Getting to grips with Korean Hospitals 

One word: efficient. Here’s my story below…

I went to bed last night with a God-awful pain in my left shoulder and arm. I mean, I know pain – I’ve had a bad back since my teenage years and 8 years ago I suffered from a slipped disc in my lower back. So I knew this tear inducing pain wasn’t a regular bad sleeping/bad posture thing and when my go-to-not-available-over-the-counter pain meds did nothing for me and I stopped being able to move my neck up and down or side to side, I knew a visit to the doctor was unavoidable.

Fortunately, I have a hospital of choice (we go there to fill Raj’s prescriptions every 3 months) down the road and the hotline  helped me to make an appointment. Sadly, our regular doctor is on holiday but all the doctors at the Plus Hospital speak English, and I went armed with my medical records from home, where I had marked out previous experiences of taking the medication I wanted him to prescribe: a strong painkiller, an anti-inflammatory and something to help me sleep.
After some initial confusion about which floor I needed to be on, I registered and waited. It being obvious that I wasn’t Korean, one nurse took me under her wing and escorted me to the doctor. I described my symptoms and (planning ahead, I wore an easy to remove shirt) I offered to show the doctor where the pain was. He politely declined to touch me. We looked at the pages I had marked on my records and he diagnosed a herniated disc in my neck. Without touching. Say what?! He sent me to get an X-Ray (again I was escorted by my friendly nurse) for which I waited about 10 minutes. Again, no disrobing required as I stood in the demonstrated positions – who needs language skills when every day can be a game of charades!

The x-ray technician sent me trotting back to my friendly nurse, who after about 5 minutes took my hand and led me back to the doctor. With the x-rays on screen, he showed me that his diagnosis was correct and rather than just painkillers (I got those too) he wanted me to have an epidural steroid injection in between C5 and C6 (in my neck.) I mean wow! In the short time I had been waiting for the various elements of my treatment, I had been texting Raj and said that if it was a herniated disc, if the pain was still bad when we returned from Europe, I would investigate an injection. But no, no messing around here. Off I went back to my friendly nurse who scheduled my follow up and led me to the pain management clinic, as they were going to inject immediately. Seriously, this kind of thing takes months to schedule at home, even privately, and here I was less than an hour after entering the hospital being dealt with. The nurse gave me a robe and more charades ensued to describe the correct position for the injection. I had a few seconds to text my parents and Raj to let them know what was happening and in we went. 10 minutes later I’m lying back down in my cubicle for 20 mins to make sure I didn’t faint. With that time up, friendly nurse 2 led me back to reception and gave me a ticket, when my number was called, my bill and prescription were printed and I was sent off with a smile.

Next stop: hospital pharmacy – prescription handed over and my pre-packaged 14 doses of meds were given to me directly.


I detoured (feeling infinitely better – no more tears!) via my regular pharmacy where my guy just clarified what the medication was and less than 2 hours after my appointment, I was back on my sofa, watching Shrek the Third and writing this post. Absolutely incredible. Not quite zero pain but entirely manageable and pizza has been ordered for dinner 😃

I gotta say I could get used to this…

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A sad day for the UK

24th June 2016.

I don’t have a lot to say but I feel as though the moment ought to be marked. Today the people of Great Britain voted to Leave the EU – a sad and potentially catastrophic move, especially for the future generations.

I really do hope that this turns out to be the best move for the UK but right now, I am not sure how it can be.

*Time to Wallow*

 

 

 

Miyajima & Hiroshima

If you plan ahead and get a really early start, you can do a day trip to both Miyajima Island and Hiroshima. With Hiroshima, there are many more things to see and do than we did, but you would need a couple of days for everything.

So we actually based our trip on the tips found in this blog – apart from the fact that the train and ferry timetables have changed, it actually does set out everything you need for this long day of touristing. A tip from us is to save time when out and about, it is worth having a packed lunch of sorts: we bought the holy grail of cheese (Garlic & Herb Boursin) from one of the Liquor Mountains, and French bread. With the aid of a few things liberated from our hotel breakfast, sandwiches were made. This does mean that you don’t have to factor in sitting down and eating properly into your day and when you have veggies in your group, there is no guarantee that they’ll find a ‘grab and go’ bite – not a problem for the carnivores out there though!

