Monthly Archives: August 2008

George Town

Posted by on August 23, 2008

I got up early yesterday to pack and check out of my hotel so I could get to the train station for the 9:15am train to Penang. As it turns out, there either isn’t a 9:15 train, or it was full. Either way, I had to wait for the 2:19pm train, which didn’t show up until 3pm.

The train ride was boring and very uneventful. The scenery in central Malaysia is very pretty, especially going through some of the highland areas.

As a rule, I try to avoid arriving in new places after dark. You can’t see anything and you have no feel for the place. I got into the train station at about 9:30, well after sunset. When you arrive in Penang (the Butterworth station) you have to walk about 5 min to go to the ferry terminal to take a short ferry ride to George Town, the primary city in Pengang.

On the ferry, I had a bizarre sense of deja vu. Whenever I arrive some place new, I almost always go through a process of comparing it to someplace else I’ve been. From the ferry, George Town reminded me of Macau (minus the casinos) and walking around the town, I was reminded of Vigan in the Philippines. Like George Town, both of those places have strong architectural reminders of their colonial past.

While I’m still in Malaysia, this is very different from KL. I’ve seen two women here with head scarves. I’d say about half in KL had them. Most of George Town seems to be Chinese. Most of the tourists I’ve met so far are just here to get their Thailand visas renewed.

I’ll only be here another day or so before I go to Phuket. I’ll be there at least a week working on my Rescue Diver course.

The Seven Wonders of Japan

Posted by on August 21, 2008

I bring you, in no particular order, the Seven Wonders of Japan.


Photography by

Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera is a Tendi Buddhist temple in Kyoto, and is one of the oldest and best known temples in an historic city filled with temples. The current building was built in 1633 by the third Tokugawa shogun and temples on the location date back to 798. Situated on Mount Otowa, Kiyomizu offers a stunning view of the surrounding area.

Kiyomizu gets its name from a nearby 13m waterfall. People would often jump off the temple into the water below (a practice which is now banned). “Jumping from Kiyomizu Temple” has become a saying in Japan for doing something daring.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle, Himeji
Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo) is one of the best preserved castles in Japan. Construction originally started in 1331, Himeji was untouched by the devastation in WWII, unlike Osaka and Hiroshima Castles. Himeji is considered one of the three great castles of Japan, along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle.

Castle holds a commanding view of all the surrounding flat land area, which made it ideal for a military fortification. In addition to its large keep and thick walls, the paths inside the compounds are a maze designed to confuse potential attackers.

Himeji can be visited via day trip from Kyoto or Hiroshima via the Shinkansen, and the castle is within easy walking distance from the train station.

A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Peace Park, Hiroshima
On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima, Japan became the first city ever to be destroyed with an atomic bomb. As Hiroshima rebuilt after the war, a decision was made to keep the ruins of the Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome) standing as a reminder of the devastation, and the centerpiece of the Hiroshima Peace Park. The dome and the area of the park was ground zero for the blast which killed over 100,000 people.

The park draws visitors from all over the world who come, not only to remember those killed in the war, but to hope for future peace.

In addition to the A-Bomb Dome, there are memorials to the children killed in the explosions, a peace library and museum, an eternal peace flame, as well as several acres of park area. Visitors should take the time to ring the Peace Bell.

Golden Pavillion, Kyoto

Golden Pavillion, Kyoto

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto
The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is one of the most beautiful buildings in Japan. Built on the grounds of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397, the pavilion was created to hold relics of the Buddha. The top two floors of the building is coated in gold leaf, which is where it gets its distinctive name.

The pavilion was burned down in 1950 by a deranged monk, and rebuilt in 1955. The pavilion and the surround pond and garden are one of the most photographed scenes in Japan.

Shinkansen in Kagoshima

Shinkansen in Kagoshima

The Shinkansen
No trip to Japan would be complete without taking a trip on the Japanese bullet train, the Shinkansen.

The Shinkansen is the heart of the extensive Japanese rail system. While most of the trains in Japan are normal trains, the Shinkansen are kept on a separate rails designed for rapid transit. The Shinkansen can achieve a top speed of 300kph (180mph). There are no road or rail crossing on Shinkansen tracks. The speed of the train would make an accident devastating.

High speed Shinkansen trains can be taken from Kagoshima in the far south to Hachinohe in the north, covering most of the country.


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Fuji-san (Mount Fuji)
Could any list of the Seven Wonders of Japan be complete without Mount Fuji? Mount Fuji is not only the highest point in Japan, but is a symbol of the country which has been used in countless pieces of artwork. Fuji is an active stratovolcano, but has not erupted since 1707.

Approximately 200,000 people climb Mount Fuji each year, and visiting Mount Fuji is a popular destination for tourists. On a clear day, the summit of Mount Fuji can be seen from Tokyo. The most popular months for climbing Fuji are July and August.

Visiting the base of Mount Fuji can be easily done on a day trip from Tokyo.

