Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Big Ones

Well, a tad late, but I figured I'd treat you all to a nice Christmas gift in the form of another lovely blog entry. I hope you all had an awesome Crimbo, filled with many Big Ones, and that you'll be getting ready to see in the "one-ders" in style come December 31st.

As you no doubt have gathered based on my last post, this Christmas was most definitely not to be like any other. There was no turkey (goose, duck, or any for of poultry) planned, no gifts under the tree (no tree for that matter), and no family with which to take it easy and be merry. In fact, the only indications that I have in my room that it was/is the Christmas season, are the two Christmas cards on my shelf, and the Christmas hat I got from my secret Santa. Nonetheless, it was a wholesome Christmas which I spent with my girlfriend (and her family), and one that I shall not forget. Italian and Japanese Christmas dinner was more than satisfying, and I was very grateful to have such considerate people to spend Christmas with.

Anyway, I'm sure you're all anxious to know what the crack was with Shanghai.



Shanghai is a pretty rad place. It was however, not what I expected. I'm not really sure what it was that I had expected, but suffice to say, I was wrong.

The first thing I noticed upon my arrival was the haze which covered the city. It was as if there was a permanent fog in the distance. I had heard about the effects of pollution on the cities in China, but this was the first time I had seen it for real.

We arrived at Pudong International Airport about 9pm local time, but it was then an hour coach ride to our hotel and by the time we arrived, we were to shattered to do much and so went practically straight to sleep. The following day we had a city tour, and were therefore woken at 7am. The hotel breakfast consisted of toast, jam, noodles, fried rice, sweet an sour sauce, Chinese dumplings and various other foods that I would not have classed as "breakfast cuisine".

The tour was a mixture of cultural sites and advertising. By which I mean we toured zen gardens, and latex mattress show rooms. Nonetheless, it was an exciting experience. One of the areas we visited had somewhat of a local market street where thy sold all manner of foods, including small roasted birds on sticks. Lunch and dinner was much the same as breakfast, minus the toast and jam, but it filled a hole, and was interesting to try the various dishes which were laid out on our table. I would like to point out here that, contrary to what I had been told by certain friends, Chinese food in China IS similar to the stuff we get at home. The flavour is more "authentic", but it still seems to be the shiny, greasy food you can buy at the local Chinese place in England.

video

The second day was our "free day", and we got up early to go to a clothes market Naoko had read about on the internet. It was basically 5 massive multi-floor buildings, each housing a variety of stalls and "shops" (much like suppa-shoppa in Kings Heath, but a lot less organized and a lot noisier) which sold a multitude of knock-off goods, and tack. Some of the "finer" establishments sported shop names such as "Armarini", and "Dainholl", and sold things that appeared to be of passable quality.

We then got a taxi to the other side of town, which was almost the exact opposite of the clothes market. The shops were all designer (Gucci, Rolex, Omega, Maserati), and it was a much cleaner and well kept area of the city. I hadn't expected to see such a place in Shnaghai. The architecture was European, and the road and city layout only added to this. We even stumbled upon a Marks and Spencer, complete with food floor and all.

Just before dusk, having walked from the expensive posh area to the "normal" Shanghai, we got lost and ended up wondering down another market street. This time it was a food market held in front of people's houses, and it was fascinating to see the different kinds of fish and meat on sale (including dog). They also hug a lot of the fish on washing lines, right next to the clothes that were drying.



The last major thing we did on our free day was to go and see the view from the highest observation platform in the world. Visitors are allowed to travel up to the 100th floor (474 metres), and the view is pretty incredible, despite the high level of pollution/haze.

Our flight was a 10am the following morning (Chrsitmas day), and so we didn't really get a chance to do much else, but all in all, it was pretty cool. One of the things I noticed though, is that China is by no means as cheap as I thought it would have been. Most of the stuff you buy (apart from food), whether made in China or not, is of a similar price to that in Japan/UK, and for that reason, I wasn't able to go on a mad shopping spree as I had hoped.

Something else i noticed as I walked down the street, is that I often heard people hucking up lots of phlegm, before planting a fat glob right in the middle of the pavement. Nothing wrong with getting rid of the phlegm, but a little decorum if you please.

All in all though, Big Ones, as you can no doubt tell.



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year guys and gals.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Winter Woes

Well, it has certainly been a long time coming, but I shall finally allow for another glimpse into my life out here in Japan. The past month and a half of not blogging has been filled with various events, some good, some bad, and some... well, pretty ordinary.

First things first, I have decided and confirmed (by handing in an official notice), that I am definitely moving our of this dorm come the end of February. The decision came about based on a number of factors, and it is a choice I am yet to regret (although saying that, I am still currently in the dorm).

