Language Barrier

There’s not much going on right now other than driving on highways towards the north. That gives me the opportunity to write a little bit about the English language. After living in Columbus OH for two years I thought that my English is not bad and that I’m able to express myself quite fluently at least in everyday situations. After traveling in Australia for two months my confidence is slowly crumbling and it started all in a Burger King which they call Hungry Jack’s here. As usual in the US I asked the person behind the desk for two medium cups so that I can fill them on the soda fountain with club soda and coke. She answered with “pardon, what did you say?”. Even back in Columbus people sometimes had a hard time to understand me probably because of my accent so I repeated my wish as clearly as I could. Her answer to that was “Do you only need two empty cups?” and I could see that she was already getting slightly uncomfortable most likely because there is no preset price for a medium empty cup on her register. To help her out I said “No, I would like to fill them with club soda and coke”. First I thought she didn’t understand me again, but then she asked me “What is club soda?”. For the next two minutes or so I tried to explain what I meant with club soda. I included words like sparkling water, water with sparkles in it, bubbly water, with bubbles infused water, the shit that doesn’t make you fat, but all I got from her was “I don’t understand”. I was already considering leaving the place without any drinks but then she must have had a clear moment and asked “Do you mean soda water?”. I said “Yes pleeeease…” and paid for the two medium cups. As I found out, in one of my own clear moments, the price for a soda water is the same as for any other soft drink but I didn’t want to start another discussion about that topic. Happy with what I’ve had achieved I went to the soda fountain and filled both of my medium cups with soda water respectively coke.

Aftermath

As it turned out the rattling noise came from the front right hand CV boot, this appears to have suffered on the island and is right now being replaced by a skilled, chain smoking mechanic covered in oil stains from head to toe. All in all a small repair job which is being paid for by the “Michi drove to fast and broke the car” fond. Besides the CV boot, Ron also slightly changed his appearance and is now sporting some “Pin Stripes” which where applied by some bushes and small branches on Fraser Island. I mentioned depreciation but Michi thinks that if he manages to apply the same pattern on the driver side it might not look that bad at the end.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island is entirely made of sand and already the approach to the ferry leads over a sandy beach, ideal terrain for Ron Burgundy. After landing on the island we first headed inland before heading down to the beach to drive the last kilometers to the campground. While we felt pretty confident about our driving abilities at the beginning, first doubts came up at the entrance down to the beach. The incoming tide was already quite high and combined with a flat beach it only left us what felt like about 10 cm (4 inches) room before my sailing skills would have been required. What was intended to be an idyllic drive into the sunset with a sea breeze in our hair now turned into a try to break the land speed record including a salt water shower when Ron blazed trough a small river mouth and we forgot to close the windows. But at the end of this dare devil drive we where rewarded with amazing ocean views and loneliness and, as if that was not enough, in the evening we were visited by a Dingo. For the following six days we got to see more Dingo’s as well as Eagles, Kangaroos and a (probably Humpback) Whale.
Back on the mainland Ron is making some rattling noises. They appear to come from the front right wheel, let’s hope it’s nothing serious…

On the road

We are driving north to escape the cold, it’s winter in Sydney with uncomfortable plus 6 to 15 degrees Celsius. In 2 WD on highways Ron drives quite well although the riding comfort lays closer to a tractor than a Maybach, or as Aussies say “it feels a little agricultural”. The first nights are used for material tests and getting used to our new life as traveling folk. So far things are going great and the first 1000 Km (621 miles) to Brisbane, the capitol of Queensland passed without any incidences.

We could already see Koalas, Kangaroo and a school of Dolphins in the wild and temperatures are rising constantly. Next we are heading to Fraser Island where Ron can show his full capabilities.

Sydney

Sydney was tempting us with it’s many attractions and good restaurants but our mission was clear: we need a “bad ass” 4WD. Luckily our accommodation was located a little outside of downtown close to the used car mile. The firsts days of car searching went quite sluggish, no one needs a diesel engine 4WD in a world metropolis and most dealers only had “nice weather” 4WDs plus the gold teeth and chains (seems to be an international hallmark of used car dealers) did not leave very credible impressions on us. But on the fifth day Carmen found an add in the internet for a burgundy 1996 Toyota Hilux, diesel with maiden-like 332’000 km (206’295 Miles) on the tachometer (nearly fresh from the factory so to speak). We named him Ron Burgundy and several design studies for it’s interior fitting where created and discharged again. It became clear that the initial plan of only one week in Sydney would not be enough to get Ron ready for camping. But after week two the roof top tent is fitted, new tires are mounted and balanced, the camping material is packed and stowed and the play lists on the iPod are waiting to be played.


Singapore

Before heading to Australia we took a small detour to Singapore. The heat and humidity had us sweating as soon we got off the plane but luckily the smoke that had blown over from Sumatra causing serious smog for the last weeks had disappeared and sunny days where laying before us. Chance had it that our hostel was located in “little India” which meant that a continuous supply of curry was secured. Singapore is a very modern and clean city with neighborhoods such as “Chinatown” and “little India” adding a bit of chaos which creates a relaxed balance we found to be quite alluring. After over a month’s time we also had once again a day at the beach on the artificially created island of Sentosa. Accompanied by 90’s dance hits (think Haddaway and Dr. Alban) we sipped Singapore Slings and enjoined doing nothing.