Sample itinerary of day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima from Osaka/Kyoto

It takes about 2 hours on the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima and from there, you jump on a local train to Miyajima-guchi where the easy to spot underground tunnel takes you to the JR ferry (you can use your JR pass) for a 10 minute boat ride to the island.

The main thing to look out for on Miyajima island is the O-tori – you start to see it on the boat ride, so keep your eyes peeled. On the day we went, it was rainy and overcast but this leant an ethereal, ghost-like beauty to the island and it’s surrounds. I suspect Miyajima is a bit lie Milford Sounds in New Zealand – stunning on a good day, but enveloped in a beauty of its own when the clouds bring rain. You can pick up a map of the island as soon as you get off the ferry and plan where you want to go – we kept it to a minimum of seeing the O-Torii and the shrine, as Hiroshima demanded a full afternoon.

By the way, as you walk through the row of shops to and from the ferry, keep your eyes peeled for this gem: Hiroshima Beef Steamed Bun – I wish I had eaten 3 instead of a modest 1!

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Having seen the sights of Miyajima Island, we made our way back to Hiroshima and took the hop-on-hop-off bus to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial / Park. Now as much as you know in your head that this is home to one of the world’s greatest human disasters, I don’t think anything can prepare you for the actual sadness you feel when there. I left Hiroshima with a heavy heart and an interest in learning what we can do to achieve worldwide nuclear disarmament.

It didn’t feel right taking a lot of pictures  in and around the Peace Park but here is a quick itinerary of what we saw and a couple of pictures.

  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) World Heritage Site (A-Bomb Dome)
  • View of the Dome from Aioi Bridge (The suspected intended target of the Bomb)
  • Peace Clock Tower
  • Peace Memorial Park
  • Memorial Mound, with the ashes of victims contained within
  • Memorial to the Korean Victims of the bomb – accounting for around 10% of the total count
  • Figurine of the Goddess of Peace
  • Children’s Peace Monument
  • Peace Memorial Park – the domed cenotaph contains a stone with the names of everyone who perished. The Fire will not be extinguished until the world is rid of nuclear weapons.
  • Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the A-Bomb victims, with the clock depicting the time that the bomb was dropped (8.15am)
  • Hiroshima Museum of Peace

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that no trip to Japan is complete without a trip to  Hiroshima but it certainly lends a new perspective to the country and it is worthwhile fitting a trip into your plans.

 

From Kyoto, With Love

SHINKANSEN! Yeah!

**Ahem** Right, anyway.. we got a 10am Shinkansen from Shinigawa, having picked up breakfast croissants and lunchtime sandwiches from Viron in Shibuya en route… Hello Deliciousness!

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we maintained the whole ‘avoid taxis’ routine (with a US$7 starting fare, rides very quickly add up) and wandered over to the bus station. They have volunteers near the main station to help you figure out which bus you need but unfortunately, the man helping us put us on the wrong bus. Moral of the story: Don’t feel like you have to hurry off when someone has told you where they think you need to go – take your time and figure it out properly! When using the buses here, you enter from the back entrance and leave from the front, paying your fare (usually 230JPY) as you leave. Buses only accept exact change, but each bus has a note converter at the front. Top Tip for buses: When you leave the bus on your first journey of the day, don’t pay the single fare and ask the driver for a day ticket instead – 500 JPY per person. You have to validate the ticket the first time you use it and on subsequent journies within the city ring, just show the side with the date on it to the driver. Buses do end earlyish in Kyoto – around 9 or 10pm, so decide whether you need a pass based on when you arrive.

Kyoto is considered the cultural capital of Japan and with its plethora of temples, gardens and other sights it certainly lives up to it. Next time I’m tempted to fly straight into Osaka and spend a few more days in Kyoto and the surrounding area. Just a thought.

It was glorious weather in Kyoto when we arrived, so like all good tourists, we headed straight to The Golden Pavillion. Now here is something that I hadn’t thought of before: tourist hot spots such as the Golden Pavilion will likely be busy whatever time you go to see them, but places such as Arashiyama and Fushiama Inari Taisha are likely to be quieter in the morning as they are a little on the outskirts, so plan your trip accordingly.