- A lot of the friends I have made in this dorm are leaving/moving out come the end of February. This is either because they too, have grown sick of being treated like a child, or it is because their year abroad time has finally come to an end.
- The "Ryoucho" (Dorm boss) and the rules he imposes are beyond a joke. I appreciate that they are not HIS rules (they are the rules laid out by the company that owns the dorm), but his strict enforcement of the rules just ruins the whole "living" experience. Not being allowed to go to the rooms of the opposite sex, and not being allowed to stay in the common area after half 11, forces us to either go out, or to just go back to our own rooms. We went to another dorm for Rikkyo students yesterday for a party (something we could NEVER do here). The Ryocho there actually came up to the room, bringing some alcohol and snacks and joined in with the party!
- Naoko has practically given up coming here any more, due to the fact that it's becoming increasingly hard to sneak her in. My friend here managed to sneak his girlfriend in, and was called down to the Ryosho's office at midnight to be told that she had to leave, despite the last trains having already gone, meaning she wouldn't be able to get home. He ended up arguing, and finally convinced him to let her stay until the next morning. (If you're wondering how Ryocho knew she was here, there are camera's all over this place).

Rant over, I'll be moving to an apartment with a Belgian guy, and hopefully there we will be able to have whoever we want over, whenever we want. It also gives us the opportunity to provide temporary accommodation to any friends who happen to be visiting...

With Christmas only 6 days away, I am afraid to have to disappoint you all as I will not be honouring you with my presence. I chose not to split my year abroad in two by going home for Christmas. That said, I am somewhat regretting the decision, as it doesn't feel very Christmassy here. The streets are all decorated, and the shopkeepers wear Christmas hats, but there is a lack of that Christmas rush that you always feel around mid-December. Japan, being a non-Christian nation, treats Christmas very differently to England. New Years Day is more like the Christmas day I am used to, as Japanese people get together with their families to see in the new year. The 25th on the other hand is supposed to be a "couples" day, much like Valentines day, which they also celebrate here. The exchange students at the dorm have organised a mini Christmas dinner for this Sunday, but with the lack of an actual oven, there's no chance for turkey or any of the normal roasted delights. (Japanese cooking doesn't tend to require an oven, and so most houses don't have one!). Even so, it's an interesting experience, and while I long for mince pies, roast turkey and all the trimmings, I find the differences fascinating.


(It's small, but I've never heard of turkey and paella for Christmas dinner...)

With the lack of any concrete Christmas spirit here, I feel less guilty about going away just before the 25th. SO, leaving on Tuesday, Naoko and I are going to Shanghai for 4 days getting back on Christmas day itself. I've been told mixed things about Shanghai, but am looking forward to in nonetheless. It's supposed to be a lot cheaper than Japan, and will provide a good opportunity to buy some cheap goods, and experience a different Asian nation.

In other news, I had a bash at the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (level 2) a couple of weeks ago. It's an internationally held exam that certifies your Japanese ability. There are (currently) 4 levels, 1 being the hardest. Suffice to say, I'm pretty sure I failed, as it was bloody solid. It doesn't matter though, as I planned to use that as a practice, and take it again in June next year (when it's held again).

Well, I hope that's enough of an update to keep people happy for a while, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I'll leave you with a photo of the effects of an all night clubbing session:



Oh, and one last thing. RAGE for NUMBER 1! I bought my copy.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Time is of the Essence

A new entry is on the way, I promise. Things have just been pretty hectic around here at the moment, and I haven't really had time to sit down and write a nice long tale of all my goings on. (Well, I have had time, but have filled it with other mindless activities which seem to whittle away the time.)

Well, talk to you soon.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Camp, football and Happy Halloween

Howdy folks.

I figure I should round of the end of the month with a new blog entry, just to keep you all informed of my goings on.

Well, I ended the last blog entry saying that I was about to take part in the sports day football team. You'll be happy to hear that I did indeed take part, and thanks to my superior goal keeping skills, were able to win our first match (a feat we didn't think possible). It was a close game, and we took the lead early on, only to concede a goal in the dying seconds (there's a video of this somewhere on facebook). Luckily though we won the penalty shoot out and progressed to the second round where we were soundly beaten 3-0. Oh well, we got a lot further than we had expected.

That following weekend was the international societies "autumn camp", so we headed out on Saturday for a countryside-ish region of Tokyo, where we had a barbecue, drank lots of alcohol, and slept in log cabins. It was quite a nice area right next to a river, so we were able to have the barbecue on a "beach", and then head inside for some drinking games. I was able to teach some people "ride the bus", and I was introduced to the real way to play beer pong (although, it didn't last too long as most of use were pretty knackered by then).

It was a good night with lots of drunken debauchery, and by about 3am most people were asleep, despite being woken up around that time by an uninvited guest.
Since then it's been pretty much standard living. I've gotten used to having to wake up at 7am to make it in for 9, and I've also got used to eating some form of rice every single day of the week (You can't escape the stuff here).

Two nights ago was the international society "Halloween Party", and while it only ran from 6pm to 8.30, it was OK. Afterwards we ended up going to Karaoke, and not getting back to the dorm until 3am. Luckily, we have a week off for autumn holidays at the moment, so I'm able to take it easy.

University starts again on Thursday with mid-term exams, so I should really get started on some revision.

Anyway, feel free to drop me an email/message on facebook to let me know how things are going back in the big UK (or anywhere else you may be).

