I AM sipping a Spanish rose wine, the faintest colour of blood, which is apt, as I am perched among Spain’s largest collection of bull fighting memorabilia, staring down several mounted angry bull heads. But this is not a gory story, but one of love. It’s a crisp, damp November evening in Pamplona, in northern Spain, and I am crouched around a table with Senora Maria del Carmen Tahoces. While I ask clumsy questions, and the beautiful Senora attempts to answer them, my tour guide Francisco Glaria Baines, is tasked with the toughest job of all, translating our conversation which swings from bulls, to love, to loss, and life itself.
I am on a 10-day Novelties of Northern Spain tour with Collette Vacations and while my fellow travellers have since departed Maria’s home museum, which pays homage to bull fighting and her husband Marcelimo who died 10 years ago, I have asked to stay on. To dance with the bull. To find out more about this enigmatic woman who lives among these creatures. While Maria speaks no English, and I, no Spanish, we both understand the language of love and loss.
Before she met Marcelimo, Maria never went to a bull fight, she wasn’t interested. He was a doctor and on their first date they ended up at a ring. She admits she didn’t love bull fighting, or indeed her future husband at first sight, but both passions grew. That was back in 1967 and by 1970 they were married and had moved into Pamplona’s most famous bull running street, where the bulls turn a sharp right at Dead Man’s Corner and head straight for Pamplona’s bull ring. She lives there still.
When he died 10 years ago, Marcelimo left behind two children, six grandchildren, and a deeply heart-broken wife. But his love of bull fighting lives on. On this particular day, and for the first time in her grieving journey, Maria has opened her house to our tour group. Behind this unassuming entry lays Spain’s largest collection of bull-fighting memorabilia. There’s those bull heads mounted on the wall, a replica bull ring crafted by her husband, magical matador capes and even a Salvador Dali painting. It’s a huge step for the Senora to open her house to strangers – these artefacts are usually only reserved for Spain’s bullfighting community – and both her courage and grief are palpable.
I want to tell her how sorry I am for her loss, but I do not possess the Spanish words and it seems trite to communicate this through Francisco. These are words that are too important to be lost in translation. Instead, I tell her she is beautiful, for indeed she is.
“When my husband was alive, this was an open house for the bull world, you didn’t have to ask to come in,” she says.
“After he died, for two years, I could not do anything. We had everything in boxes for a renovation and I needed to put it out again.
“In the beginning, today was very stressful, but once I saw your reaction, I calmed. I was worried you would not like bull fighting.
“Bull fighting is not just what is in the arena. People only centre of the blood part. You need to make the decision to go for the human or the animal.”
While I don’t entirely understand bull fighting, I understand love. I clutch at small talk, and tell her my family are graziers in country Queensland. I know a little of El Toro. But not enough.
I ask Senora Maria whether she still goes to bull fights, but she says she can’t yet return to the one in Pamplona.
“I cannot go in Pamplona yet as it makes me sad,” she says.
“We always went to the same seats, me going alone, I cannot go there.”
I finish the interview, knowing I’ve already prodded deep enough around this woman’s grief. On the way out, I hug Senora Maria and thank her for sharing her story and her home. She tells me, through Francisco, that I am welcome to bring my family to visit and stand on her beautiful balcony during the Running of the Bulls. Sometimes you don’t need to speak the language to connect. It’s raining as I step out into the cold, night air and stroll along the empty, cobbled streets of Pamplona. I think of Senora Maria and her love story and a smile graces my face as I pluck my way back to the warmth of my hotel, walking the route of those running bulls and a love story which endures.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette
Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
IT’S a wonderful warm day and I am ambling along La Rambla, Barcelona’s beautiful and bustling pedestrian street, before pulling up a perch for a sultry Sangria and some prime people-watching. I sashay on, in Spanish style, arriving at a teeming Tapas bar, all colour and life on this glorious day with customers politely pointing and seemingly shouting for these tasty treats. Dinner and a show? You had me at rioja. I have arrived in Spain’s sexiest city earlier this morning, having flown in fashion aboard Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900 aircraft from Brisbane, via Singapore, with a brief touch down in Milan, before my final destination…Barcelona. And I immediately fall in love.
