IT’S 3am at my present position on the world map, perched 40,000 feet somewhere above the Indian sub-continent. And I am sipping on Moroccan mint tea, replete with real mint leaves served on the side, and chewing on a sweet, sticky baklava. While the rest of the cabin still slumbers, I am dining at my own leisure, courtesy of Etihad Airways “Dine Anytime” menu. There’s about two hours left to go on this 14-hour flight from Australia, but this particular journey feels neither long, nor a haul. For I have the great fortune of flying in Etihad’s next-generation Business Studios. And yes, they are as sweet as the baklava upon which I am feasting.
I have boarded the B787 aircraft in Brisbane the previous night, bound for Abu Dhabi and am greeted with mystical Middle Eastern music. Inside, it’s part gentleman’s club, part plush Arabian tent with soft lighting and gold trimmings. The seats, said to provide 20 per cent more space than the airline’s current Business Class seat, are designed in a 1-2-1 forward and backwards “dovetail” configuration. With sliding screens between seats, it feels more private jet than commercial airline.
The Studio features its own steady, large solid table, ideal on which to work inflight, but unlike some other airlines, there is no free Wi-Fi. Depending on your point-of-view, this could be an enforced digital detox, or you can pay a nominal fee to stay connected. For those who wish to relax, there’s an 18-inch touch-screen TV. For those who wish to work, there’s power sockets and USB ports at every seat.
What sets this airline apart from many others is its superior service. At the Business Traveller Middle East Awards 2018, Etihad Airways was named “Airline with the Best Economy Class”; “Airline with the Best Frequent Flyer Programme” and “Airline with the Best First Class”, and it’s easy to see why. Hot towels are not clumsily handed to you with tongs, but served on individual silver platters, before you are presented with a glass of signature champagne – Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut. International newspapers are delivered and from the “Dine Anytime” menu you can select from the likes of a steak sandwich, lamb and rosemary pie or a Gruyere cheese frittata. There is also a diverse a-la-carte menu from which to choose, boasting western and Middle Eastern starters such Arabic mezze; mains of chicken kasba and basmati rice cooked with Gulf spices; and deserts of chocolate lava cake served warm with pistachio anglaise. Sip on a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or South African chenin blanc, or for red lovers, a Barossa Valley shiraz or Chilean maipo. The beer selection includes Stella Artois and Peroni.
Sated, rummage through your Business Class amenity kit to apply your Scaramouche + Fandango facial moisturiser and lip balm, before donning a plush, large eye mask and ear plugs. The airline has collaborated on its amenity kits with luxury travel brand LUXE City Guides which are inspired by five cities on the Etihad network – Abu Dhabi, New York, Melbourne, Rome and Bangkok. There’s even a city guide in each kit, but it’s a slightly curious addition to be given a Rome city guide when you are flying to Abu Dhabi.
The seats recline to 6-foot, 8-inch fully flat-beds and the pillows are plump and a decent size, adorned in all the colours of the desert to which you are flying with browns, tans, ochres and golds. The doona has a gorgeous plush underside. All of this ensures you’ll arrive at the other end as fresh as possible. And I do. In the rare event you don’t, there’s even an Arrivals Lounge at Abu Dhabi Airport where staff will press your clothes while you shower and shave.
Leaving Abu Dhabi is even more spectacular, as this is their signature airline. At Abu Dhabi Airport, First and Business Class guests have their own private entrance and there’s even free porters to assist you with your bags, as well as private check-in. Both First and eligible Business Class guests also have access to a free chauffeur service within the UAE and upon arrival at the airport, both classes boast day spas in their lounges. While First Class guests can enjoy a complimentary spa treatment, Business Class guests pay a nominal fee for a treatment such as a Jet Lag massage, which is a welcome addition before a long flight.
2018 has been declared the Year of Zayed, celebrating 100 years since the birth of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE. And Etihad is devoted to honouring Zayed’s core values of respect; wisdom; sustainability; and human development. The airline is offering complimentary cargo flights to UAE charities, bringing aid and relief to people in need around the world in a bid to spread Zayed’s humanitarian message. At the same time, 1000 selected guests from around the world are being invited to experience Abu Dhabi’s cultural attractions; and Etihad is also collaborating on the Abu Dhabi Birdathon, a race which celebrate’s Zayed’s passion for conservation. Etihad is also renaming its training buildings the Zayed Campus and launching Young Aviators in a bid to inspire the next generation in the UAE. If you can judge a country by its flagship carrier, then Abu Dhabi is in great shape indeed.