Inabit.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Typhoon Trouble and All That Jazz

It has certainly been an entertaining couple of weeks since my last blog entry.

Firstly, something important that I failed to mention last time is that there has been an interesting change with the status of my "scholarship". Originally I had applied for 2 scholarships before coming to Japan. The first was a government offered scholarship of a little under £600/month with "no strings attached" so to speak (aside from having to write a report at the end of the year abroad outlining what benefits the year abroad had). Failing to get that, Rikkyo University offered their own "scholarship" to foreign students. I was notified that I had received the Rikkyo Scholarship sometime around May, meaning that I had not been accepted on the government scholarship (JASSO). I was perfectly happy with that, until I found out that it wasn't really a scholarship, but instead was a rent cover for staying at my current dormitory. The problem is that, you only receive it if you stay here, and due to the rules and regulations of the place, I was strongly considering moving out and finding my own place.

By some stroke of luck however, the Japanese government decided to invest more money in foreign scholarships, and when I arrived, I found out during orientation that I had actually received the JASSO, and so was getting more money, and more freedom. Hells. (I have no idea why the Japanese government offers such scholarships - there must be 70 recipients in my university alone, but why question it eh?)

The increase in money couldn't have come as a better time, as the pound (and euro, and dollar, and practically every other currency) seems to be getting a poorer exchange rate with the yen every single day.

In other news, classes were cancelled last Tuesday due to some massive typhoon. I would love to have been able to give you a detailed account of how loudly the wind howled and how heavily the rain poured, but truth be told, I was asleep. We got news of cancelled classes the night before when it was still dry and warm, so we all headed out to an all you can drink karaoke. When we left at 2am it was really heavily raining, but that's about all I remember. I woke up the following day at 1pm to clear blue skies. The wind was still pretty strong, and I could hear it blowing every now and again through my closed window, but that was about it.

Aside from that it's been the usual study/socialising mix that I've been doing more or less since I got here. Classes are generally relaxed and not too taxing, but I can certainly feel my grasp of the language is improving. My spanish classes are also going pretty well, apart from the fact that they are at 4.30pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which doesn't really fit with the Japanese classes which are everyday at 9am - but it does mean I hang around to university and get some work done.

Today was also a national holiday, meaning no university classes. On top of that, Thursday is Rikkyo University's sports day, so there won't be classes then either (although for some reason I have signed up to play for the international student's football team, and so will probably be playing then - what the hell am I doing??)

Anyway, hope all is well wherever you are, and I'll leave you with an important message.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Turning Japanese

Hello folks, what's the crack eh? Well, I'll let you know what's been going on here, but first I'd like to apologise once again for my lack of recent blogging. Excuses aside, It's pretty bloody hard to write one of these things every week, so you'll have to accept a less frequently posted addition every so often when I have the time.

So where do I start? Last time I blogged, I mentioned my arrival at the dormitory and all the stupid rules of the place. Well, having met a few people and got a feel for just how far the rules can be bent, it's not as bad as I first thought. When they say you're not allowed people of the opposite sex in your room/ people in your room after 11, what they mean is "if we see this happening, we'll say no". Also, the curfew only really means "the door will be locked at 12, so get your pal to let you in if you come back after that". No real biggie. On top of that, I have my own little secret way in, which I shan't divulge here - just to maintain the secrecy of it, but to suffice to say, "s'all good in the hood". I've managed to have a few late night "parties" in here, and no-one has complained, so it seems like the rules are more relaxed than they appear.

There's a photo of my room as best as I could take right now. Like I said before, I have a massaging toilet seat, a electronic stove thing, shower, bed, fridge, desk and plenty of storage space.

I started classes last Monday, having sat a placement test during orientation to decide my level of Japanese. I'm not sure how exact the test, which took 4 hours and included an interview, was as there are people better than me in lower classes, and worse than me in better classes. As usual, I wound up slap bang in the middle class, and while I find some of the material a little easy, they say it is because some of my skills (such as listening and speaking) are pretty shitty, and so need the lower level to be brought up. I get another placement test before the start of the second semester, and I hopefully hould perform a lot better then. The biggest problem of the classes however, is that they are all at 9am. Had I been a lower or higher level I would have had a bit more of a lie in.

I was also permitted to sit in on some Spanish classes, and am now signed up for "Advanced Spanish Speaking", and "Japanese to Spanish Advanced Translation". The latter of which is causing me some concern as I don't think my level of Japanese is suffice to produce a satisfying Japanese translation, but I suppose it is some incentive to study harder.

Aside from the mundane educational aspects of this year abroad, I have also been partaking in much social revelry with some good friends that I have made at the dorm, university, and those that I knew before my arrival in Japan. I have so far had the chance to attend the time honoured traditional social activity of カラオケ three times in the last week, each time messier than the last. I also ended up going to a club last Friday night, which proved to be a rather unwise decision. Not only did it involve staying out until 6am (not due to curfew, but to having to catch the first train back), but the night itself was something I would rather forget. Nonetheless, an experience in itself.