This jaunty journey for me begins before I even leave the ground in Brisbane. Last September, Singapore Airlines turned the heat up on the competitive airline food market, launching its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. And I have done just that, booked the cook, a few days prior to flying pre-ordering a main meal from a selection of options with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of Chefs, including Matt Moran. I had the privilege of taste-testing these delicious dishes on the ground last year, but I had never tried them at 30,000 feet. According to experts, you lose 30 per cent of your ability to taste at altitude, so would the dish I chose stack up?
But before I board, I am ushered into Brisbane’s SilverKris Lounge, a place I last passed the Duchess of Cornwell, Camilla, who was in town earlier this year for the Commonwealth Games with Prince Charles. Camilla, bless her, took one look at me and sighed, just as it occurred to me from where I knew this familiar face flanked by police. I may not be a blue blood, but I am treated like royalty in the lounge, with staff remembering me from previous visits, enthusiastically encouraging me to try “every dish on the menu”. “But I’ve Booked the Cook onboard,” I plead. I defer and munch my way through the lounge’s Asian-inspired delights including delicious dim sum and some Aussie treats with a twist as well such as mac and cheese infused with truffles.
Sated, I take my Business Class seat on Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900ULR aircraft, bound for Singapore. Singapore Airlines is the launch customer of these beautiful birds, taking delivery in late-September. In October this year, Singapore Airlines used this aircraft to launch the world’s longest commercial flight between Singapore and New York, covering 16,7000km with a travel time of 18hours and 45 minutes. By comparison, I have around 8 hours on which to sip creamy Charles Heidsieck champagne, before ordering a full-bodied 2015 Bordeaux to accompany my lunch. I’ve pre-booked the lamb and it’s as plump and juicy as I remember trying on the ground. In fact, I could be at a five-star restaurant. The other great thing about the Singapore Airlines’ afternoon flight from Brisbane is that it’s a meal, movie, a nap and snack before you are touching down at Changi Airport. On board, the Business Class service is so impeccable, the crew fold and tidy your bedding whenever you rise to stretch your legs, meaning you come back to a fully-made flat-bed every time, something I’ve never experienced on any other airline.
In Changi, I am ushered to the First Class Lounge and it is a first-class affair with a swanky bar where the bar man mixes your drinks and delivers them to you, and food is cooked to order, before again, being served to your seat. On this connection to Europe, there’s time for a shower with pristine facilities and thoughtful toiletries you’ll need for the next leg, before boarding, just before midnight, to Barcelona (via Milan). On the second leg I’m in Premium Economy which is a great, affordable alternative with the same service and meal offerings you receive in Business Class. Here, the seats remind me of the first-generation Business Class seats favoured by airlines before flat-bed became the norm. The only quirk in this entire journey was the refreshment served between Milan and Barcelona which fell short of Singapore’s impeccable meals, with my tuna, mayo and lettuce sandwich tasting less like tuna and more like mayo and lettuce. The young Aussie girl in the seat beside me, who raves about Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy because of her long legs, says the same about her vegetarian roll, which is simply some soggy eggplant plonked onto bread. I note on the sandwich packet that it’s an Italian caterer, and may be something for Singapore Airlines to review, given this airline is excellent in every other way. I arrive in Barcelona early in the morning, and am ready to amble along La Rambla with a Singapore spring in my step following my flights.