If you dont think noodles can be a wonder, you havent been to Japan

If you don't think noodles can be a wonder, you haven't been to Japan

Ramen in Fukuoka
Japanese cuisine ranks among the best in the world. While sushi often gets the attention, one of the staple foods of Japan is ramen.

Originally a Chinese dish, ramen first became popular in Japan during the Meiji period in the 19th Century. Japanese ramen is a far cry from the instant noodles which many westerners think of when they hear ramen.

Ramen was believe to have been brought to Japan by Chinese merchants in Fukuoka. Fukuoka ramen is known for its rich, pork based Tonkotsu ramen, topped with a pork cutlet.

Other articles in Gary’s Wonders of the World series:
Seven Wonders of the Philippines | Seven Wonders of Australia | Seven Wonders of New Zealand | Seven Wonders of Japan | Seven Wonders of Egypt

My Malaysian Malaise

Posted by on August 17, 2008

I love big buildings and KL has two

I love big buildings and KL has two

I’m feeling much better now. Thank you to everyone who sent me well wishes in the comments and on Twitter. The worst of it was over in a few hours, but I spent over a day just sleeping with my entire body sore and tired. I’m back at 100% now, and oddly enough, as one of the commenters pointed out, getting sick like that was almost like going on a fast, just that it all happened over a span of a few hours. Since then, I’ve been eating a much better, which is pretty easy to do in KL.

I’ve been here for a week now and I haven’t said a word about Malaysia or KL, so I should probably take the time to describe the what has been happening.

I’m staying at a great little hotel near the biggest shopping area in KL, Times Square. Times Square is a giant mall with a giant amusement park inside. The roller coaster they have puts the Mall of America to shame. The prices in KL are, if not the cheapest I’ve seen, certainly be best value I’ve seen on my trip. I got a single room here, free wifi, my own bathroom and hot water, and a nice bed with nice sheets, for $30/night. A high end hotel room is about US$100/night. I really have no complaints. Food is cheap. The exchange rate is US$1 = RM$3.3 (Ringgit Malaysian). I have to constantly remind myself that the 50 ringgit notes I’m carrying around are really like $15. A monorail trip is less than US$0.50. I can eat a very large sushi meal for under US$15, which is hard to do anywhere else.

Indonesia or the Philippines might in some sense be technically cheaper, but things in KL are much nicer than what you’ll find in Manila or Jakarta. Much. KL is a full blown modern city. It is very easy to get around here. English is widely spoken and many of the signs are in English.

I’m finding Bahasa to be one of the easiest languages to pick up that I’ve experienced on my trip. Many of the words come from English, but are just spelled or pronounced differently (Bas = Bus, Polisi = Police, Teksi = Taxi, Sentral = Central) Because they use the Roman Alphabet, it is easy to pick up words which aren’t based in English, because the words are often in context, or are next to an English translation . (Keluar = Exit, Masuk = Entrance). Pretty much everyone I’ve met in Malaysia, including my time in Sabah and Sarawak in January, speaks passable English.

The ethinic make up on Malaysia is sort of the mirror image of Singapore. Malaysia is mostly Malay, with a significant Chinese minority, and a smaller Indian minority. Many, but not all women wear Islamic head scarves. It is an Islamic country, but very moderate and freedom of religion is the law (in fact, the government will provide land for non-Muslim churches to be built for free).

One thing which sort of surprised me was seeing women in full blown, eye slot only, black burqas at the mall near my hotel. I had not seen a single woman dress like that in Brunei, Sabah, Sarawak or Indonesia. I figured there was just a conservation group of Muslims in KL. It turns out that they are tourists from the Middle East. I just had no clue because…..well, you can’t see anything under a burqa. KL has become a big tourist destination for Arabs since 9/11. It’s cheap, modern, and you can find halal food everywhere.

I have to say I’ve been surprised by KL. I’m not exactly sure what my expectations for KL were before I arrived, but I think they’ve been surpassed.

I Feel Crappy, Oh So Crappy

Posted by on August 15, 2008

About a half hour after I posted about the new website last night, my body went into full scale revolt. I spent the next several hours either on, or above the toilet as my body expelled every bit of food from my system. I’ve spent most of today sleeping. I got up around noon to eat something. I had miso soup and few pieces of sushi, then went back to bed. I spent all day sleeping, waking up to take a hot shower, then going back to sleep. My whole body aches right now and I’m still probably a bit dehydrated. My dinner was sliced fruit.

The Chinese lady who runs the place I’m staying at has been wonderful. Every time I come downstairs, she is saying “Mister Gary. You must eat something. Let me make something for you”. I’m going to stay in KL a few more days until I feel better. The place I’m staying is nice and affordable with free wifi, so I figure I’ll just stay put.

Thanks for the comments on the new layout of the site. I have a list of changes and fixes I’ll have to make.

With that, I’m going back to bed….