As well as night time activities, I have been able to take advantage of some of my 9am starts to make the most of the days, and have been travelling around Tokyo, visiting the sites and what not. Also, I have just returned today from (not very proud to say this) Tokyo Game Show. A few years ago, I would have given up my kidney for the opportunity to go to such a place, but having matured a bit, and not really played video games for the past 3 years, I wasn't overly keen to fork out the £25 it cost to get there and back. But, Naoko insisted she wanted to go, and I have to say, I wasn't disappointed. Yes, it was a complete nerd-fest, and there were a lot of creepy things going on there, but on the whole, I had a good time, and was able to rekindle the video-game-playing kid in me that I thought I had lost forever.

I know it's not a terribly long entry, especially since the long time between my last blog, but its almost 1am and I have to be up at 7, so I think I'm going to call it a night. Hopefully I can get something else written soon, but having learnt from experience, I won't make any promises about when I'll write the next one.

As they say in Spanish (as I am yet to learn the Japanese expression for it) "hasta la proxima", and I leave you with some sound advice from JR train's "JT group"

Speak to you soon(ish)

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Heading East

OK, so it's been more than 2 weeks since my last blog, and I am aware that many people are anxious to know how my life has been getting on - after all, I have been in Japan for a week...

My reasons for a lack of blogging so far have been primarily time constraints and the general absence of internet. But before I begin talking about my life in the east, I'll round up the end of my western adventures.

Since the return to Buenos Aires from Mendoza, and the writing of my last blog, I spent the remaining three days in Argentina saying goodbye to family and friends, and pigging out on as much cheap good food as I could. The weather was good, and on one of the days I visited San Telmo with a couple of my cousins to see the sights, and drink some mate in one of the plazas. Mate is the national drink of Argentina, and the drinking of it is a tradition of the Gaúchos - cowboys of the Pampas. Unlike drinking tea or coffee, drinking mate is much more ritualistic, with friends gathering in parks, gardens, houses in order to partake in the drinking of it. Someone brings along the mate (a hollowed out gourd used as the cup) as well as the yerba, hot water, and a bombilla (a metal straw with a filter on the end). This person then becomes the cebador, and is responsible for the preparation of the mate and it's serving. The drink itself has a strong taste described as a cross between green tea and coffee, but sugar or honey can be added to sweeten the taste. It is a highly social activity, and a walk though any park or plaza in Buenos Aires will reveal its popularity amongst the locals.

Anyway, I arrived back in the UK on a Thursday to many cheers and much applause. While I thought 9 days would be plenty to prepare myself for a year in Japan, the days seemed to fly by with very little being accomplished. I had to sort out insurance, money, documents, luggage allowance, packing and transfer files from my old PC to my new Mac (moving up in the world, some would say...). Though this doesn't seem like much, it seemed to take me a surprising amount of time, and until it was fully done, I could feel it all weighing on my shoulders, so to speak. On top of that, I spent a lot of time with friends, drinking, socializing, and generally having a good time - thanks to them for making my last week in the UK a good'n.

With more or less everything set in order, I left for Japan on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Narita airport on Sunday at 3pm local time after an 11 hour flight. I was lucky enough to be given the emergency seat with almost endless leg room, which made the journey a lot more bearable, even though I barely got any sleep. I was supposed to meet Naoko at 3.30, but due to "unforeseen circumstances" she was an hour late. Nonetheless, I was able to get to my hostel in time to drop off my things and go out for dinner. It was bloody hot, and I didn't struggle to soak my T-shirt despite it being late afternoon. We ate at a nice Japanese restaurant, but due to the long flight and lack of sleep, it felt more like a dream, and I fell asleep instantly when I returned to my hostel. For the next two days, I did a few touristy things with Naoko and some of her friends whom she had met at Sheffield and who had also arrived in Japan a few days earlier than me. We visited "The Great Buddha Kamakura" amongst other sites, and ate some pretty good food. With the "current economic crisis" of today however, the pound has weakened a lot since I was last here, and most activities have become a bit bucksy malone. Nonetheless, I've been able to get by, and I'm sure once I get into the swing of East Asian living, I'll be able to survive on minimal expenses. Hopefully.

I got to my dormitory on Wednesday, and discovered that it ain't really all that bad. It is on-suite complete with a heated Japanese toilet, and shower/bath room. There is a little "stove" thing that allows me to cook if I buy myself a steel pan, and the bed/study area is spacious. I requested to rent bedding, and on the whole it is pretty good, apart from the pillow. I had the same problem in the hostel, as it was the same kind of pillow there. It's about 30x50 centimeters in size (i.e. tiny), and rather than being filled with comfortable down pillows, it has the same hard ball things as a bean-bag. Not only that, but there isn't enough to actually raise my head any higher than the mattress. I've ended up stuffing some of my clothes in the pillow slip as a temporary solution, but will have to go out and buy a decent one at the next possible opportunity. Pillow rant over, there's not really much else to complain about, apart from the dormitory rules. The most annoying being the midnight curfew - something which I failed to adhere to on the very first night (luckily, a Japanese girl also arrived late at the same time as me, and was able to phone her friend to open the door and let us in). With the dormitory not actually being located in Tokyo but the neighboring prefecture of Saitama, it means having to head for home from Tokyo before 11.30. I have been told however, that there are ways around the majority of the stupid rules the place has, which I will no doubt learn during my time here.