My journey home, from Munich to Brisbane, via Singapore, is in Economy Class and is again, effortless. One of the reasons I personally book Singapore Airlines is that even in Economy Class, you are still granted that Singapore smile and service. There’s refreshing hot towels, speedy service, and on both of these legs, Singapore has taken the trouble to ensure every Economy Class passenger has a spare seat between them. This is something I’ve never seen any other airline do, preferring to let guests battle it out for space in the air. It’s little wonder this airline continues to win awards. In February in London, Singapore Airlines was awarded three top awards at Cellars in the Sky including the coveted Gold Medal for Best Overall Cellar. In April, it was crowned Best Airline in the World in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. And in July, it was named the World’s Best Airline in Skytrax’s World Airline Awards. And it’s easy to see why. Any airline can fluke good service once or twice, but you cannot fake that consistently supreme service offered by Singapore Airlines, regardless of which class you choose to fly. Consider booking your next trip with Singapore Airlines and treat yourself to an upgrade, particularly if flying long-haul. You, too, will disembark with that trademark Singapore smile.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
Hola from Spain! I am currently on assignment in Spain courtesy of Collette Tours and Singapore Airlines, and about to take a week of R&R in Prague and Germany, to catch up with family and friends. I’ll be back soon with some more tantalising travel tales. In the meantime, please follow my travels on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
A FLIRTATIOUS French fellow is pouring a sexy shiraz from a pleasingly phallic stem, while explaining the sex muscle of a cow. I am dining in one of Brisbane’s oldest riverside restaurants, revisiting the classy classic that is Cha Cha Char…and my tastebuds are ready to rumba. While Cedric, the restaurant’s General Manager is ensuring I am well libated, it’s the steak here that really does the talking.
Brisbane’s beef baron John Kilroy opened Cha Cha Char 21 years ago after working in country pubs and vowing to “never sell a steak again in my life.” These days you’ll find every steak imaginable on his restaurant from the Wagyu Rump Cap which has been grain fed for 300-plus days; the Rib Fillet Black Onyx Angus aged 30 to 36 months and grain fed for 270-plus days; to the T-Bone Angus Yearling aged 12 to 18 months and grass fed. This is a man who knows his meat. When he’s not in the restaurant, he’s out mustering with mates “for fun”.
Kilroy, as he is known about town, was the first to introduce Wagyu to a sceptical Brisbane dining public who hadn’t yet cottoned on to the idea of marbelling in their beef. Now, he is about to tantalise the city’s taste buds with the introduction of a new cut, the French Blonde D’Aquitaine beef, to his menu. There’s also the new light dishes, tapas if you will, of the Oyster Carpet Bag bao bun with Wagyu striploin, oyster and bernaise sauce; and the Bugs BBQ served in brioche roll filled with Blonde D’Aquitaine steak tartar.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Cha Cha Char will soon transform the private dining room in which we are sitting into a Wagyu bar.
It appears there is not rest for the wicked for this country boy who once couldn’t read and was assisted in gaining his first job by Flo Bjelke-Petersen who helped him secure a role as a Main Roads surveyor…despite Kilroy having no surveying skills.
By his own admission, Kilroy has lost and made millions of dollars over the years, but for him, success all comes back to the customer.
“I can take a piece of meat in this town and make it tender just by the way it is cooked,” he says.
“Owning restaurants is not just how much money you have in the bank. You get to know people.
“I get to travel the world in people’s big boats and jets and planes. You never know who you are going to meet in there.”
Kilroy admits Brisbane palettes have come a long way “everyone knows Wagyu now” and has moved on from the days when calamari was used for fishing bait.
“We didn’t used to eat these things in Australia but people are eating anything now. A lot of this has to do with travel,” he says.
“There is passion in this restaurant. I can put a plate of food in front of you and in 30 seconds I know if you are disappointed or not.
“We’re just dishwashers listening to people. It is a very rewarding business.”
Along George Street, the Queensland capital has just opened its doors on new Indian restaurant Heritij in the new Brisbane Quarter. In this cavernous space, overlooking the Brisbane River towards South Bank, there’s dining for 210 people including private spaces such as The Library, Cellar Room and Passage, each accompanied by their own inspirational quote outside. I am feasting at the Captain’s Table, inspired by the quote “Around my table we make the big decisions, we solve the world’s problems, yet never lose sight of the deck or horizon.” It’s a fitting tribute to a city whose dining scene is on fire.
