Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

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?!?

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A note on Japanese Food Culture

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We are currently enjoying a month in Japan, taking in the amazing shrines, soaking in onsens, admiring Mount Fuji, and chasing the cherry blossoms. But one of the most enjoyable parts of our holiday in Japan has been enjoying the amazing diversity of food here. Virtually every region has its specialty, and we haven’t had a bad meal yet.

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Although we have had a few large meals (pictured), even here you can see that the individual portion sizes are quite modest. Each meal has a lovely blend of the various tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and that most ubiquitous of Japanese flavours: umami. Each small dish is savoured, and with the enjoyment of these diverse tastes, you don’t need a lot to fully appreciate the dishes themselves.

This strikes me to be in marked contrast to many Western cultures, (and I am thinking North America here in particular), where I am always horrified at the portion sizes. Its not rocket science to see the correlation between portion size and obesity. And I do wonder about the lack of varied tastes in so much Western cuisine (the major tastes leaping to mind are sugar, salt and fat).

Other things that perhaps contribute to the overall healthier diet in Japan include the following:

  • Soft drinks are not widely available. Vending machines are everywhere, but fizzy drinks do not feature largely. Common cold drinks are iced teas, most served without any sugar.
  • Meals are largely based around vegetables (again, refer to the picture). When animal protein is served, the focus is on fish and seafood, rather than meats. But even when meat is served, portions stay in control. Tofu and soy are widely consumed. Fermented products are commonly eaten. Breads and pasta are not widely consumed. Rice and noodles feature regularly.
  • Presentation of each dish is as important as the taste of the dish itself. Some of the dishes are truly like works of art. Balance, harmony and simplicity is demonstrated in both the tastes and the presentation of the meal.

It has been a joy thus far sampling the wide variety of foods and tastes in this most magnificent country. Highly recommended destination for the foodie.

Written by Mar(k)

April 23, 2017 at 8:26 pm

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

Getting into Ethical Altruism

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With the EOFY rapidly approaching (that’s “End of Financial Year”, for those not into silly acronyms!), it is also a time when many people (in Australia, at least), look at making donations to charities they want to support with much needed (and appreciated!) funds.  For the last few years, we have embraced a concept which is known as “Ethical Altruism”.  This is a term coined by ethicist, philanthropist, animal rights activist, and other “ists”, Peter Singer.

Essentially, it is about making sure that the hard-earned money you donate does as much “good” as possible.  For simplicity, let’s just say this is all about helping the MOST people, who are in the MOST need.  Not a tough concept, and one that we subscribe to.

why not cartoon for giving

To help you along, there is a very cool online calculator which can assist you in determining how MUCH you should give (well, it’s a guideline, anyhow).   Don’t freak out – it’s not like some religious tithing system of 10%.   It works out to about 1 or 2 % of your gross income generally, depending on how much you earn.   Obviously, the more you earn, the greater “good” you are capable of doing, so the percentage goes up accordingly.   Seems fair to us!   Have a play with the calculator here.

Like many others, we want to know that the money we are donating is doing the “most good”.  So one tool that we found super helpful was this research / analysis on a number of different charities.   Saved us having to do the research!  (spoiler alert:  the Give Well website ranks the Against Malaria Foundation as one of the best (and it is tax deductible in Australia).   But there are many other wonderful organisations here, as well.  One consideration for us was to find charities that were Australian based, and many of the ones researched are based in America.   However, there is a handy link to the Effective Altruism Australia site, where you can make your Aussie donation tax deductible, and ear mark it against the approved charity of your choice.   What could be easier?  (you’re welcome!)

How do you make your donations each year?  What sort of criteria do you use?  Let us know in the comments section – would love to hear from you!

Happy giving.

Written by Mar(k)

June 20, 2016 at 4:00 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

Just in time for the next arrival – Barbie finally getting real about body image

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Mark’s son will shortly be entering fatherhood for the first time!   Very exciting times, and we wish them all the very best with their birth of their little one.   To celebrate, I thought I’d give a wee update on Mattel and their recent move to make Barbie more “realistic”.   I really love the fact that Mattel finally succumbed to consumer pressure to introduce more realistic body shapes into their line.   It has only taken them 57 years, but power to the people!   Wonderful to see consumers voting with their wallets, and equally good to see businesses savvy enough to realise what will keep the dollars coming into the door – give the consumers what they have been asking for!

Finally, the Fashionista’s line for 2016 includes different skin tones, body types, eye colours and hair styles.   Wow.  Imagine that!  Dolls that start to look a little bit more like the wonderful wide world out there!   Go figure!  Nice to see some options that aren’t blonde haired and blue eyed.  NOT that there’s anything wrong with being blonde haired and blue eyed!  Someone has to be in the minority!  ha ha ha.

We have no idea if the newest arrival is going to be a girl, or a boy, and their gender will not matter at all, if s/he wants to play with a Barbie doll.   But if we ever do give the new addition a doll, it will be a great feeling to be able to get one that maybe even looks a little bit like the child!   How cool is that!

 

Written by Mar(k)

February 12, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Post Veganary: Where to from here?

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On Sunday we will have (successfully!) concluded our month of Vegan living.  So where to from here?

Well, that is a bit of a tricky question. Are we “ready” to embrace veganism as our default diet at the moment? Probably not. However, our lacto-ovo vegetarian diet will probably be amended somewhat based on our experiences during Veganary.

People choose veganism (or vegetarianism) for a variety of reasons. For us, harm to animals is a key driver. Which is why this article was of particular interest to us. If you are also driven by animal harm (and how to reduce it), you can also read this more detailed (but not overly long) article here.   In reading this article, I realise that the life I have been living for the past 22 or so years (and for Mark, about the last 8 years), actually has a name!   Go figure.  Environmentarianism.   Who knew?

It has been great engaging online through the Veganuary website with others, and their journey during this past month.  For us, it hasn’t been hugely life altering.  But I have used this month to learn more about vegan substitutes (my vegan friends who enjoy coming over for meals will thank me!), and getting more knowledge on the environmental damage that animal husbandry causes.

Did we die from lack of cheese?  um…. no.   Did we think we would miss it more than we did?  Definitely.   Although Mark is probably going to be happy to get back in the (bicycle) saddle with his cappuccino apres bike ride, we aren’t going to be rushing out to gorge ourselves on a cheese omelette just yet!   However, we WILL be changing up some staple items in our pantry, such that our already vegetarian lifestyle is more vegan friendly at home.  We have an added incentive to shop at our local all-vegan shop, as we love to support local small businesses.   So that will probably keep us using things like bio-cheese and other staples.   And all the online research has turned up some fabulous recipes, which have been real winners!   Always good to add those into the arsenal of yummy eating options.

Finally, we don’t feel like we need to be evangelical about anything – vegan diets included.  We aren’t really turned on by fanatical preaching in any form – religious, vegan or otherwise.  We are also clear that our choices are exactly that – our choices.  We don’t need to make a big deal out of it – and we do listen with wry amusement when others feel they need to comment on our dietary choices.   What they say, says much more about them, than it does about us!   We will leave you with this lovely sign that really embraces what we try to practise on a daily basis.   Happy Veganary everyone!

 

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Written by Mar(k)

January 29, 2016 at 5:07 pm