I'm not quite sure when classes actually start, but I know I have orientation at the university on Monday morning, and a placement test on Wednesday. Other than that, I think I am free to explore and have a good time. Sorry about the long pictureless entry this time, I haven't yet got my camera out much, but will try to do so more often in order to provide some photographic evidence of my whereabouts for you guys. I'll also try to get another entry done soon, providing I get the chance.

Until then, take care folks.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Veni, vidi, bebi

Well, I got back from Mendoza on Friday night, and I must say I had a pretty rad time. The sights were great, the people were great, the steaks were great, and most importantly, the wine was great.

Mendoza is Argentina’s wine capital, and is located almost 2 hours to the west of Buenos Aires by aeroplane. From the city you can see the Andes to one side, and the desert to the other. With my sister having returned to the UK a week ago last Wednesday, it was my mum and I who woke up in the early hours of Monday morning to make the 6am flight from the capital to Mendoza. We arrived at 8 only to find out that we couldn’t check into the hotel until 12. We had no choice but to head out into the streets in search of breakfast, despite the fact that we were absolutely shattered.

The actual city of Mendoza (as opposed to the province) is rather small in size, with a population of only around 250,000 people. However, I discovered when we did the “city tour” that it is actually a lot bigger than I expected – spread out over many low rise blocks interspersed with leafy plazas every so often.

On the second day we had decided to head into the Andes on a tour to visit Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western and Southern Hemispheres. We had to set out at 7am and all looked OK for half an hour until it started to rain. The irony here was that everyone we had so far met in Mendoza had told us adamantly that “It never rains in Mendoza”. As we made our way up the mountain the rain turned to snow, and after a while more, we discovered that the route had been closed due to the blizzard (which it had now most definitely become). Bugger. Despite this, our tour guide decided to take us as far as we could legally go, so we did get some way into the mountains but nowhere near as far as some people on the coach would have liked (the guy next to me blamed the fact we couldn’t get any further on the guide, rather than on the obvious snow and fact that the police had told us we were not permitted to go any further). Oh well.

The following day we decided to play it safe and opted for the winery tour – a brilliant choice, despite the fact that the weather had returned to a bright, sunny and warm state. Thanks to the tour, I can now say that I know a lot about the processes of making wine, and the techniques needed to drink it. Hells. Most of you who know me well will no doubt know that Argentinian wine is amazing, this is the primary reason people come to Mendoza. There are hundreds of “bodegas” (wineries) producing thousands of varieties of wines. The tour we had gone on took us to visit 2 different bodegas, a large industrialised one, and a more traditional family-run one. I should also mention here that we visited an olive oil producing “oilery” (is that a word?), as it turns out wine is not the only thing they make in Mendoza. Each tour ended with the “sampling of the produce”, and it seems the olive oil company was well aware that we were on a wine tour, because the samples they provided us with were of sun-dried tomatoes, aubergines, and various other goods that had been preserved in their olive oil, rather than the olive oil itself. These proved to complement the wine perfectly, and I “pigged-out” to the max. We arrived back at the hotel around 9pm, and quickly rushed out for dinner. Now I had been told that the steak in Mendoza was particularly good, and had therefore been eating it pretty much every day so far, washing it down with a good bottle of wine (which I sampled, savoured, and did all that fancy crap that I had learnt with). However, while all the steaks had been juicy, tender and on the whole, pretty damn good, the one I that day was… perfection. It was so tender I ended up cutting it with my fork, and the flavour was amazing. It would have turned even Taylor into a steak fiend, without a doubt.

In our final two days, we spent a bit more time getting to know the actual city of Mendoza, visiting the museums and walking through the plazas, and we also visited the “nearby” (200 miles away) city of San Rafael to see its surrounding lakes and mountains. In the evening we returned to scene of steak perfection in order to sample it again, but alas, while it was still bloody good, it was not quite what I had eaten the previous night. We caught an 8pm flight back, arriving in Buenos Aires shattered, but very satisfied with our trip.
No doubt many of you are beginning to miss my charming character and dashing good looks, but fear not, as we will be returning to the UK on the 27th. However, you’ll have to get in quick to see me as I’ve got my flights already booked for the second leg of my travels and I leave for Japan on the 5th of September. Apparently term doesn’t start until around the 20th, and I’m not even allowed into the halls until the 9th, but I’ve decided to go a bit earlier to familiarise myself a bit and obviously to see Naoko…

So there you have it. No doubt next time you hear from me, be it in person or online, I’ll no longer be in Argentina. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of Big Ones to come.
Hells.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Barbecue Big Ones