Outside, on the deck, it’s all breezy, blue cushions and river views, accompanied by a chic bar set up, while inside, it’s plush royal colours…purples, turmerics, navy blues, emerald greens, reminiscent of a Maharaja’s palace. The food here is fit for a king, with the pungent scent of the smoky tandoor wafting through this beautiful, big space, punctuated by voluminous, brick columns. While Michelin-star Chef Mural and his talented team weave their magic with the likes of chicken thigh, Thai basil, mint, rhubarb, zucchini, pineapple and kasundi from the tandoor, he pays homage to his homeland with his curries such as Kashmiri lamb, Goan fish, chicken Makhna, spinach kofta, black lentil dahl and vegetable masala.
“Indian food is incomplete without curries,” Chef Mural says.
“I don’t want everyone to be disappointed if there is no curry served in my restaurant. We used to serve this food in the home.
“Kofta is very close to my heart. My mother used to make this.”
Back over at Cha Cha Char, I ask Kilroy, the self-made man who has lost and made millions over the years, what he would do if it all went belly up.
“I’d go to Europe and buy a little restaurant on the beach,” he says.
“To me, it’s all about the people.”
We’re a bit like that in Brisbane.
The Global Goddess dined as a guest of Cha Cha Char – http://www.chachachar.com.au; and Heritij – https://heritij.com.au
ON the 10th anniversary of the unhappiest day of my life, I am flying to Bhutan – the Happiest Country on the Planet. It’s been 10 years to the day since my marriage suddenly shattered and I was left to carve out a new life, with a splintered compass. I have spent the past decade travelling the world, for my work and my wellbeing, part story-teller, part marathon runner from myself. And I am exhausted, fuelled only by the irony of this date and the promise of the destination ahead.
The Bhutanese baby is roaring like the engine of the plane on which I am travelling, and the acrid stench of stale cigarettes, cloying to the clothing of my fellow passengers, burns my nostrils. The soothing sounds of the sitar music being piped through the cabin do little to salve my mental malaise. I am enroute to Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness. My current happiness level: 5/10. Yet I remain optimistic, even when we stop at the remote Indian airport of Guwahati, more bare paddock than runway, which is shrouded in mist and mystery. Some passengers disembark. Those of us who are flying to Bhutan’s Paro International Airport are instructed to stay on, and identify our cabin baggage. I am the only white person on the plane.
Drukair, Royal Bhutan’s Airline, ducks and weaves around the mighty Himalayan ranges, before gliding to a halt in what has to be one of the most visually spectacular and technically difficult landings in the world. My tour guide, Chimmi, 51, happens to be Bhutan’s first female tour guide, appointed in 1997. Now, around 400 women are guides in a country which boasts around 3000 tour guides. My driver is called Karma. I take both as a good sign. The 1.5 hour drive to Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital is gnarly, all twists and turns, flanked by gushing river on one side, and looming mountains on the other. I scribble furious car-sick inducing notes, as Chimmi attempts to explains the concept of Bhutanese happiness.
“We don’t have any enemies, we have nothing to take. We live in a very poor country surrounded by mountains. We are the Hidden Kingdom,” she says.
“Until the 1960s there were no cars in the country and until the 1980s no planes. We were isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. We didn’t have TV and internet until 1999.
“Before 2004, the village I lived in had no electricity. It was such a beautiful life.”
Chimmi believes it is isolation which made it easy for Bhutan to be the first country to conceive of the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which was introduced by the country’s beloved King in the 1970s.
“GNH is a very basic idea to provide basic necessities such as education, a transparent government, a pristine environment and to preserve culture and tradition,” she says.
“It is something very simple, very basic, and if people focus on that it can be achieved.”