The Global Goddess flew to Abu Dhabi as a guest of Etihad Airlines in one of their world-class Business Studios http://www.etihad.com/en-au/
She stayed as a guest of Abu Dhabi Tourism https://visitabudhabi.ae/au-en/default.aspx
THE apricot sun is setting over a dusty desert sky and soon, the hauntingly beautiful Muslim call to prayer, which lured me outside the previous evening under a pregnant moon, will punctuate this balmy evening. It is Ramadan in the Middle East and I am on my way to an iftar, or breaking of the fast feast, at the sparkling Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi and its grand “tent”, renowned as the best in town. There are dashing Arab men dressed in their crisp, white dish dashes and exotic Emirati women, all designer clothing, glossy, black hair and kohl-rimmed eyes.
I didn’t plan to travel during Ramadan, it’s just the way things fell, and before arriving, I am intrigued about what to expect. I am told I can eat, but not in public. I can drink water, but not in public. It is 40 degrees Celsius and I am running around in the heat, chasing stories. Luckily my private driver, Majith, is empathetic and behind the blackened windows of my vehicle, pours me water and sympathy. He even offers to buy me “best biryani” should I feel hungry. But I need not have worried, as while devout Muslims observe the rules of Ramadan (no eating or drinking before sunset), non-Muslims can eat and drink in designated areas, such as hotels.
Majith collects me for my final assignment, the iftar at the Emirates Palace and tells me I look like a Syrian woman in my long black dress with attached cape. Again, what to wear as to not offend? I need not have worried as the Emiratis are both modest and modern. I do, however, make one gaffe. I am at the feast, awaiting my host, and there is water on the table. Without even thinking, with one hand I am writing up some notes of the day, and with the other, I take a sip. A waiter hurries over and in a kind voice tells me I cannot drink until 7.05pm. Ashamed, I apologise profusely and grasp for the time. It’s 6.57pm.
On my flight to Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airlines, an article inside the inflight magazine Atlas catches my eye. Food & Travel Arabia editor Anisa Al Hawaj argues that Ramadan is the best time to travel to the United Arab Emirates as long as you observe the basic rules of not eating and drinking in public during daylight hours, and dressing conservatively.
“To paraphrase an edict from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, ‘If a non-Muslim gets it wrong and no offence to the faith was intended, let it go’,” Hawaj says.
“Come sunset, everything comes alive: the streets, restaurants, malls, night bazaars – the atmosphere is incredible. So, too, is the food. You’ll have as much fun as anywhere and at any time in this part of the world at one of the grand Ramadan tents in the UAE.
“Not just for the cooking, but the service, the people, the whole vibe. I like to say it’s Arab hospitality at its best. And it comes but once a year.”
Inside the Emirates Palace “tent” – it’s more of a grand ballroom designed to fit 800 people in one sitting (and to think I was worried there may not be air-conditioning) – I realise that Hawaj is right. Abu Dhabi has been sublimely sanguine over the past few days, the roads are quiet, the beaches are empty and there are no great crowds at many of the tourist attractions. And yes, the food is fabulous. I wander the buffet, there’s hummus and prawns and beef, salad and lamb. But it’s the dessert table with which I’m most intrigued. Apart from baklawa, I recognise nothing but wrap my tongue around the exotically-named sweets…Assafiri, Atayef, Mafrokeh, Shebiyat…they sound like destinations I should visit.
I am dining with Emirates Palace Public Relations and Communications Manager Mohammed Alaoui, who is pragmatic about Ramadan and the subject of fasting. While my plate is piled high with fabulous food, I watch as Mohammed partakes in his first meal of the day, breaking his fast with a few dates, followed by soup and salad.
“It’s a matter of conviction. It’s not about food. There’s a lot of people in this world that don’t eat. It reminds you that it is very good for the body. The fact that you fast, purifies your body over a month,” he says.
“A lot of people, when talking about Islam, go to the extremes. There is a lot of ignorance. There are political reasons and cultural reasons for this.
“The west has a total ignorance of our religion because people don’t read and the perception is that Islam is a violent religion. This just gets you afraid. We want to educate these people.”
On my flight to Abu Dhabi, I read the Gulf News and a headline catches my eye “Understanding the Right-Wing Mindset”. But they are not talking about Islam, but the United States. Author Taria A. Al Maeena is writing about the recent school shootings and an argument he had with an American who claims the war on Iraq was “necessary to protect America”.
On the Texas high school shooting, Maeena writes: “It was a tragedy that had no political or religious undertones, I told him, and there were certainly no Islamists involved to the disappointment of many Western pundits who are quick to malign an entire religion based on the dastardly actions of a few deviates.
“Making America great again is a noble thought, but it will never come through the barrel of a gun or expulsion of all non-whites.”