From here, we visited the Daisen-in temple garden in the Daitoku-ji complex – some of the temples close at 1630, with last entry at 1600, so we weren’t able to see a lot and where we did go, photography was prohibited, but actually, it was really nice to just look with your eyes and take in the view, rather than rushing to see it through a little camera or iPhone screen. Japanese Zen could teach us all a thing or two.

One of my favourite things about Japan is the Ramen, but as you know, finding the veggie stuff for Raj is often a challenge. Having spent some time on tripadvisor, we realised that the chain Ippudo had a branch nearby, and although there was nothing veggie on the menu, trip advisor assured us that you just had to ask. So we went and asked and they got it – big thumbs up for the international chain that caters to all diets!! We ate here two nights so enamoured with the Ramen we were and I tried both types of Pork Ramen which I loved! I ordered a side of veggies as well, which I thought was the perfect accompaniement.

A quick stroll though the Nishiki Market and Karawachi area and bed made a lovely start to Kyoto.

The next couple of days were spent day tripping, and on Wednesday, before we left back to Tokyo, an early start was planned, but I was super tired, but despite a later start to the day, we managed to fit most things in. We started off at Fushiama Inari Taisha Shrine, which is also home to the pathway of Torii. It is a mild uphill hike to see all of it (I went about a quarter of the way) so dress appropriately and don’t forget the inset repellent! Next stop was Arashiyama (which we had to go to via Kyoto Station. But note: you can’t use Arashiyama Station on your JR pass, but the nearest JR station was close enough). Arashiyama is SUCH a gorgeous (short) walk and no pictures can capture the beauty of it, so spend time looking. Of course I did take some pictures, but the memory of it is what will stay with me.

Our penultimate stop was the Ginkakuji Temple, to see the Silver Pavilion & gardens. Much simpler than the Golden Pavilion, I think I might have liked it better! The only thing we didn’t manage to fit in was the Philosopher’s Path but there is always next time. The last thing we did in Kyoto was have some Ramen on the 10th floor of Kyoto Station – there is a weird ‘token’ system – you buy a token at a machine and exchange it for Ramen at one of the restaurants. We picked the one which had a huge ‘VEGETARIAN (NO MEAT OR FISH) RAMEN AVAILABLE’ sign outside it and were not disappointed.

After slurping (yes, slurping – it is considered polite to slurp in Japan) our fill, it was time for the last SHINKANSEN to Shinigawa for a quick overnight before an early flight home.

Although I have one more post to write about our trip to Miyajima Island and Hiroshima, this seems like the right time to say that although we only spent a week in Japan, it is one of the best places that I have ever been to, and I can’t wait to go back. Love you long time Japan xoxo

 

Nikko, Yamazaki & Nara

Following last night’s little rant about a mere handful of things going on in the world which all leave me indescribably sad, I thought I would lift the tone by returning to my current favourite topic. Japan.

This blog seems to have taken a turn for the travel-blog, rather than one of my musings but I suspect that as I end my missive to Japan, things will return to normal, so bear with me dear folks.

Right, so, I’m combining a few of the day and half-day trips that we did (using our trusty JR Passes) – I could quite easily wax lyrical about each place in a post of its own, but your comfort and interest is at the forefront of my mind (somewhat) and so brevity is the order of the day.

On Saturday, the sun was shining and we planned to take our first Shinkansen. Now, as much as I love Japan, I super-super love the Shinkansen. Granted I only managed to stay awake on one of the Shinkansen (I even love to say the word..) trips we did but wowowowowow. Anyhow, my first Shinkansen experience was to Nikko. We’d heard many good things about the place and it didn’t disappoint. The initial sunshine of the day waned a little, so we didn’t spend the whole day there, but we did visit the Shrines Tosho-gu and Futarasan. I can imagine that when the weather is more consistent, Nikko would be a glorious place to spend a couple of nights.. and that is on the agenda for my next trip. The evening consisted of dinner with friends in Shibuya and the all important viewing of Captain America: Civil War, followed by a little stroll and the easy-peasy reservation of our seats on the Shinkansen (there is that word again) to Kyoto from Shinigawa station.