I check into charming, colonial-style Hotel Druk in the centre of the capital. Even my WiFi password is “happy”.
On my second morning, I have a much-anticipated interview with GNH Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, in a bid to scratch the surface of Bhutan’s happiness. Tsoki sits behind a desk in front of a blank, white wall, and sniffles. She’s suffering from allergies on this unexpectedly hot day, yet she’s all smiles when I ask her about what makes Bhutan so happy.
“We are not talking about that feel-good when you go shopping or get a promotion. We are taking about authentic happiness. It is a collective happiness for the whole country and people and society,” she says.
“It is more about feeling satisfied and content. Happiness can be fleeting.
“Of course we have social problems but we are quite blessed to manage to survive without things such as terrorism. I know that Denmark, Sweden and Belgium score higher than us but that’s related to economic issues.
“Our quality of life and human relationships are better. It is not about money.”
Tsoki, who has a Masters in Management from the University of Canberra, says there are three agencies dedicated to happiness: The GNH Centre, which is hands on, running programs and workshops; the Government’s GNH Commission, committed to bigger projects; and the Centre for Bhutan Studies, which conducts a survey of Bhutan’s people every three years. Interestingly, the survey found that single women were happier than married women but men overall were happier than women. 91.2 per cent of Bhutanese reported they were overall “very happy”.
“I don’t feel sorry for people in the west because you are better educated and have a better lifestyle. But maybe you haven’t used it in the best of your interests,” she says.
“You’ve made it very easy to get things done, but have forgotten to get along with people.”
Tsoki, who works with Australian organisations such as Melbourne’s Small Giants which looks at “sustainable human prosperity”, says the GNH model can be applied anywhere.
“You don’t have a choice, you have to be one global community,” she says.
“Bhutan is not going to stay isolated. In the past 50 years it has had the highest speed of development anywhere in the world.
“We see a lot of things on Facebook and TV that we might want but do we really need it? We are still quite practical people. We have a good respect for our spiritual connection, and practice compassion.”
I end the interview by asking Tsoki, who is 41, whether she is, happy.
“Yes, I’m single, I’m very happy,” she laughs.
I visit the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, a stupa built in memory of Bhutan’s third king and the Father of Modern Bhutan. I pause to chat to a trio of elderly women, all widowed, who, like their peers, come here daily for social connectivity. I am captivated by Phudra Dema, 80, who lives with her grandson and his wife.
“They take good care of me and give me everything I need. They try to keep me happy,” she says.
“The most important thing that keeps me happy is to meet with my friends and to chant mantra.
“We are the happiest country because the King is there to take care of the people. It is as if we are living in paradise.”
Phudra and her friends tell me they would like to adopt me, and that I look 30 years old. My happiness level is rising rapidly.
At Anim Dratshang nunnery at Drubthob Goemba, in Thimphu, I meet 15-year-old nun Yanchen, who will be required to spend as long as three years in silent meditation, at the end of her teachings.
“Happiness is not about being happy myself, but I want to make everyone happy by doing some good,” she says.
“It’s natural, I don’t find any negativity, I’m more focused on religion and our practice.
“I want to spend my whole life here and teach other young nuns.”
Back in Paro, Chimmi and I wander the local farmers markets like old friends, pausing to admire organic fruit and vegetables, while chattering about our lives, and happiness. We talk about how little money actually matters, it’s about connecting to the world in which we live which counts. A Bhutanese and Brisbane woman, from two different worlds, finding common ground in the seasons of our souls. We taste beer at the country’s newest craft brewery and have long, philosophical chats over lunch. There’s penis paintings on the walls of houses in Bhutan, said to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. We giggle like school girls. We wander into Bhutan’s oldest temple, in Paro, which dates back to the 7th century. So revered is this timber building, it’s said that every Himalayan Buddhist must set foot inside it, at least once in their lifetime. The monk inside allows me to enter, a rarity for a foreigner, and I am permitted to pray for good karma to erase negative energy. I pray for the world to find love.
