Pune where we reunited with our fourth at her home there.

The Masked Mahjongers reunited in Srishti’s apartment in Pune

To give you a bit of an idea of the characters amongst the group, here are the player profiles of the “Masked Mahjongers”.

Srishti, our host for the tournament. The most competitive of the four. Known for really only having one hand, The Three Philosophers, which she plays in minor variations for a quick 500 to1000 points. Also known for saying she is nowhere near completing her hand and then going Mahjong after the next two turns.
Catchphrase: “Oh my lord dot com.” (Usually accompanied by a hand gesture we refer to as the one of sticks.)

Ari was the most sceptical about the game at first but was hooked after one session. Known for completing all honours hands on a regular basis although they failed her in India for some reason. The first to acquire her own set.
Catchphrase: “You don’t know me!” (I beg to differ my dear!)

Angie is the keenest player of the group. Would happily play to 2am every time if allowed. She is also the least successful overall although finished up the tournament in India with a convincing win on the last day. Known for occasionally ending up with an extra tile or two in her hand without any idea of how they got there.
Catchphrase: “I’m so hot.”

Our daily dose of mahjong was lively to say the least

The subsequent two weeks were filled with laughs, amazing food, displays of the one of sticks and a lot of crude language. Our tour took us to Goa where between games we enjoyed the beaches lined with restaurant shacks.

After Christmas we had to say goodbye to Ari who travelled back to South Africa to visit her actual family. However Angie and I remained in Pune to celebrate New Year’s with Srishti and her family before heading back to Mumbai.

Celebrating New Years in Pune

Sadly, we finally left and returned to Japan. I did receive one final gift from India however with a violent case of Bombay Belly hitting me in the middle of the luggage carousel area of Narita airport. For the next six hours as my body purged every trace of chicken tikka masala from my digestive system, I reassured myself with the knowledge that now that I’d shat my pants, I could truly say, I’ve been to India.

Next stop on the Mahjong International Tour will be South Africa in 2024!

South Africa here we come!
The final standings after 8 days of competition with four players. Srishti took the honours for most wins!

Last Minute in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

It’s a Wat.  Which Wat, I’m not sure.

I love going on weekend trips that somebody else researches and plans and all I have to do is show up.  I went on such a trip a couple of weeks ago to Phnom Penh that my friend Dianne organised and it was great.  It inspired me to spend a couple of days of my October holiday somewhere.  But as everyone else I knew had already planned trips long ago, I knew I would be doing it by myself.  I’d heard about Luang Prabang in Laos (or is it Lao – I still don’t know), so on Saturday, I booked a trip to leave the following Wednesday.

Here is the sum total of all the knowledge I had of Luang Prabang before going:

  1. it’s in the mountains so the weather is cooler
  2. the town is world heritage listed and really only has one street
  3. there are monks that collect alms in the morning – very early

So keeping this information in mind, I packed my hand luggage bag the night before the trip.  I packed for cooler weather – jeans, long skirts and a jumper.   I double-checked that I had my passport and a credit card in the unlikely event I had forgotten something important.

I was on the plane when I realised I had forgotten my charger for my phone.  This is not a big problem.  I knew I would be able to pick one up probably at the airport since this was a tourist town.  Once I was at the airport, I totally forgot to do this.

Instead, I was preoccupied with getting cash.  I had bought with me enough US dollars to get the visa on arrival but that didn’t leave me with much more so my first priority was to find an ATM and get some more dollars.  For some reason, I thought that the system in Laos was similar to Cambodia and the ATMs would spit out US dollars so I panicked when the ATM gave me options in a currency I had no idea about.  The local currency is Kip.  I had no idea what the exchange rate was for a Kip so I picked a random number and withdrew that amount.  Later in the hotel when I finally had wifi and could check the exchange rate, I discovered that I’d probably withdrawn enough for a couple of weeks rather than a couple of days.

Silver lining #1 – now I’m sorted cash-wise for my next trip to Laos!

Luang Prabang

Main street of LP

Once leaving the airconditioned sanctuary of the airport and the transfer vehicle to the hotel, I was hit by the sweltering midday heat.  It reached the mid 30s each day I was there.  This cooler climate that I had prepared for was not happening.  Needless to say, my jumper never came out of the bag but I had to suffer with the jeans as the only other item I had was a long skirt and with the heat, I wanted to avoid chafe issues that have been a blight on previous trips.

Silver lining #2 – although not temperature appropriate my dress did tick the boxes for modesty and being sun safe!