On the whole, most of the Argentinian men I know don’t really cook. Instead, it tends to be either the wives or maids who prepare incredible Argentinian classics such as empanadas (similar to pasties, but lighter and tastier) and milanesas (thin cuts of steak or chicken fried in breadcrumbs). There is one exception however, and this is the Argentinian barbecue, known as the “asado”. No matter the season, if the weather is good, the smell of asado permeates through the air. Unlike the English barbecue, which tends to be a case of buying whatever looks good at the supermarket and chucking it over some coals, the Argentinian asado is a far more ritualised process of cooking. It involves the "asador" preparing a fire and allowing the coals to form, before lowering a "parilla" (grill) over the fire. Once this is done, the meats are generally cooked in a specific order, starting with Argentinian chorizo, black pudding, and chinchulines (intestines). Once these have started cooking, the beef cuts are added, usually including "costillas" (ribs) and "vacío" (flank steak). These are then served to an awaiting group of hungry guests.

Bahía Blanca is not a particularly well known city to foreigners, and with good reason. It takes 9 hours to get there by coach from the capital (even though it is still in the same province) and has very little to see and do for the average Joe tourist. The reason we go practically every time we come to Argentina, is to visit one of my mums friends who own a "block" of land, and always accept us with open arms. This year was no exception, and we arrived at 7am on a Friday after having travelled overnight in a "coche cama", a coach used for overnight journeys with seats that practically turn into beds. Even though the level of comfort is much higher than a standard coach or aeroplane, we still arrived feeling rather sluggish, and I ended up having a nap until 2 in the afternoon (aren't naps brilliant?). That night, Lucy and I were treated by my mums friends kids (not really kids, as they're 22 and 25) and their girlfriends to our first night on the town.

Now I should explain that in Argentina, things are done a little differently to the UK when having "the Big Ones". In the UK, we eat around 8, meet up at 9 either in a pub or at someone's house, and then head out to a club around 11 to return home no later than 4am. When going out here, people meet up to eat "la picada" (buffet style snaking) together at 10 or 11, don't even think about heading to a club until 4am, and stay out dancing well past 8am - meaning the following day is an absolute write-off, regardless of whether you are hungover or not. Generally, the best nights to go out in Argentina are Thursdays and Saturdays, and as it was a Friday, it was decided that we would take it relatively easy that night and go for the real Big Ones on Saturday. Saying that, we still stayed out until 5am dancing in a pretty trendy pub/bar thingamajig, drinking Warsteiner, and generally having a good time.

The following day, we were treated to our first asado, and suffice to say, it was radstock. I'm not much of a fan of morcilla (black pudding), and I tried the chinchulines finding them edible, but slightly intense in flavour. Aside from that, the rest was incredible, and I gorged myself well and truly. So much so, that the rest of the afternoon I did very little until 6pm, when I was invited to play a game of basketball with the guys and a few of their friends. I proved to be pretty crap in comparison to the rest, until I realised that my height gave me a distinct advantage if I stood under the net, as no one was able to reach the ball, giving me enough chances to shoot until I scored. I love being tall. Anyway, at 11pm we started "la picada" and ended up heading put to the club at 2am, but that proved to be too early and the place wasn't even open yet. We then headed to the pub/bar of the previous night and returned to the club at half 3 to find the place pretty banging. The music they played was a bit of a random mix of electronica, soul beats, Reggaetón (some beaty Latin music which all seemed to sound the same) and pop classics in both Spanish and English. I didn't think I was going to last until 7am (when the club closed), but we spent a lot of time chilling, illing and dancing, and before I knew it, they had announced that it would be the last song (lady gaga).

The last day was indeed a write-off, and I didn't leave the house until the eveing when we attended one of the girlfriend's birthday parties. We ended up leaving half way through as we had to get the 10pm coach back to Buenos Aires. Even so, it proved to be a great trip, and I had a rad time.

We got back on Tuesday morning, and since then I've been taking it relatively easy. Lucy and I were invited out to eat by a friend (the sister of the guys in Bahía Blanca who's studying in Buenos Aires)and her boyfriend on Tuesday night. They took us to some pretty swish restaurtant called "Kansas" which served amazing steaks and pastas. The with Thursday being Lucy's last night, some of our cousins decided to take us for a night out and we ended up going to an Irish bar/pub called Kilkenny's which proved to be no more Irish than Diego Maradona, but still ended up being a whale of a time.

Aside from the usual friends and family visits which we tend to do on a daily basis, that's been pretty much it. Yesterday the temperature reached 28 degrees - which is actually a joke even for here. It has since returned to what it should be, and it's only 14 degrees today, a change clearly highlighted by the freak rainstorm we had all of this morning. I also definitely think the vast amounts of food I have been eating are taking their toll on my body, but I figure I can always hit the gym when I get back to the UK and in Japan to work off the gut. The main problem is that aside from all the foods that I've told you about, the Argentinians are also very good at doing Italian dishes (as many Argentinians are descendants of Italian immigrants). This means that particularly the pastas, pizzas and ice creams here are amazing.

Tomorrow morning, my mum and I are off on a 2 hour flight to Mendoza, the heart of Argentina's wine country for 5 days. That should be pretty hells, but as its more or less in the Andes, it's supposed to be pretty nippy.