Later, on my last night and high in the hills at a forest lodge overlooking the Paro Valley, I stand outside on the terrace and inhale the cool cyprus air, searching the surrounding Himalayas for answers to that big life question of happiness. The mountains mock me, relentlessly shouting the same message back at me until they can no longer be ignored. Look at the privilege of travel and the gift of the pen we gave you, they gently implore. You already have happiness. And it’s more than enough.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Wendy Wu Tours – https://www.wendywutours.com.au and flew to Bhutan via Bangkok with Thai Airways – http://www.thaiairways.com and Royal Bhutan Airlines https://www.drukair.com.bt
I’VE just returned from my first trip to Japan and it won’t be my last. For first-timers, toss away any preconceptions you may have had. For this is a country which surprises and delights. Here’s 9 divine things that will shock you about the Land of the Rising Sun.
1.Nudity Is Normal
OK. So maybe not outside, but pop these people into a hot onsen and watch the good times roll! So normal is nudity inside these traditional Japanese bathing houses, it is frowned upon and considered unhygienic should you attempt to wear your swimming costume inside. I should know, I attempted this sneaky tactic several times, but was actively discouraged. Even trying to cover your “bits” with the tiny towel handed to you, is promptly poo-pooed. The towel goes on your head, your boobies are there for all to witness. Awesome.
2.The People are Super Friendly
Aussies like to think they are the friendliest folk on the planet. Sure, we’ll have a natter, but would you recommend a restaurant to a complete stranger AND pop down before they arrived and buy their first round of drinks? I think not. This happened to me in Osaka. And every time I even paused on the streets to catch my breath, a stranger would rush up to me, to ensure I wasn’t lost.
3.It’s Amazingly Affordable
Forget all of those horror stories you hear about $100 watermelons in Japan, you can eat like an emperor (and drink) for around $30. In fact, there’s plenty of authentic, funky food places which serve delicious dishes for around $3.80 a pop. Public transport is also cheap, easy and efficient to use. In fact, aside from hotels (and I’ve heard there’s some reasonable capsule rooms around), pretty much everything is cheaper than in Australia.
4.The Vending Machines are, um, interesting
We’ve all heard the colourful stories of Japanese vending machines containing illicit material such as women’s used underwear, but I am reliably informed only one such machine is still in existence, in Tokyo. (Which is a great shame, as I had a whole suitcase of dirty washing by the end of the trip). I did, however, manage to secure a pair of fresh, saucy white g.strings from one in Osaka, and a predication for my love life in another one in Kyoto. What you will find is a nation which relies heavily on vending machine food. Apparently, there are so many vending machines in Japan, there’s one for every 30 people. Rather than go to the corner store, Japanese people love their vending machines from which you can buy anything from hot corn soup to half-decent coffee.
5.Even the Monks Drink
You’ve got to love a culture where even men of the cloth like a tipple. You’ll find this in places like Mt Koya, south of Osaka, and home to Zen Buddhism. It seems they’ve found a loophole. Sake is not just sake but “wisdom water” and beer is “bubbled wisdom water”. While the “food for enlightenment” was surprisingly delicious, I won’t be eating 7 different kinds of tofu for dinner again, in this lifetime, or several of the next.
6.You can be a Ninja Warrior or a Geisha Girl for a Day
You can be pretty much whoever you want to be in Japan, and no one bats an eyelid (except a prudish Aussie girl in an onsen). During this trip, I partook in an eye-opening, one-hour class during which I was taught how to be a Ninja Warrior. Here, you dress the part, learn all the secret hiding spots and sneaky walking techniques, and even get to throw some fair-dinkum real Ninja stars. Another interesting activity allows visitors to undergo a full Geisha Girl makeover and even walk the streets, just to confuse fellow tourists.
