Mar & Mark as Volunteers

musings on our lives as volunteers….

Archive for the ‘Leisure Time’ Category

Travel Tips for Japan

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We loved the month we recently spent in Japan.  It is a fascinating culture, with some customs that are very different to our own. We are passing these tips on, in the hopes that they may help you, if you are planning a trip to this magnificent country any time soon. Please feel free to share, and ask any questions you might have in the comments!

• Use to research train travel. Gives times, fares, platforms etc.   The bullet trains are called “Shinkansen” trains.
• You must first book/purchase a ticket to travel on the train. If it is a busy season you should then book a reserved seat, which costs about 50% more. You will then have 2 tickets. If you are changing trains, which is often the case, you may have more than 2 tickets, which are all fed through the turnstile together. The ticket for that particular journey is removed. Trains generally have about 1/3 of the carriages for unreserved travel, with seats occupied on a first come basis.
Japan Rail passes cover various parts of the country – depending on where you are travelling it may not be worth getting one. These must be purchased outside the country. In Perth they can be purchased at Travel Japan, in Irwin St, next to the Mercure Hotel. If you purchase a Japan East Rail Pass, you can reserve your seats online no more than 30 days ahead of your date of travel. For most other travel passes, you cannot book online in advance.

• For travel on public transport in Tokyo and a number of other cities, get a Suica or Pasco card. These can be easily topped up at the station and save the significant hassle of trying to work out what priced ticket you need to purchase. The Suica card can also be used to make purchases at 7/11 and some vending machines. If you don’t have a Suica or Pasco card, you can purchase the cheapest ticket and when you get to your destination, use the top-up facility to pay the correct amount before you pass through the turnstile.

• We found Google maps invaluable, as addresses are not necessarily logical. Prior to going to a new place I saved the destination. As the last map area is saved in the cache, you don’t have to be online to find your way around.

Mobile Phones
• You can only buy a local sim card for data – not for making and receiving calls or texts. As all the places we stayed at, whether hotels or Airbnb, had free wifi, we didn’t find it necessary to purchase a sim card.

Google translate
• The Google translate app was handy, particularly to translate instructions on electrical appliances in hotel rooms. Voice recognition and using the camera on the app only works if you have wifi. Otherwise, the text feature is the only one that works.
• Surprisingly, Japan is largely a cash economy. Only big hotels and department stores accept credit cards.
• Bank atm’s don’t accept foreign cards. Use the ubiquitous convenience stores like 7/11, which have a a Y100,000 limit. Note that you may have to insert the card before getting the option of choosing the menu in English.
• We used a pre-loaded cash card which worked without fail at 7/11’s and wasn’t subject to the Y100,000 limit.

Lonely Planet
• We borrowed an electronic copy from the library

Hotels / Airbnb
• We had no problems with Airbnb bookings. Some of the apartments were very small and the mattress was on the floor, but still comfortable. We also stayed in a few traditional ryokans, which was fun. In these you need to unravel your mattress on the tatami matting. Seating is on the floor.
• Most places had sandals just inside the door where you removed your footwear, leaving it facing outwards and slipped on the sandals. Note that you remove the sandals before stepping on tatami matting (ie: socks or bare feet only on tatami).
• Some hotels had onsen (communal hot baths) where you could relax if you so choose. Make sure you read up on the etiquette (see link below) and scrub yourself thoroughly before entering the bath. I saw people spending over 10 minutes washing before getting in the bath! Onsens are single sex only, as you are not clothed. There are a few exceptions, but expect to be starkers, and bathing / soaking with your gender only.
• Most hotels had umbrellas in the foyer to borrow.
• Most hotels had a room with a microwave and vending machine on each floor.
• Make sure you book a no smoking room!

• If you want to visit the Imperial Palace (apparently it’s worth it), you need to book online a month before, as numbers are very limited.

Links on etiquette:

Written by Mar(k)

June 21, 2017 at 9:19 pm

Prepackaged Japan

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Sometimes we buy our dinner meal at a supermarket, as a way of keeping costs down, getting fresh fruit and veg, and trying local foods. There are many pre-packaged meals that are ready to eat, healthy and delicious. However, enjoying these meals certainly comes at an environmental cost. The Japanese love their packaging.  
Everything is wrapped. Bento boxes, rice balls, salads. All in plastic. Soy sauce, wasabi? Available. In tiny little plastic sachets. Chopsticks? Yup. Wrapped (think also massive deforestation, as the takeaway business is big business here. Thats a lot of wooden chopsticks that get chopped down from trees). Plastic spoons and forks. Plastic wrapped in plastic.  