I sweated through lunch at the outdoor restaurant at the hotel whilst my room was being prepared and then spent the rest of the afternoon in the a/c waiting for the sun to go down.  Once it did, I slid on my jeans and took the shuttle into town to find the night market and a charger.  I did find a charger.  It cost 50 000 Kip.  Is this a reasonable price?  Who knows!  But I was Kip rich so I paid it and got out of there.

Silver lining #3 – if I was overcharged, I’m sure the money is going to some Lao child’s education, feeding, clothing or whatever so in the end, money well spent.

My charger wasn’t the only thing I forgot to pack though.  I also forgot to pack my pyjamas.

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 11.47.36 am

There is no silver lining here.  Forgetting one’s pjs is always a disaster.

So now I’ve arrived and survived the first night in LP.  What to do with my remaining two days?  I had been told that seeing the monks collecting alms in the morning was a must do despite having to get up at ridiculous o’clock.  One of the guests at the hotel told me she was doing a full day tour that started with the monks and she was getting up at 4:30am so she could be picked up at 5:15 am.  I said to her she should sleep in her clothes so she didn’t have to get up before 5:00 am.  When working, I get up at 5:00 am.  I don’t want to have to do that on holidays.  So I wrote the monks off.

The next morning I was woken up by some tuneless chanting.  I threw on my bathroom robe and headed out to the balcony of my room which looked over the street and there below me were the monks collecting alms.  Tick!  Two minutes later I was back in bed.

Luang Prabang

Taking a stroll on a bamboo bridge

After a leisurely breakfast, I took one of the free hotel bikes and rode into town in my jeans.  I had a pleasant morning viewing temples, riding around the river and checking out the town.  By midday, my jeans kept sliding down as there was a film of liquid sweat between me and them so I headed back to the hotel and the pool.  On the way back I saw a grown woman squatting outside a shop taking a shit.  It was a busy street but she was unperturbed.  She was just squatting there, over a freshly laid turd, texting on her phone like it was the most normal thing in the world.  Just as she did, I’m going to leave that with you.

The highlight of the trip for me was a sunset cruise on the Mekong river.  I had a table for one but I chatted with a couple from Perth and we made a merry party.  Our departure was delayed after I ordered the last glass of white wine on the boat so the manager had to run back into town for another bottle.  Two Perth ladies and only one glass of SB was not going to work!

Luang Prabang

The Mekong after sunset

Luang Prabang

The Mekong just before sunset

On my last day, I fell down the stairs as I was heading to breakfast.  I twisted my ankle badly and my foot is very swollen.  I still made it to breakfast but I spent the rest of the time before my departure in my room watching bad American tv with my foot up on a pillow.

Silver lining #4 – I actually wanted to spend my last morning just watching junk tv in the a/c but felt guilty about not getting out and about.  Being crippled meant that the guilt went away!

Some people think that when it comes to travelling, preparation is key.  I disagree.  I think preparation runs the risk of ruining a good story!

TZ and JoJo tour of Ghana 2019

The absolutely worst part of travel is the journey. And there are very few less comfortable trips than traveling from Perth to Nandom. Three planes totalling 20 hours of flight time plus the addition of another five hours or so waiting in various airports gets you to Accra.

Before I even left for Ghana, the journey proved tricky as I didn’t organise the so-called visa on arrival far enough in advance which meant I had to cancel my entire trip, reorganise flights and arrive two weeks later than originally planned.  Luckily I got away with it at minimal cost due to very cheap flights between Asia and West Africa and refunds for the cancelled flights.

I arrived in Accra, got to my hotel and embarked on my first challenge for the day – getting a bus ticket. Now I start to get back into the swing of things Ghanaian. I take a ‘tro’ (by definition a minivan that is not roadworthy) to Circle. I walk through a bustling market and transportation hub attracting the attention of men wanting ‘to be my friend’ and children wanting a treat. I need to ask directions to the bus station and I remember to greet before asking any questions after the first woman I tried looked at me with disdain. There are many surly women in this country but I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume her displeasure with me was my rudeness in addressing her without a greeting and not her general disposition.

On the way back to the hotel, the taxi driver tried to convince me that I should take him back with me to Thailand at my own cost while overcharging me for the taxi ride. Oh how I have missed the playful banter with Ghanaian men who have never met me before!