7.The Food is Fabulous
Food, glorious food. The sashimi is sensational but there’s so much more to Japanese food. Did you know tempura was actually introduced by the Portuguese, as was meat? Eat some Kobe beef and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Speaking of dying, I even tried the famed Fugu fish, which was slightly disappointing. If you are going to die over your dinner, at least let it be for something more delicious. But maybe the thrill lays in the threat of eating this poisonous fish dish?
8.The Beer is Better
I’d heard a rumour that much like Guinness in Ireland, Asahi in Japan tastes so much better in its home country. And in the name of research for this story, and because I am a true professional dedicated to my craft (beer), I decided to test this theory. Many times. Turns out it’s true. What’s even more interesting is the growth in craft breweries here. Check these out in Osaka at a great little bar called Beer Belly. Which is precisely what I had when I arrived back home (plus that suitcase full of dirty washing).
9.The Temples are Terrific
So many temples, so little time. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Hell Temple, discovering if I was to meet my angels or the devil himself, head to Kyoto’s Golden Temple for some truly Instagram-able moments. Up on Mt Koya, an unlikely and delightful way to spend the afternoon, is wandering through the cemetery which is home to thousands of temples, even more spectacular when dusted in snow. Yes, you’ll dig this gigantic grave yard. (See what I did there…)
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Inside Japan Tours https://www.insidejapantours.com whose specialist English-speaking guides will show you the real Japan, armed with insider knowledge and experience tailored to your interests. Qantas has several direct flights between Australia and Osaka including from Sydney and the newly-introduced Melbourne route. Fly Business Class, and you can also experience their new light-weight crockery range, which translate to more than 500,000kgs of fuel savings each year. http://www.qantas.com
MY toilet is called Toto and so, too, is the name of my potential paramour. From my heated throne, I ponder whether Toto, the man, would also be prepared to warm my bottom before blasting it with a jet of water. I suspect one final, perky puff of deodorising spray, just like my toilet serves up, is a step too far in any relationship. I am in Osaka, surfing both the porcelain bowl and Japanese Tinder, in a bid to better understand this mysterious culture and potentially meet a mate. It is my first foray into the Land of the Rising Sun and I am intrigued by everything, from the views, to the loo, to the deadly fugu.
I discover a delicious dichotomy of weird and whacky characters, best digested with fabulous fishy dishes and chased down by ice-cold Asahi beer. The rumours are true, Japan’s famous brew does taste better up here. And, it appears, so too do Australian women, if my popularity on Osaka Tinder is any indication. Look, I don’t want to brag, but I’m receiving more Super Likes than Super Woman. Toto aside, Nori, 48, whose name reminds me of a delicious Japanese roll, is only 13km away from my hotel, but can speak no English. My Japanese is limited to a hearty “Hai!”, a phrase you’ll hear often in this colourful country, but, like a circle, has no real beginning or end. There appears to be a bounty of blokes, but it comes with a catch. For while this is a quirky culture on one hand, it is also deeply conservative on the other.
My Inside Japan tour guide Richard, a boisterous Brit and Zen Buddhism devotee, tells me if I were to marry a Japanese man, I would be compelled to take his surname. If I were to have children, and return to the workplace, I would be demoted to secretarial work. And at work drinks, as a woman, I would be expected to pour everyone’s beer before someone acknowledged my “lowly status” and finally served me. A thirsty girl, I am horrified at the prospect. But there is also much to love about Japan.
I am sitting with Richard and two colleagues in Osaka’s Temma area, home to tiny standing bars and intimate yakitori restaurants, discussing Japanese life. (Richard’s also even poured my beer first). Want an example of Japanese hospitality? Not only is my party of four dining in Yakitori Mame, which has been recommended to Richard early in the day by a man known only as Uryu-San, when it comes to our first drinks, this mystery man has already paid for them. Richard says this is typical of the people of Osaka.
“This is the kind of thing that happens in Japan. I’ve heard stories of customers on tours, who, when they have had some free time, may have become lost. They are accosted by a local who tells them it’s too far to walk, and has not only hailed a cab for them, but jumped in and taken them to the destination, and paid for the taxi ride,” he says.