During my short time in Abu Dhabi I find the Emiratis courteous, contemporary, kind, entertaining and educated. Abu Dhabi is dry desert days and warm Arabian nights. It’s blue beaches, white sand, mesmerising mosques and amazing art galleries, high-end hotels and five-star spas. It’s salty black olives, smoky, smooth hummus, plump dates and fresh figs. Abu Dhabi is Arabs who roll their “r’s” when they talk in English and speak with you with an intense interest through dark and mysterious eyes. It’s full moons, full stomachs and full minds. Whether you go to Abu Dhabi during Ramadan or not, you will find a land that will challenge your perceptions of the Middle East and shift the sands of your soul.
The Global Goddess flew to Abu Dhabi as a guest of Etihad Airlines in one of their world-class Business Studios http://www.etihad.com/en-au/
She stayed as a guest of Abu Dhabi Tourism https://visitabudhabi.ae/au-en/default.aspx
This year’s Ramadan runs from May 17 to June 16 – the dates move forward by 11 days every year
“Human trafficking is the second-most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and the drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day,” Sisterhood of Survivors, Kathmandu, Nepal
IN a pastel pink court building, the colour that little girls all over the world like to wear and a deep shade of irony, less than two per cent of Nepal’s human trafficking cases make up the Supreme Court caseload.
In the country’s District Court rooms, it’s less than 0.3 per cent. But there’s a blinding bullseye, one case that stands out from the rest. In March this year, in Nuwakot’s District Court in the country’s centre, one of Nepal’s sex trafficking ring leaders was sentenced to the nation’s harshest jail penalty in history.
Back in Kathmandu, in a basic brick structure adorned with hope, the women who helped put him away, have barely just begun.
There’s a slow rumble erupting around Nepal…not the kind that Mother Everest likes to display when she’s displeased with too many climbers, nor the type that destroyed Kathmandu in the 2015 earthquake.
This is the thunder of Third World feminism.
On March 23, local politician and Chair of the Dupcheswor Rural Municipality, Sun Bahadur Tamang, was sentenced to 37 years in prison for human trafficking. Two other men, Shukman Lama and Tikaram Tamang, were jailed for 32 and 30 years respectively.
And it was thanks to the women of SASANE, survivors of sex trafficking and slave labour, who filed a case under the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking and Smuggling Act.
Launched 10 years ago with the assistance of a USD25,000 injection from global travel company G Adventures, SASANE rescues women who have been trafficked, and trains them to become paralegals so that they, in turn, can represent other women. Those who don’t have a basic education, are trained in valuable hospitality skills, which they share along with their stories to tourists, under the Sisterhood of Survivors project.
G Adventures Chief Experience Officer Baikuntha Simkhada (BK) says the border between landlocked Nepal and India is 1346 kilometres long, and because of open-border agreements between the two countries, passports are not checked, enabling trafficking.
“Human trafficking is massive in developing countries. In Nepal, when families have more daughters, they sell them to prostitution so the parents can get more money,” he says.
“Parents know certain parts of what happens to their daughters but they don’t know the worst because they hand them over to relatives that they trust.”
The number one market is India, where girls sell for between USD4000-5000. More than 7000 girls a year in Nepal are trafficked and more than 50 a day are trafficked across the Indian border alone. Many of them simply disappear.
“Kathmandu and other major cities of Nepal are the number two market,” BK says.
“The third biggest market is further afield in places like Malaysia and Dubai where girls are sold as ‘house workers’. This the new trick or they are also called Bollywood dancers from Nepal.
“They give lots of false promises. There are lots of illegal prostitution centres here. Sometimes they are rescued by honest customers who report to police.”
BK, who has a 13-year-old daughter, says he has asked “rude questions” of parents who sold their daughters.
“There are a lot of cultural issues around this,” he says.
“The parents didn’t know. They were looking for money. In some societies they don’t talk openly.”
At SASANE, women are fed and cared for, given medical help, and seen by social workers for counselling. Only 10 per cent of survivors file a formal complaint.
Since it was established, 249 women have been trained to become paralegals, offering free-of-charge assistance to other survivors, who they have represented in 400 court cases.
Nepal is considered the epicentre of human trafficking and the issue has only worsened since the 2015 earthquake resulted in more poverty and displacement.
SASANE aims to halt “modern day slavery” with human trafficking estimated to be a USD150 billion a year industry worldwide.
It is the second most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day.
While the average age for a trafficked woman is between 14 and 20, some are as young as 6, with more than 26 per cent of trafficked women classified as children.
Indira Gurung, one of the SASANE’s three founders, can’t remember her age and reaches for her phone to do the calculation. Nor does she want her photo taken. She’s 33, but she lost her childhood and identity a long time ago, when she was sold from her mountain village and trafficked into slave labour in Kathmandu at the age of 13.