The next part of the journey was the bus trip to Wa.  This is a 14 hour (give or take three hours) overnight bus journey.  The buses drive in convoy due to the possibility of robbery and there is an armed policeman on one of the buses.  In the high risk areas, the buses drive by swerving from side to side across the road in order to increase the chance of avoiding an obstruction placed by robbers to stop the bus.  In the low risk areas, the buses still swerve across the road but this is more about avoiding the deep potholes that never seem to get repaired.  I was dreading this trip but it proved more comfortable than I remembered.  A selection of Ghanaian movies was played through the night but not at the ear-splitting volume of my previous trips so I was able to sleep quite well.

A quick side note on Ghanaian movies.  They typically include a lot of shouting, actors using googly eyes and other overstated facial expressions, unconvincing special effects and they consist of multiple parts with each part going for around 2 hours.  Never-the-less, they can be entertaining even if you don’t understand the language!  Got a spare six hours?  Check out “I Want a Rich In-Law” below and you’ll never get those six hours back!

Now back to the bus trip.


Departing 4pm.  Yeah right!

A feature of Ghanaian bus trips is the reporting and departing times.  These are in no way accurate.  You can always add a minimum of two hours on to the so-called departure time and at worst allow for four or even five hours.  I was pleased that my bus left just before 6pm and that I had a good book to read whilst waiting for the driver to finally report and the bus to get loaded with luggage.

Traveling in Africa Tip #1 – be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting.  Always carry a book.

The next day I arrived in Wa which is the capital of the Upper West Region and the biggest city in that area of the country.  It had grown a lot since I was there last but the essentials were the same and I had a lovely visit with Ruby, a fellow former VSO volunteer who now runs her own NGO in the area working on “empowering … women and girls through capacity and enhancement training in functional literacy, water and sanitation, health care, environmental protection and conservation and livelihood diversification in the remote areas of Ghana to contribute in nation-building”.


The amazing Ruby at her home in Wa

With Ruby, I caught up on all the gossip of the region including the fact that just two days before my arrival, the Americans had evacuated all their Peace Core volunteers from the region due to heightened security risks.  I decided not to tell anyone at home this until I was back in Thailand.

Traveling in Africa Tip #2 – your friends and family may become alarmed at the choices you make whilst traveling in a country they have no experience of.   Some things are best left unsaid until you’re back home!

The last part of my journey was to catch a tro to Nandom.  I expected this journey to be more comfortable than the last time I had done it as I had learned that the road was finally paved all the way.  At the tro station for Nandom, I sat with my book (see tip#1) waiting for all the tickets to be sold.  Finally the last ticket was bought and all sixteen of us crammed into the broken down minivan that was built for twelve.

As we were driving I couldn’t help smiling as I passed all the familiar territory on the way north.  I was so looking forward to seeing my old friends once again.  The late Brother Nicholas (the former headmaster of the school I worked at in Nandom) has had a road dedicated to his name in Nadowli and the school he founded there is still operating.  This made me happy as we passed by.  Unfortunately, we passed via the Ko road which is more direct but is still unpaved so my hopes of arriving somewhat clean were dashed.  My Ghanaian skirt was a bit dusty but it still impressed Ben when he picked me up at the station.

Traveling in Africa Tip #3 – wear at least some element of local dress if possible.  People love it and it provides a great talking point too!

On arrival in Nandom, I looked around to orient myself once again.  There were changes but the place was overwhelmingly familiar.  Oh how I had missed it!  Ben drove me to the Guest House where he had arranged for me to stay.  We met up with Doris for a bottle at the Guest House Annex down below.  Then I walked the kilometer from the town to the school.  On the way I met a number of people whom I hadn’t been in direct contact with so were surprised to see me and I felt so terrifically welcomed.  It was a wonderful walk!

The next few days were a whirlwind of greeting, church, greeting, market, greeting, greeting, school visits and more greeting.  At church, I didn’t feel comfortable sitting with the choir I used to belong to as I no longer recognised any of the faces.  I sat a few pews behind them near a man I did recognise called Linus.  He however, was not sure about me.  He knew two white women – myself and Ruth.  Ruth had introduced me to the choir and the church and although I never claimed to being catholic and instead was upfront about being a ‘free thinker’, through her introduction, I was welcomed into that community and it made my experience of living in Nandom that much richer.  Ruth is still famous in Nandom as being the nasapla (white person) that could speak the language as proven when she read at the service on two separate occasions.  So when Linus approached me as we left the church and politely asked me if I was Ruth, I shouldn’t have been surprised!  I said, “No.  I’m the other one.  Merilyn.”  He said “Oh.  How is Ruth?  Is she fine?”  “Oh yes”, I said.  “She is fine.”