Osaka / Kawaguchiko

After 5 months of traveling the time had come. Michi had enough of the overwhelming Japanese hospitality and all the fish and came down with a fever. So he spent two of the 4 days in Osaka in bed. On the third day we went to the aquarium which is apparently one of the biggest in the world. Unfortunately that day was Sunday and all the corridors where congested with baby strollers and their cargo but I still managed to take some pictures of the deep sea crabs and the sharks. Afterwards it was already time to travel on to Kawaguchiko which lays at the foot of Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is regarded a holy mountain and and apparently every self-respecting Japanese tries to climb it at least once in his life. Michi finds it much more important to know that his perfect form serves as the logo of the world’s best computer game company, Atari.
With an height of 3776 m.ü.M Mount Fuji is not that high and is regularly conquered by school classes, senior citizen and probably also mothers with baby strollers. The climb is not very picturesque though since it is covered with stairs and avalanche protectors in addition having to share the path with so many hikers wasn’t helping either. For this reason we only moseyed to basis station 6, enjoyed the view and then headed back to town.

Nagasaki / Hiroshima

Due to the dropping of two atomic bombs by the USA during the second world war the names of these two cities are known to everyone. But if it wasn’t for the memorials, museums and a few deliberately not reconstructed buildings nothing would remind that within seconds these two cities were destroyed and over 200’000 people were killed. The pictures and accounts make you deeply sad and realize that such a weapon may never be used ever again.
Nagasaki, our first station is a small harbor city which for a long time in history was Japan’s only door to the world. All trade with Europe and China was flowing trough here, which is also reflected in the food which at times is a little special such as Sushi made with Salami and small sausages. By a boat tour you can visit Hashima also called Battleship Island. This small island was once a coal mine and during it’s peak time more than 5000 people where living on it before the mine was closed and the island turned into a ghost city. The island gained recent fame for being used as hideout by Raoul Silva the villain in the last James Bond movie.

In Hiroshima the sun finally came out which proves that also Japan can have sunny days. The Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima is much larger than the one in Nagasaki and gruesomely detailed. In addition the only building that partly survived the detonation was left unchanged and serves as a stark memorial. To get our mood up again we later went to a Baseball game of the Hiroshima Carps. Baseball is a big deal in Japan but the quality is apparently below the MLB (that’s what we are told by US travelers to Japan). Since we don’t understand much of the rules anyway it was still fun to watch and the food in the stadium and the beer supply directly to your seats is absolutely great.

Kyoto & Nara

For people with a small fear of flying, like us, Japan is ideal with it’s extremely tight public transport network and a punctuality higher than in Switzerland. In addition there are the so called Shinkansen bullet trains which get you to your destination with a top speed of 320km/h in comfort and style. So the 608 km long trip from Nikko to Kyoto only took us 4 1/2 hours including changing trains twice, a time that would be difficult to beat by car. Unfortunately it was raining for most of the time in Kyoto as well as later in Nara, which clouded our overall impression as well as the pictures. Who travels to Japan during the rainy season and expects sunshine! Kyoto has what feels like a billion temples with at least every other of them being part of the UNESCO World Heritage. We limited ourselves to the Kiyomizu and the Kinkaku-ji temple, which is completely covered in gold, and spent the rest of our time feasting on the Japanese kitchen and performing sun-dances.
In Nara the temple viewing continued with a visit to the Daibutsu, the world’s largest bronze statue of Budda, which is fittingly located in the world’s largest all wooden temple. In addition to temples, Nara has many deer that roam the area searching unsuspecting tourist’s bags and back-packs for something to eat.
Talking of deer, so far the sun-dances did not produce the desired results yet, maybe it’s soon getting time for sacrificial offerings…

Tokyo

While although Japan is an island too, currently it’s the rainy season and so the days of sun, beach and fancy drinks are definitely over. But requiring much more adjustment is Tokyo. Here the term “high-density housing” hits a much different dimension than in Switzerland. Every square meter appears to be utilized to it’s maximum. For us arriving from some small pacific islands, this city appears dauntingly tight and large. It feels as if you have to remain in constant movement not to be in somebody’s way, in comparison, Zurich appears like a zen garden.
Since we both are a bit of electronics buffs we had to visit the Sony building to get a first hand update on what’s new. The 60″ TV with 4k resolution would for sure look nice in our future living room and Michi would also not mind getting his hands on some of the video cameras on display. BIC is another warehouse filled with consumer electronics on seven floors. But total stimulus satiation was reached in the 6 story Sega arcade in which even going to the men’s room is turned into a computer game. According to Michi’s account the goal is to pee onto a point while getting encouragement by a manga figure in a nurses costume. Unfortunately she only spoke Japanese, so he does not know how well he did, but since he did not get to enter his name into any ranking list, we must assume that he didn’t get anywhere close to top 3.