Jumping forward a few days, we spent Tuesday visiting the Yamazaki (or Kamikaze, as i kept, rather Freudian-ly kept saying) distillery and the temples of Nara. As we only realised the distillery was so close to Kyoto rather late in the day, we were unable to get a space on the tour – this books out months in advance, so plan ahead and make the most of it. We were however able to wander through the museum and try a few of the more choice whiskeys, which made for a most pleasant morning! A word to the wise for you whiskey aficionados out there: Yamazaki 18 is near impossible to buy. A bartender in Kyoto told us that most bars send their staff out to remote countryside liquor stores on the off-chance that there is a bottle in stock and nobody has realised it’s worth. The distillery had none left to sell and nor did any of the stores or bars we went to. I believe that a few years ago there was a dramatization of the Whiskey Industry in Japan, which increased popularity and led to ginormous sales and the current low stock situation. So enjoy the drink when you find it in bars but set your sights a little lower when planning which bottle to take home!

From Yamazaki, we went back to Kyoto and took a local train (no Shinkansen today, sigh) to Nara. If you head to bus stop 2, you’ll get to the Todaiji Temple Complex. The main sight, the Todaiji Temple itself is of huge historical significance in Japan. Constructed in 752, it was the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples. At the time, Nara was considered the capital of Japan but the growth of the Todaiji temple meant that the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784, to reduce the influence of the temple of the governmental affairs.

We then wandered uphill to Kasuga Taisha – unfortunately slightly too late to go inside, but we hung around the front and snapped a few pictures nonetheless, and I met one of my favourite trees of Japan.

Dinner was Ramen at Ippudo (more about this in the Kyoto post) and a little wander through the streets of Gion, which evoke all the traditional feelings that one associates with Kyoto. Tonight was the night of drinks at the wonderful Finlandia, but I’ll tell you more about that next time..

 

Land of hope and glory? I think not. 

*Warning: the following post consists entirely of me ranting, so please navigate away from this page if that does not suit your current mood* 

I need to interrupt my love letter to Japan to share how I feel about America at the moment. I mean, what is going on people? Trump, and his goddamn wall, might be ruling the land, rape is being openly written off as “20 minutes of action” and the rapist is bejng given 6 months jail time, instead of up to 14 years, because of the potential impact it would have on HIS life?! ( Ed. for those of you who haven’t read the story: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/06/stanford-sexual-assault-case-victim-impact-statement-in-full). Er, hello.. we seem to have forgotten who the VICCTIM really is here no? 

Alongside this women are continuing to belittle the choices of other women, instead of supporting their right to make their own decisions – Hilary, I may not agree with your decision to stay with Bill but I sure as hell respect your right to make that decision for yourself. Where is the support people? 

Life in the good ol’ USA seems decidedly not good and I for one want to stay away.

I recently learnt that attitudes towards women in Korea are shocking – male privilege is rife and women are considered “second class citizens”. Violence against women is commonplace and largely ignored – those few people who bravely choose to make a stand are met with more violence and degradation. I thought that as the “wayguk” (foreigners) we could at least stand in support of those women here who don’t want to accept this as the norm and maybe give them hope that attitudes can be changed but when the “civilised west” propagates the acceptance of such behaviour, what good do a handful of us here have to foster a change in attitudes and beliefs. I’m deflated and demoralised (but apparently my ability to alliterate remains intact…) 

Not a perky post today but one that needed writing, if only to ensure that my poor husband doesn’t bear the brunt of my disillusionment. Suffice it to say, I have precisely zero hope of ever seeing America as a glorious land again… 

*Rant Over*

Tales of Tokyo

I’ve been super lax on the blog front I know but since we came home from Japan, I feel like the pace of life has picked up here. Now this is no bad thing, but over the last few months I definitely got used to having one main ‘action’ to achieve each day so a slight re-set of the mind was needed. Needless to say, sitting at the table, rather than on my wonderfully large sofa, helps focus my mind a bit. But onwards with my one-sided love letter to Japan.