Traveling in Africa Tip #4 – white people all look the same.  Expect cases of mistaken identity!

I spent a lot of time in Kogle, a village outside of Nandom, where I visited the grave of my dear friend Basil and the home he had built for Eunice and (black) Merilyn.  Here I enjoyed one of my favourite dishes – TZ with jojo.  Frankly, I can take or leave the TZ but the jojo is really tasty and superbly prepared by Eunice.  I asked Merilyn what her favourite dish is to eat.  It’s rice and beans!  That was one of my favourites when I lived there too and the only dish I still cook outside of Ghana!


The Maaniasie family at their home in Kogle just outside of Nandom


TZ with jojo.  The TZ is made from maize and bean flour and is on the left.  The jojo is made from leaves and groundnuts.  It is eaten by breaking off some of the TZ with your hand and using that to scoop up some of the jojo.  Delicious!

I had some chance encounters during my visit too. I went to meet Lutetia and Georgie-bear for a bottle at one of my old favourite spots and I found Lutetia waiting for me with a couple of her friends. She introduced me to them and one I remembered from living there. I said that I recognised him and that I remembered he was the electrician and I had employed him to do some work for me at the school. He was amazed that I remembered him and he offered to give me his number. I then blew his mind by saying I didn’t need it and proceeded to call him on the number I had saved 10 years ago. He couldn’t believe I had kept the number!


Reuben (the electrician), me, Pius, Christabel, Lutetia and Lutetia’s friend.  I’m sure I’ll be in trouble when I visit next and still don’t know his name!

Another chance encounter occurred when I was sitting under a tree (something I did a lot of) and found the former assistant headmaster of Nandom Secondary School, Samson, (now retired) coaching two contenders at this local game which is an adapted form of draughts.


Samson (middle) giving advice to the two players.

I hardly got to wear my hat.  I got sunburnt on the first day largely because my hat and sunglasses were frequently removed from my possession by both children and adults alike who enjoyed putting on these novelty items.  I don’t think they realise I wear them out of necessity and not purely for fashion.

The longer I was staying in Nandom, the more of the language (dagaare) was coming back to me.  At first I was hopeless and couldn’t even remember how to say good morning properly but it wasn’t long before I was throwing out phrases that impressed all like…

Te bere ayi – two days (means it’s been a long time since we met)
N ba ter sera – I don’t have a husband!
Fo cop be song? – How’s the farm?  (It’s farming season and this went over like gangbusters with the elders I met in the village).

My biggest triumph was at the school though.  My friend Georgie-bear took me to the staff room that was packed with staff only one of whom was working there when I was.  So Georgie-bear explained to the crowd who I was and what I was doing there.  He did this explanation in English as that is the language of the school although the majority of the teachers would speak dagaare as their mother tongue.  I smiled and nodded and answered a few questions in English until it was time to leave when I hit them with “N na zeli ni sore” which means “I am begging my leave”.  The crowd went nuts the way only Ghanaians can go and they declared me a true Nandomi!

Traveling in Africa Tip #5 – couple the local dress with a few well-timed local phrases and you’ll never go hungry (or thirsty) during your visit!

Every trip back to Nandom is tinged with sadness as I condole with families over old friends who have died since my last visit.  As I mentioned earlier I went to the grave of Basil who died in 2017 after complications from a motorcycle accident.  It was with great sadness on this trip that I discovered that Mr Viiru from down below was very sick.  I visited each day I was there with him and his family.  The family had been a great source of advice for me when I was living there and were always happy to include me as part of their family.  I was very sad to hear once I was back in Bangkok that Mr Viiru died on the day I left Accra to head back to Thailand.  I’m very grateful that I got to see and greet him one last time.

Finally, it was time to leave Nandom and head back down to Accra via Kumasi.  This portion of the story will not be accompanied by visuals.  Keep reading and you’ll discover why.

I lived in Nandom between 2008 and 2010.  During that time, I travelled extensively through Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali.  Since leaving in 2010, this was my fourth trip back.  I’ve never had a problem when returning to Ghana and I put this down to a very robust host of gut flora.  Despite this, I normally travel with a range of medications just in case.  However, due to my lack of planning and an over confidence in my ability to eat and drink anything thrown my way, this trip I carried nothing.