The Japanese also love their beautifully wrapped presents, often food stuff from specific regions, highlighting the specialty of the area. They make great looking gifts, but inside is _______ (insert whatever the food stuff is here), often again individually packaged. Think a dozen sakura (cherry blossom) shaped biscuits. All in a gift box, wrapped in plastic, then put in a plastic bag, and EACH INDIVIDUAL biscuit is also wrapped, once you get inside the box! It seems crazy to us.

Even when we go to checkout at the supermarket, and bring our little reusable shopping bag, it is often met with some disbelief. But hey. We are kind of getting used to that look. Because it is very similar to the look we get when we tell people here that we are vegetarian. On, on! 

Even the bananas are individually wrapped! WTF?!?

Off on a 1000 km hiking adventure

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I am passionate about two things:  high altitude trekking, and long distance backpacking.   In the latter, there is something hugely satisfying for me about being completely self reliant.  Everything I need,  I carry with me.   Tent, food, stove, fuel, sleeping bag, water.   Not only do I look like a snail (with my home on my back), but I also feel like one, crawling up those hills!   I have recently started my second “end to end” on the 1000 km, long distance walking trail in Western Australia called the Bibbulmun Track.   You can find out more about the trail here.

One foot in front of the other!

One foot in front of the other!

I am going to be doing this trek solo, and I anticipate it will take me 51 hiking days (60 days total, including my rest days) to complete.   My average daily distance covered will be 20 km, and my packed weighed in at 22.22 kg when I started.   A light weight hiker I am not!

It occurs to me that to succeed in any sport, there is a degree of physical fitness required, and overall, that fitness is relatively easy to come by.   But it seems to me that the thing that can make or break lots of epic adventures is the mental toughness that is required.   I would say that succeeding on this kind of adventure is probably 20% fitness, and 80% mental.  It’s harder than it looks!  But the body can keep going long after you think it is finished, if you have the mental toughness.   I am fortunate to know a few athletes and adventurers who have done some truly amazing things – far more adventurous than my wee walk.   And the one common denominator that they all seem to have is that mental toughness.

For now, it is one foot in front of the other!   The thing that guides me are these trail markers – called “waugals”.  They represent the Rainbow Serpent from the Aboriginal Dreamtime (they are NOT snake warning signs!), and trust me – they are my friend out there.   They keep me going in the right direction, and I am always on the lookout for them.   When you hike for hours and hours by yourself, you can get lost in thought, and miss a turnoff on the trail.   So I try to stay vigilant and keep an eye out for these markers.   (mind you, having a good map, compass and the ability to use them also helps if you do come off the trail)

Written by Mar(k)

September 19, 2016 at 3:57 pm

The worshipping of chocolate rabbits – happy Easter!

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Not 100% sure where the chocolate easter bunny and the eggs came from – suspect it may have been from the original Pagan fertility celebration in (northern hemisphere) Spring.   Nonetheless, as I was getting groceries yesterday, the amount of shopping trollies that were literally overflowing with chocolate Easter treats was quite amazing.   I am quite glad that I don’t have a sweet tooth – one piece of dark chocolate will do me quite well, thank you!


But for the rest of you choco-holics out there – enjoy this holiday weekend, which seems designed just for you!

There might even be a few Christians for whom Easter egg hunts and chocolate overloading isn’t front and centre.  These same folk may even see it as THE most important Christian event on their calendar.   The death and resurrection of their saviour Jesus Christ.  Good on you.

If you are celebrating Easter this weekend in whatever form, enjoy it!   Of course, here in Australia, rabbits are pretty widely regarded as a feral pest, so we would prefer the Bilby to be the representative fertility symbol.   But oh well.   Enjoy the rabbits.   easter-bilby-and-rabbit

Written by Mar(k)

March 24, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Journeying across America – on bicycle

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Many of our readers know that Mark is a keen cyclist.  In the cold, dark, rain and snow.   Hang on – there’s never any snow in Perth!   OK – cold, dark and rain.   He and his scaly mates are out there, pedalling their butts off 3 or more mornings a week.   They are dedicated.  And a particular bunch of them are crazy.   Seriously crazy.   They decided that it would be FUN to cycle across America!   that’s right – all 6500 kms of it.   Craziness.   Cyclist tired

I know Mark wanted to go, too, but unfortunately our possible house swap in Canada that would have made that possible, fell through.  So he has been living vicariously through reading their blog (which you can also read here).   It is an inspiring story.   Particularly because we are getting our fill of cycling at the moment, as we dedicatedly watch the Tour du France highlights every night.   Both of us are Tour Tragics!   (true story – what can we say?)

The idea of the TransAmerica Cycle Challenge was borne out of Mal’s long service leave.  So after much research and planning, they were off for the ride itself – and celebrated Rodney’s 60th birthday while on the road.   What a great way to spend your 60th birthday!   Cycling 6500+ kilometres!   Wow.