A lot of people say that Tokyo is pretty similar to Seoul – both major hub-bub cities on steroids but I don’t know. Maybe it’s because Seoul is home now and most of our trips into Seoul include something practical, Tokyo felt a lot buzzier to me. Whatevs. On with the tale

We were staying in Shibuya with friends which has the perfect mix of a nice, homey neighbourhood and things to do, as well as being very central and one of the JR Pass train stations that you can exchange your voucher at etc. I think if (when!!) I go back, I’d plan to stay in Shibuya again – not least because we did stumble across the yummiest bakery (Viron, for those of you nearby, keep an eye out!) which assuages all my “what-is-raj-going-to-eat-today” worries.

We had two full days in Tokyo, and in typical fashion, we totally overdid things on the first day, and then had a much lazier, easier day to follow, when we realised how tiring the sightseeing was (It’s a hard life..)

Day One saw us visiting the following places (in this order).

Meiji Jingu Shrine – it was a beautiful day and so walking through the woodlands here was well worth it. But pace yourself when it comes to Shrines as you don’t want to out-shrine yourself before getting to Kyoto…

Harajuku & Takeshita Street – give yourself plenty of time to stroll slowly through the street here. Well, slowly is the only way given the number of people but what I mean is that you want to take the time to look in the stores and just people watch a little bit. THE thing to do here is eat crepes, so plan to be here at a dessert suitable hour (basically anytime!)

Just round the corner from Takeshita Street, we wandered down Omotesando Street and Cat Street -the Bond Street / Carnaby Street of the Tokyo. All the brands figure prominently here and there are some great deals to be had if you keep your eyes peeled!

Via the Akibajinja Shrine – literally by the subway on Omotesando Street, so you can’t miss it, we then went to Asakusa and the Senseo-Ji Shrine. There is a lovely market just in front of the shrine which was fab to wander through – most stores, like everywhere in Japan, are cash only so come with a surplus of cash rather than relying on your credit card!

From here, the sun was setting so we went to the Tokyo Sky Tower and hung around until it got dark for some stellar views. Foreigner Tip: The queue to get in is huge (1 hr plus) , but if you walk around the outside to the West Entrance, you can buy a slightly more expensive ticket that gets you to the front of the line… I felt a little bad, but not as bad as I would have felt if I had to stand in the queue with no snacks.

Last stop was Shinjuku for dinner – now, as it was Golden Week (albeit the end of Golden Week) many restaurants take the opportunity to have their annual holiday or at the very least close early. So we struggled to find anywhere to eat even though it was only 2130 – thank goodness for Pizza & Pasta (and even they wanted to get rid of us as quickly as possible!)

The next day was a rainy day, so we felt justified in being less pro-active in terms of being good tourists and our day largely revolved around food.

We started off with a bowl of Vegan Ramen in Tokyo Station – the restaurant there is obvious and apparently famous – well worth a visit in my (usually carniverous) opinion. We tried to walk to the East Imperial Gardens, but rain stopped play and instead spent a couple of hours mooching around the Tokyo National Museum (ed: Now I’m planning Samurai Costumes for Halloween…)

From here, a little wander around Akhiabara – turns out even electronics are super expensive in Japan, including ice-cream at the most bizarre cafe: AKB48 Cafe. AKB48 are a 60 (yes, SIXTY) strong girl band, of ages from 13 – 29 who take shifts in performing music shows / live theatre and they have a themed cafe. I felt the ick of all the lone men who were obviously there for pervy purposes, as did Raj when I informed him that some of the girls were actually young enough to be his daughter, so we didn’t stay for our full alloted hour. I think if I were to visit a theme cafe again, I would choose something less innocuous – Robots perhaps. Dinner was at a lovely little Mexican place in Hiroo called La Jolla, followed by some very delicious wine at home!

I can’t wait until Raj’s cousin and her wife (to be) move to Tokyo and I have a year full of excuses to visit… And perhaps next time will allow for people watching seeing as we covered so many sights in such a short time! The best pics from the trip are on instagram (@ishwarya) but here are a couple to make you want to book flights…