Whilst in Nandom I ate fufu (pounded casava), light soup (tomato based soup with meat), TZ and jojo, kose with leaves (small deep fried cakes with onion and leaves added in) and I nursed more than one calabash of pito (locally brewed millet beer).  I was fine.  As I expected I had no problems.  This added to my confidence so that on my last day in the north, just hours before embarking on a 10 hour bus trip to Kumasi, I happily accepted and drank the water offered me in the village.  I knew the water had come from the well and not a treated source but I had been celebrated as a true local for a few days and I had started to believe it.

Traveling in Africa Tip #6 – never drink the water.  No matter how tough you think you are, it is not worth the risk!

I started to feel ill about halfway into the bus journey.  I put it down to travel sickness so when the bus stopped for the dinner break, I thought I would just eat something and that would make me feel better.  Well, it didn’t.

Twenty minutes later, my fried noodles and cabbage made another appearance.  I wasn’t able to access the plastic bag I had in my travel bag quick enough.  Luckily the airconditioning was set to sub-artic temperatures so I had my two yards of cloth laid over me like a blanket and therefore caught most of my dinner.

Traveling in Africa Tip #7 – always carry two yards of cloth with you.  This is a versatile piece of travel equipment and can be used as a blanket, towel, a modesty curtain, a skirt, a pillow or a makeshift bundle in which to hold your stomach contents!

I sat for the next several hours with a bundle of sick on my lap, shivering from the a/c and puking into the plastic bag every 20 minutes or so.  I was miserable but I knew I just had to hang on until we got to Kumasi and I could get to the room I’d booked at a guesthouse.  By this point, I had stopped deluding myself that it was motion sickness.  I knew I had food poisoning from the water and I knew what was going to come next.

We were 20 minutes outside of Kumasi when there was a large bang as one of the tyres exploded and the bus was forced to pull over.  I couldn’t believe my misfortune!  Things were getting desperate and I knew I didn’t have time for a tyre change.  I assessed the situation very quickly and decided to abandon the bus and catch a taxi the rest of the way directly to the guesthouse.  I collected my things from the bus including my devil’s bundle but left the plastic bag of puke tied up under my seat.  It wasn’t a classy move but I didn’t care.

I asked a taxi driver how much it would cost to take me the rest of the way and he gave me a figure that I should have bargained down but I didn’t have the time or the energy.  I said “let’s go!” and my things were put in his boot and off we went.  I think because he knew he had overcharged me and I didn’t look (or probably, let’s face it, smell) well, Prince the taxi man turned out to be really helpful.  By this time it was midnight and my guesthouse was not in a good part of town.  He helped me with my things (not my devil’s bundle though – that was for me alone) and came inside with me to the guesthouse to make sure I was safe.

Traveling in Africa Tip #8 – this tip applies everywhere, not just Africa.  Don’t be afraid to trust strangers when you need to.  People are overwhelmingly good in my experience.  You would be extremely unlikely to come across someone who wouldn’t help you if you were in trouble.

I made it to my room just in time.  Luckily the sink was very close to the loo so I could sit with my arse on one and my head in the other and there I remained for the better part of what was left of the night.  Needless to say I was pretty weak the next day.  Luckily, I had arranged to meet Albert, a fellow ex-Nandom Sec teacher, and he brought me some fruit and rehydration salts.  I would have preferred to have a proper sitting with Albert which included a nice meal and a couple of bottles but I could only manage to sip a lemonade and even then being out in the heat was too much for me.  We only had a short time together but I managed to look chipper in the photo we took on the ride back to the guesthouse.


My angel of mercy – Albert!

I spent the rest of the day sleeping. I woke early the next morning to catch the bus to Accra and then the flight home to Bangkok.  My very last night in Ghana was spent in the company of Ruby, Lina and Ben.  By this time I had recovered enough to eat again and we had dinner at a buffet restaurant although I took it easier than I normally would have at such a place!


It is always a challenge to get Ghanaians to smile in a photo!

My visit is now done, my material that I was gifted or that I bought at the market is at the seamstress in Bangkok and all the pito is out of my system.  All there is left to do is wait for the two week incubation period to go by and hope that malaria does not kick in.  After this trip though, even if I do succumb to the parasite, I have taken precautions!


Not taking any chances!  Quick trip to the pharmacy before leaving Ghana to pick this up just in case!

My Pokemon Go Adventure

When this was released I had to give it a go.  I justify this by the fact that in a few weeks, I’m going to be back teaching a bunch of twelve year olds and it is important that I can relate to them about topics they are interested in.  I’m basically just doing my job!  Being in education is a great way to get away with doing stuff that no self-respecting 42 year old should admit to be doing!

But seriously, where do the coins go?