Anyway folks, that's enough for now. Bit of a beasty post, I know, but I hadn't posted for a while, and figured I owed you all a Big One ;).

Sweet drift.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Beef

Nothing beats a good juicy steak, and the Argentines certainly know how to do that. The quality in Argentine beef stems from the various strains of cross-bred cattle which feed out on the vast ranges of the pampas and around Buenos Aires, producing some of the finest quality steak in the world. Unlike British steak, there was no BSE contamination, and unlike American steak the quality is much higher. Thus, the result is a highly juicy, thickly cut, perfectly cooked, melt in the mouth steak. Add on to this an extremely favourable exchange rate, and you can be out dining on a very tasty steak, in a nice and fancy restaurant, with a good bottle of Argentine wine, all for under a tenner. Big ones for sure.

Since my last post I’ve been receiving various concerned comments from both friends and family alike, inquiring about the state of my health. As far as I know, on Tuesday evening of last week I came down with a strain of the dreaded H1N1. From where I was contaminated I am not sure, as the rest of my family and friends are all fine, and to the best of my knowledge I have not come into contact with any sick people. The one thing I do recall is that as we were preparing to board the flight from France (we came to Argentina with Air France via Charles de Gaulle) I pointed out to my mum and sister a woman who was coughing and sneezing all over the place, and jokingly said “if she’s on the flight, we’ll all have swine flu by the time we get to Buenos Aires”.

Where I got it from is mostly irrelevant, as it was more important that I got better. We were due to head South on Wednesday on an 11 hour overnight coach trip to visit one or my mum’s friends. Unfortunately, we had to postpone the journey until this Thursday while I got better. So instead, I spent Wednesday evening in a cold sweat, shivering with a 40+ fever. I almost passed out on one of my trips to the toilet, and no matter how often I took the medication, I was throwing it up again within half an hour.

Luckily, as the days progressed, my headache disappeared, my temperature went down, and by yesterday I was pretty much my old self save for an annoying cough. That being the case, it was decided by the adults taking care of me that I was better enough to brave going outside. A trip to a nice neighbourhood was planned and I was invited out for lunch by one of my uncles and his family. Following that we went on to do a bit of light shopping and general touristy things, before heading back to my grandmother’s apartment in time to be picked up and taken out to dinner.
Though it wasn’t initially planned that way, I treated this meal as my “well done on beating swine flu” shin-dig, and treated myself to one of the fanciest looking steaks on the menu. The food was great, the conversation, pleasant, and after having my fill of steak, wine and banter, I was driven home where I proceeded to crash out in a deep slumber.

That has been pretty much it since getting better. Today, I accompanied my mum and sister doing some shopping (which proved to be a big mistake – I forgot how tedious taking women shopping can be) and I have now been invited to another uncles’ house for dinner. Like I said earlier in this post, our journey south has been postponed until tomorrow night, and while it is still in the province of Buenos Aires, there is a definite change in temperature in Bahia Blanca, the “white bay”. Today, though it is the middle of winter, it was 16 degrees with bright sunshine here in the capital – how’s England doing?

Take care folks, and I’ll talk to you soon. Hells.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Oink oink

Well, no doubt many of you have been checking the blog regularly in the hope of finding a new update, only to be constantly dissappointed by a lack of activity. But believe me, this is through no intention of my own.

I arrived in Buenos Aires bright and early a week ago today. The sky was blue and though it's winter here, I would describe the temperature as mild rather than cold. Since then, the weather has remained relatively unchanged (I am yet to have seen rain fall) and this has allowed a flurry of activities revolving around family members that reside here in the capital. On Sunday, we accompanied my cousins and uncles to the out-of-town rowing club, and spent the day basking in the sunshine and rowing down the river. The following day was spent wondering the large shopping streets, eating ice cream, and generally soaking in the "porteño" vibe.

Life was good.

Then calamity struck.

My sister woke up on Tuesday complaining of a sore throat, cough, and a headache, and by Wednesday I also had much the same along with a fever. My uncle who's a doctor took me to the hospital and I was seen to immediately and prescribed tamiflu which I have been taking twice a day since.

Well, that's been pretty much it so far. I have been confined to my grandmothers apartment (where we're all staying), and am made to wear a mask when not in my bedroom. So all in all it's been pretty lame, and not really the Big Ones I had been expecting. Although, on a plus note, I have started feeling much better and should be back to normal within a few more days.

Until then, its tamiflu, ibuprofen, and a lot of rest for me.

Inabit folks.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Little Ones

It's been a full month since the creation of this blog, and yet I still find myself having not left the miserable gray shores of England (it really has been miserable weather eh?). However, the purpose of this blog was to document all aspects of my travels, not only the Big Ones, but also the build up to them.

With the start of my overseas travels immanent (I leave for Argentina in less than 48 hours) I may as well let you guys know what's cracking.