To really understand Osaka, head to the edgy district of Shinsekai which means “new world” in Japanese. Frequented by locals who say it’s modelled on Paris and New York’s Coney Island, the area was destroyed during World War Two, but has been rebuilt. It’s a stone’s throw from Japan’s tallest skyscraper and home to a number of fascinating standing bars. You’ll even find Osaka’s mascot Billiken here, who is hailed as “The God of things as they ought to be”. It is here that I delve into my first Japanese vending machine, and this one specialises in “erotica”. I insert my $5 and am rewarded with a pair of saucy white g-strings which I shove into my winter coat, and mistake for a tissue for the rest of the day. Things are off to a sensual start.
We amble a mesmerising maze of streets, pausing to pay homage to Jizo, a roadside deity which protects expectant mothers and travellers, before we arrive at Hell Temple. I stick my head in a hole where I’m told I can hear the sounds of hell. Disappointed, I detect nothing. I undertake an electronic survey to determine whether I am going to heaven or hell. I scrape into heaven. Just. There is hope for me yet. Later in the trip I return with my Aussie colleagues to Shinsekai and to Spa World which turns out to be my idea of hell. Picture wall-to-wall naked Japanese women, for whom a trip to the waxer has never occurred, and three prudish Aussie girls, clutching on to their towels, the size of a face washer. What I’ve seen, cannot be unseen. And I will be establishing a waxing clinic in Japan in the near future.
We push on to Kyoto, where I dive into my second Japanese vending machine experience. This one predicts “love fortunes”. I reach into the bowels of the beast and extract my fortune. My guide, Aya, translates my future. Apparently I am “unlucky in love” (I did not need to part with $2 to discover this); I need to “change my attitude” to love; and best of all, I need to find someone who is either 120 years older or 120 years younger than me. Not only that, I need to cook them a barbecue…inside my house. Love just got a whole lot more difficult and dangerous.
Aya, 42, confirms what I already know.
“It is hard to find a good western man. Japanese men look after their women and if they get sick, they look after them,” she says.
“But that is changing. Japanese men are getting worse and that’s the western influence. But Japanese men are not as good looking as western men, because they are short.”
Our jaunty Japanese journey continues, on to the traditional Japanese spa town of Kinosaki Onsen. Here, there’s seven different types of onsen, whose waters are believed to contain different healing properties. I head straight to Goshono-Yu, which is said to bring good luck in finding a marriage partner and preventing fires. If I am to believe my $2 vending machine reading back in Kyoto, I will need all the luck there is in finding a partner with a 120-year age difference, plus some fire prevention when I cook him that barbecue inside my house. I’m convinced these waters are working.
The last destination of my trip is up at Mt Koya, considered the most significant site in Japan for Shingon Buddhism. Even more fascinating, it’s home to 1000 monks, who no longer believe in celibacy and even like a drink. They call sake “wisdom water” and beer “bubbled wisdom water” up here and from the way I imbibe, I’m a wise woman indeed. Interestingly, women were not allowed on the mountain until the 20th century, which I believe makes me a hot commodity on this minus two degree day. Late at night, I lay on my basic mattress in my temple lodging and surf Temple Tinder. But the pickings are slim. Where are all the manly monks? The next morning, I join the monks in their 6am prayer service. There’s a deity in the temple devoted to love. I make a silent offering (desperate plea) and head back down the mountain. I’m heading home to stoke up the barbecue and wait for my 120-year-old mate.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Inside Japan Tours, https://www.insidejapantours.com whose specialist English-speaking guides will show you the real Japan, armed with insider knowledge and experience tailored to your interests.
Qantas has several direct flights between Australia and Osaka including from Sydney and the newly-introduced Melbourne route. Fly Business Class, and you can also experience their new light-weight crockery range, which translates to more than 500,000kgs of fuel savings each year. http://www.qantas.com