So whilst I was down in Australia at mum’s place in Lake Clifton, I downloaded the app.  This took a while because mum’s internet connection is not exactly up to Japanese standards.  She lives one hour from the largest city in the state and has no mobile phone coverage unless you stand out the back by the bins and no reliable tv reception without the use of a satellite dish.  Strangely enough though, she gets perfect reception for the community based channels but the no signal error frequently pops up on the big commercial and government channels.  If all she wanted to do was watch Russian state news and informercials about the Wonder Wallet, she’d be set!  (By the way, I don’t see what’s so wonderful about this wallet – where do you keep your coins?)

Anyway, I digress…

My first experience of searching for Pokemon down in LC was very disappointing.  I wandered around mum’s house with the limited internet connection I had and couldn’t find any.  LC is a Pokemon desert.

I tried again the next time I went up to Perth.  In Perth, I could see a bunch of Pokestops on my phone but still no Pokemon appeared for me to catch.  This was a bit weird because my sister then tried on her phone and she was spotting Pokemon everywhere.  I put it down to the fact that I was using the free shopping centre wifi and she was using the real stuff you pay for.  Who knows if that really is the reason but that is the story I’m selling.


Lake Clifton -the middle of nowhere!

Meanwhile I got my revenge as I turned my nephew into a Pokemon nut.  As my phone wasn’t cooperating, he could only play with his mother!  Ha!  In the end, when I returned home to Japan, she told him that I had caught all the Pokemon in Australia and had taken them with me.  It worries me a little that he swallowed this story so easily, even though he is only five.

Harrison Go!

Harrison Go!

I returned to Yokohama on Wednesday and the game has just been released here.  On Thursday, I went for what was supposed to be a 12 km run that ended up being just 9 km as the shock from running in 15ºC and low humidity weather to 28ºC and high humidity, was just too much for me.  I started walking about 3 km from home in the middle of Minato Mirai – the most beautiful and tourist dense part of Yokohama.  As it turns out, it is also full of Pokemon!

Pokemon Go Adventures

68 Pokemon and counting

By the time I got home, I had caught a lot of Pokemon and visited a number of Pokestops along the way.  My favourite being a child’s playground in my apartment complex which comes up in English as being ‘object of ship’.  But frankly, after the initial thrill of catching your first few magikarp and so on, having to stop every five minutes when more Pokemon appear to catch, really ruins a beautiful summer evening’s walk.  But for the first five levels, you can’t do anything else.  It wasn’t until I had reached my apartment complex that I finally made it to level six and the opportunity to put my collected Pokemon into battle at a Pokegym.  Unfortunately, I had also reached the limit of my phone’s battery life and my will to continue with the game.

Pokemon Go Adventures

My closest Pokestop!

Although I had reached a point where I was already a bit bored with Pokemon Go, I decided last night to try to do battle at a Pokegym to see if this next level could reignite my interest.  Luckily, there is a Pokegym very close by my apartment at my local Homes store, so I walked over there on the pretence of picking up a new outdoor light for my balcony.  Once my shopping was completed, I walked over to the canal where the Pokegym was.

I tried to battle one of my Pokemon but couldn’t really work out what I was supposed to do.  In the end I selected run away which then really confused me because I was told I had won the battle!  Not sure how I did that and after three minutes of trying to work it out, I was over it.

Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only person playing at this Pokegym.  There was one other player – a bloke about my age dressed in a suit.  Considering this was a Friday night, I realised that we may be the two saddest individuals in Yokohama and possibly the whole of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area!  I gathered up my shopping, tucked my phone into my pocket and walked home.

So that now completes my Pokemon Go adventure.  I’m not quite ready to delete the app from my phone yet, but I doubt it will be long.  What I am excited about, is what must now already be in development for new location based games for my phone.  Someone somewhere is developing something that is fun, interesting and suitable for sad 42 year olds!

In Niseko…

Near enough is good enough in Niseko

When my name gets put into katakana is looks like this - ウィンスラド  メリリン!
When it gets translated back from katakana to romanji it looks like this:



Naked bath time in Niseko

One thing about travelling in Japan I’m always a little apprehensive about is the shared bath situation otherwise known as the onsen.


Vegemite is in demand in Niseko!

Today I arrived in Niseko.  The town is teaming with Aussies and foreigners in general, just as I expected.  I went to book lessons at the English ski school only to discover they were almost booked out.  The queue at the local shop to pay for your vegemite was around the block.