Firstly, since last week I have been pretty busy sorting out my applications for my Japanese university. The documents ended up coming last Wednesday, but I was unable to sort them out until Sunday (by which time I had already missed one of the deadlines...). I ended up receiving the scholarship which is basically means that I don't pay for accommodation fees (hells!). But the rules for the place are a bit of a joke (12 midnight curfew, and no guests allowed at all?!?!). Following that, I had to go down to London on Monday in order to apply for my visa - a journey I will have to make again tomorrow in order to pick it up, all in all, proving to be a pretty bucksy expenditure. The silver lining is that thanks to my Italian passport, the visa is free (bells!).

Secondly, the reason I was unable to sort out the documents any early was due to a brief Sheffield road trip from Thursday to Saturday which involved Bruno (referee!), alcohol (hmmm) and poker winnings (radstock). Aside from being viciously attacked on the first day, it was a pretty rad trip, and was reassuring to see that the house was still standing (good job Josephine!).

On another note, I received my results from my second year a little while ago, and it was fair to say that I'm still going strong, apart from a slight blip in Japanese which will hopefully be corrected over the following year.

So that's pretty much it for now, I've been filling up the spare time trying to improve at racket sports, acquiring a taste for wine, and having the occasional pot noodle. ;)

Oh well, the next time you hear from me I should be well into my travels, searching for "Los Grandes" in Buenos Aires.

Inabizzle fo shizzle ma nizzle dizzle.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Bristol, Banksy, and the Big Ones


With my good pal Joe passing his driving test two weeks ago last Friday, and his swift acquisition of a shiny new(ish) VW Golf two days later, we spent little time in planning an epic road trip. With a vast array of exciting and exotic locations now accessible to us and our four wheels, where did we decide to go? Well, it was none other than the golden jewel of a city that is Bristol, to see the living legend Stevil Kanevil. Hells, this was most definitely a Big One.

Matt, Joe and myself hit the road at 4pm on Thursday afternoon heading southbound, after having already said our fond farewells to our families. With tunes blasting out of the windows and 2 nice cold 4packs on the floor for both Matt and I, we made good time heading down the M5 at a comfortable and legal speed.

The first night was a relatively chilled affair. Most of Ste's house mates were about and happy to entertain us. Despite having cleaned off more than just our 4 beers in the car, Matt and I were more than capable of staying in control of our actions (a la beach house ;D) and proceeded to soak up the Bristol groove in a dignified manner.

The second day however, is where the Big Ones really shone. After having carried out some James Bond action in sneaking into the sports hall without paying to play some football, we left for the Bristol Museum at 4 in order to go and see the Banksy exhibition. It was pretty radstock to say the least, with lots of witty sculptures and paintings which often brought a smile to my face. Following that, the evening entertainment was perhaps some of Bristols best. No trip to Bristol is complete without a visit to the ultimate Bristol Big Ones, the Cori Tap. Here, their speciality is a cider which is as easy to drink as apple juice, and yet almost as potent as a Special Brew. The result when coupled with a vast and varying array of drinking games (race the ace, IDR, bluffing, and a dice game amongst others) is not pretty. Served exclusively as halves, only a brave few have managed to reach double digits in a single session (Matt attests to having drank 10 halves, but I am not so sure). The night was finally topped off after an eventful walk home, with superb renditions of "Reptilia", "Sabotage" and "Maps" on Rock Band by the Birmingham Boys accompanied by the Bristol Bunch. Hells.

Needless to say, the return leg of our journey on the Saturday afternoon was a much quieter affair. Luckily, unlike Matt and I, Joe had known his limits at the Cori Tap and was in a much better state than us to drive home. We arrived back in Birmingham on time and all absolutely shattered.

Big Ones, I'm sure you'll all agree.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Big Ones?

I've been mulling over how to start this blog for some time now, and just because I have finally put pen to paper (or rather finger to keyboard), it is no indicator that I have come up with the perfect beginning. However, like any good book, film, or adventure, there has to be a beginning, and so I decided to press on and get something down.

As we go through life, occasionally we have an experience which seems to stand out from the rest of our mundane day to day lives. These are what I have come to call the "Big Ones", and they can be anything from having an epic holiday with your mates, to simply hearing a bit of a rad tune on the radio. The Big Ones are what make life worth living, and provide the excitement in an otherwise ordinary day.

"So why the blog?" I hear you ask. Well, I'm about to embark on a bit of an epic mission to hunt out the Big Ones in as many far reaching places as I can get to, and I want to bring as many people along for the ride as possible. Granted, I'm going to be the one really "living the dream", while you guys are made to watch from the sidelines, but you'll all be there in spirit and together we can share in what the world has to offer.

Being a second year Japanese and Spanish student, I'll be off to Japan for a year starting in September. This presents an amazing opportunity to find new and interesting Big Ones in the Land of the Rising Sun. On top of that, I'll be heading in the opposite direction in July, spending a month in Argentina chilling with the family and searching out those well known Latin Big Ones (known locally as "Los Grandes").

So I hope you'll stick around and make yourself comfortable. Suffice to say, there are plenty of Big Ones to come.

Hells.