The reason we are giving these crazy folks a bit of a plug here, is because they are not only doing this for their own (health) good, but they are also raising money in the process for a great cause – Wheelchairs for Kids.   It is a great cause, and they are now in their final stages of the ride.   Only about five more days of cycling to go.  If you are interested in learning more, and maybe even donating to this great cause, you can click here.

Well done to all!  We have been watching your progress with amazement, wonder, and RESPECT.

A Simpler Life – and what that means for this blog!

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As we are rapidly approaching the end of another year, I thought I would send us off into the New Year with some thoughts around living (more) simply.  After just having celebrated some holidays with loved ones, I noticed that many people seem exhausted from the effort, rather than rejuvenated.  Whilst I won’t go into the whole “expectation, tradition, pleasing others” experience, suffice it to say that everyone seems to breathe a collective sigh of relief in the days after Christmas, when the relatives have (largely) left, the leftovers are (largely) consumed, and day to day living can get back to normal.


Then a mere week later, things gear up again for people to don the “resolution” hat, and doggedly dig out the trainers, dust off the bicycle, or find that gym membership card.  Lose weight, stop smoking, drink less, blah blah blah.  Most resolutions have fallen by the wayside before the end of January!   Speaking from personal experience, I generally try to avoid the gym during January, because it is just far too busy with the “New Year’s Resolved”.   Things settle down nicely, back into the groove by early February.  Which is when I return to the fold.

But what has all this got to do with a Simpler Life?  Simply this.  Doing less, wanting less, and consuming less are all good things.   And if we live more simply, we simply have more time to do, enjoy, and experience the things that really matter.   For us, this means that 2015 will bring a renewed focus on volunteering locally, and spending more time on minimalist pursuits (gardening, reading, and even keeping more regular posts coming on this blog!).

If you have some time, I’d recommend this article, which talks about the Simple Life in terms of community, and what we can be doing in our own neighbourhoods.  It is a bit Walden / Utopia idealist, but I like the concept.  I hope you enjoy!  And may 2015 bring you more time, more joy, and more LESS!   ; )

Written by Mar(k)

December 29, 2014 at 2:26 pm

All I want for Christmas is…. Less Stuff

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santaThe holidays are rapidly approaching, and people all around seem to be getting increasingly frazzled.  Parties to go to, groceries to buy, presents to buy.  It is all very interesting to watch, but I can honestly say that I am glad that I am not getting hooked into all the hustle and bustle this holiday season.   I had declared 2014 to be my “Year of Minimalism”, which can mean lots of different things to different people.  For me, it was about buying less, needing less, and simplifying our life at home.  I have enjoyed it, and knowing I had the whole year to work at it, I have chipped away.  But I still have a long way to go, so I am looking forward to 2015 to being my “2nd Year of Minimalism”.  I can see a trend here.   One I like very much.  In fact, I might even start blogging a bit more about living with less in the New Year.  Stay tuned.

I really do love the holiday season.  It is a great time to catch up with friends and family, and is also a time of reflection, as we look back on a year well lived, and give thanks for our health, relationships, and lifestyle.  I also enjoy gift giving (and receiving!), when it is done with intention (ie: not out of obligation).  But for me, one of the best gifts we can give others is our time;  time to spend with friends and family, enjoying each others company, catching up on recent events, and generally having a laugh.   That is the best gift of all.   But here are a few more suggestions on ways we can reduce our impact on Mother Earth, while still enjoying the festive season:

1.  Spend time with people, rather than money.  Put relationships ahead of the latest gadget.  Go for a walk with a loved one, have a picnic, just hang out.  Time is precious, and this is a very GIVING gift.

2.  Instead of buying THINGS, consider buying EXPERIENCES.   Follow the motto “it is better to DO, than to HAVE”.  Look for experiences for that special someone – movie tickets, theatre tickets, sporting events, spa treatments, travel vouchers.  It reduces STUFF, but still enables people to enjoy that experience (courtesy of you!)

2.  If you are going to buy a present, consider a gift certificate.    Less wrapping involved, so less waste.  Over the years, I am sure we all have had those gifts that just never get used / worn / consumed – not because they aren’t nice, or aren’t appreciated.  They just aren’t US.  So take away the guessing game when buying for others, and be guaranteed the person will end up with what they want.

3.  Consider donating to a worthy cause in the name of the person who is being “gifted”.  There are so many fantastic organisations out there e.g. Oxfam Unwrapped.  Pick a charity close to the person’s heart, or related to their interests.

4.  If you have already bought the perfect gift for that special someone, consider recycled wrapping paper.  This year, for the (few) gifts I AM giving, I am using wrapping paper that has already had one life – and is now having its second incarnation!   I usually keep wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, etc… and can get creative in giving them a second life.

Before you go, if you want a few more ideas on minimising Christmas indulgences, check out this post.  There are some additional links at the bottom of that post that you may also find good to read.

Happy holidays, everyone!