But at my little, no-frills, Japanese style guesthouse – I am the only guest!  Private bathing guaranteed!


No-frills and no worries in Niseko

My accommodation takes basic to a new level.  The room is an empty tatami room.  I have two wafer thin futons that I have double stacked but I can still feel my hip bones grind on the floor every time I turn over.  They have supplied me with an abundance of pillows however, most of which I have fashioned into a chair so I can watch a movie on my computer in the evening.

On my first night, I discovered that I wasn’t supplied a towel in the room and I didn’t pack one either.  (I can feel my mother’s groan as she reads this!)  I contemplated the drip dry but it is way too cold here for that.  I had to beg a towel from the owner and he said that because I was staying so long he would let me have one!  Phew!


Nearly private lessons in Niseko


Great weather so far. Hoping for some powder on my last day!

Yesterday I had a half day lesson and it was great.  The instructor said I should try the level up the next day so when I went to my lesson today, I explained this to the instructor for level 6 but he didn’t seem too keen in taking me.  In the end I stayed with the level 5 group but I pushed for the instructor to take us off piste and to do a couple of blacks as well.  The two other students weren’t that keen with this and after lunch they decided not to come back.

That meant I had a private lesson that afternoon for no extra money and it was great.  The instructor took me to do more off piste and a big long black too.  It was so much fun!  Can’t wait to scare some people off my lesson tomorrow!  😛

Update – another private lesson in the afternoon today with more off piste tree runs.  Super cool!


No wine in Niseko

I’m still on my alcohol free kick that I’ve managed to sustain since September.  Originally, I had decided to stay on the wagon until Christmas when I would re-evaluate the situation.  I was explaining this to the bar tender last night over my glass of water (straight up, no ice) and some edamame.  He turned out to be a Perth boy and he was both shocked an appalled at my sobriety.  He said if I came back at Christmas he would buy me my wine!

Now I’m really torn because I had almost decided not to break my sobriety after all and push on through to January when I’ve booked the Robot Restaurant for Jazz and co.  But it is free wine we are talking about here!

Update – I’m hanging on until 23rd January!  🙂


Notable quotes in Niseko

After attempting to ski off a ridge amongst the trees and stacking it at the base, I struggled to my feet and my instructor began to laugh.  He said, “If you want to know how hard you fell, take a look at the size of the hole you made!”

I turned and looked at the ginormous, arse-shaped dent in the snow.  I laughed with him but I died a little inside!

No more Niseko

It is time to head back to Yokohama and start recovering ready for my next ski trip in a week’s time.  This time I will be skiing closer to home in Shigakogen with team ‘Over-the-Hilbournes’!  This is a Japanese resort so it will be goodbye to Perth bar tenders and flat whites in the the cafes and hello eating in the hotel because there are no other options, anywhere!  I may get a onesie to blend in better amongst the locals as well!  Goodbye Niseko!


These outfits are for all occasions – skiing by day and sleeping at night.


Image Credits

All images are by merilynw and shared on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A Week in Myanmar with Madrid

What a week!

October break is only a short holiday and normally I can’t be bothered organising anything for such a brief period of time.  Luckily, I know Madrid.  She’s a wonderful organiser and problem solver and was in top form in the lead up to this holiday.  She had a lot of great ideas of places to go and things to see and I was happy to agree to everything she planned as long as it meant I didn’t have to do anything in preparation for the trip.

We worked in perfect harmony together.  Or in actual fact, Madrid worked and I went along with it.

So here are my top ten moments, in no particular order, from Myanmar (with a bit of Bangkok thrown in).

#1  Brunch at the Sheraton in Bangkok


Post lunch tummies on display!

Delicious although I did have a funny tummy from some suspect guava juice I drank at the market earlier in the day.  The facilities at the Sheraton however, were a pleasure to use and abuse.  Three visits and four courses later, I was ready to spend the afternoon having a manicure and a massage.

#2  Finding out we were going to Bagan.

I thought we were going to InLe Lake.    This turned out to be incorrect.  This is also the point when I realised that if I ever got separated from Madrid, I was going to be in real trouble as I had no idea of our flights, hotels or basically any of the plans whatsoever.

#3  Fruit Loops for breakfast

My all time favourite breakie and Kim let me buy a box from the supermarket.  I hope Alex enjoyed the left overs!

#4  Myanmar fashion

I got a bit carried away with ‘longhi’ purchasing.  I bought four in the end and they are all beautiful.  I’ve worn them all to work already!

#5  Burmese food is not my favourite


I don’t know what this is. I just know it is greasy!

We tried a number of items at a number of places but I still have nothing nice to say about the local Myanmar cuisine.  Our best meal was at a Thai restaurant.  Our second best meal was a shared box of sesame and peanut brittle.

#6  Getting a bit too comfortable

On about day 3, I realised Madrid and I had swapped toothbrushes without noticing.  We didn’t speak of this again but continued to use each other’s brushes in total denial.  I threw ‘mine’ out the moment I got home.

#7  Getting Madrid on a scooter


Now that is concentration!

Turns out, she’s a natural!

#8  Massages and manicures

My disco toes were a hit and the shellac on my finger nails stayed on for a month!  The massages were mostly awkward for me but I liked the foot ones.

#9  Sightseeing in Yangon and Bagan

What a cool country.  I can’t wait to go back!

#10  Getting home and still having a whole day of hols left.


Pots on fire!


Sunset in Yangon


Temple in Yangon


Girl selling souvenirs


Home James!

Day twenty-nine – Yokohama

Today I learnt this little gem.  Don’t pack 3 kg of self-raising flour in your hand luggage when travelling through Heathrow Airport.  I was held up in security for almost an hour.

There are no photos for this post.  You can use your imagination instead …


Last Days in London

Day twenty-six – London

Today I travelled back to London and the hospitality of Karen and Kieren.  We attempted to watch Dumb and Dumber 2 but failed to see it through to the end because it was truly that bad.  The Thai takeaway food though was great and so was the company!

Day twenty-seven – Second last day in London

I love the Facebook.  Through the FB, my cousin that I hadn’t seen for years found out that I was in London, contacted me and today we had a really wonderful time catching up and looking at art at the Wallace Collection.


Lunch and chat at the Wallace Collection


Demonstrating the selfie-stick!







Day twenty-eight – Last full day in London

Today I did my final shop (toothpaste, underarm deodorant and self-raising flour plus a couple of impulse buys I couldn’t resist) and met Heather for lunch at the Bear and Staff in Leicester Square.  I then dragged her along to the National Gallery for a free tour.

There was a big crowd for the tour so I told Heather we may need to use our elbows because it was important to stay at the front of the group.  A crotchety old lady carrying her own chair, complained to the guide about me but he seemed to realise I was just joking.


Heather and I soaking up the culture!

After the tour, I sped down to New Eltham for my final go on Disney Infinity.  That is a really fun game and I like playing it with vastly younger than me people!  I had my final dinner and a movie with Kim and Vicky before getting back to London Bridge for my last night’s sleep in the UK.

Finally a big THANK YOU to all the people who kindly put me up over the last month.  You are welcome any time to Yokohama!  They were:

Kim, Vicky and Zac
Simone, Chris and Ella
Mako and Kiyo
Karen and Kieren

Onigiri on a Mountain

Day twenty-five – Still Swansea

Today I learnt how to make another Japanese dish!  I made onigiri, which is the world best food to take on a picnic, with Mako.  Who knew that there was such a culture of Japanese cuisine in Wales!


The finished onigiri – yum!


The onigiri sensei (arms only) and her student!

Later we took the picnic up a very large hill where we asked an older gentlemen to take a photo of us on my iPhone.  I showed him the button to press and he seemed to take it all in quite well.  Mako, Kiyo and I all posed around this stone on the top of the hill.  After a few seconds, I noticed a click-click-click sound being repeated.  Eighty-nine photos later, I realised he didn’t know to take his finger off the button.  Here are a sample of the shots we got.


Thanks again to Mako and Kiyo for a great weekend in Wales!

First Day in Swansea, Swansea

Day twenty-four – Swansea

Bit confused at first on my way to Swansea.  The train announced that we had arrived at Abertawe/Swansea.  I thought this must be a suburb of Swansea so I went up to the information man at the Abertawe/Swansea station and asked how to get to the main station.

I was already there.  Abertawe is just Welsh for Swansea and I felt a bit of a drip.

Back to a little bit of Japan in Wales and a fab afternoon and evening with Mako and Kiyo.  Mako and Kiyo were my neighbours in Yokohama for the first year I was there until they heartlessly abandoned me for a much bigger house and an endless supply of prawn cocktail flavoured crisps in Swansea.

Tonight Kiyo taught me how to make Gyoza.  (Mako had already taught Kiyo earlier!)  Fabulous!

Making Gyoza

The sensei and his student!

Making Gyoza

I’m so excited!

Making Gyoza

The finished product cooking nicely