“The agent told my parents they would send me to school and after school I would work at their home. They did not send me to school and I had to work morning to night without pay. I worked that way for five to six years,” she says.
“I had a contact with another house and went to the second home. They sent me to school but did not allow me to study and I had to work but I got a high school diploma and got a job in a restaurant and the Nepalese customers abused all the girls here.
“When customers were coming to the restaurant they wanted to do sexual abuse to us. They wanted to sleep with us and forced us to drink alcohol. The restaurant owner pushed us to go with them. They would come into a small room and close the door and force us to sit on the couch.”
After six months of sexual abuse and when she was 19, Indira contacted an organisation who helped her escape.
“At that time, we had a lot of survivors like me and we talked and learned that one cannot fight but a group can fight,” she says.
“We hired a lawyer and learned from him about our legal rights to fight trafficking and other abuse.
“When I got paralegal training, I wanted to fight the restaurant owner but he was not there anymore. He is still free, that is not good.”
Indira, who continues to face threats from human traffickers, says she did not know slavery and trafficking was illegal in Nepal before she learned her basic human rights.
“People are telling us if we share our story no one will respect us but it’s not our fault,” she says.
“Survivors need marketability skills to stand for themselves. Sometimes I am angry at my parents but that is the situation I Nepal. They are also innocent.
“I underwent counselling and art healing to learn about the power of women. This way I became empowered. I realised women have a lot of power to heal and protect other survivors.”
Indira says she prefers to inject her energy into lobbying governments, police and stake holders like NGOs.
“We are known now. Before we began our programs, many girls were missing from the mountains, now there are adolescent girls living and working on the mountains,” she says.
“One day we can stop this problem in Nepal. If the traffickers work one time, we should work two times.
“If we expand our program into 77 destinations in Nepal we can stop human trafficking.”
Each year, through their tourism projects – visitors to SASANE are taught how to make Nepal’s traditional dumpling dish of momos before being served lunch – and other collaborations, SASANE raises a massive USD85,000 to continue its work. But it’s still not enough.
SASANE has plans to open restaurants in Kathmandu’s heavy tourist area of Thamel.
“The message for all of the women in the world is that if you don’t have economic opportunities you cannot survive,” she says.
“If you don’t have skills, you have to sell your body.”
Just before our interview ends, Indira begins to cry, not over the abuse she and other women have survived, but because tour groups such as ours visit SASANE.
“Thank you, you are giving us so much strength. Many people are visiting the mountain (Everest) but not the bottom part of the mountain. We should show their stories,” she says.
“I’m not a tough woman, other women are stronger than me. I’m only trying to do my best.
“I want to be a kind-hearted woman. I just give hope and love.”
To donate to SASANE go to http://www.sasane.org.np. The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures (www.gadadventures.com) and Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com)
I’VE been incredibly fortunate in the past few years, in the course of my travel writing adventures, to indulge in some of the most amazing experiences that exist between humans and animals. Here’s 8 I’ve done that I’ll reckon you’ll love.
1. Walk with the Polar Bears
To be utterly honest, I was more frightened of how cold I expected it to be up in arctic Canada, than being eaten by a polar bear, and I was right. This trip-of-a-lifetime sees you fly into Winnipeg, where you will overnight and be fitted with your polar gear (which assists greatly with minus 14 degree Celsius temperatures). The next day you’ll fly to Churchill, and then board a tiny plane out to Seal River Heritage Lodge. Here, Churchill Wild runs “walk with the polar bear” safaris out on the arctic tundra framing wild and remote Hudson Bay. So unthreatened are these beautiful animals by this tour, one 400kg male came within 10 metres of our group. Sublime.
2. Snorkel with Salmon
In this instance, I WAS frightened of bears, but I had no real reason. On this adventure, you fly out of Vancouver over to Vancouver Island and Campbell River. Here, you can join an eclectic journey with Destiny River Adventures where you will board a raft and paddle down Campbell River, before plunging into 14 degree waters. Yes, chilly, but worth it, as you plummet down the rapids, dodging rocks and snorkelling with salmon. There’s three pools to experience here (in pool two you are advised to fly like a super hero to avoid being shredded to bits by the rocks). And no, there are no grizzly bears waiting by the shoreline to feast on salmon, or you, as it’s the wrong season. What you will experience is a thrill of a lifetime, and come face-to-face with some friendly seals as well.
3. Sail to see the Komodo Dragons
I LOVE lizards and any reptile for that matter, and had always longed to see the komodo dragons. But arriving at Komodo National Park is not as simple as it seems. However, there exists an incredible adventure which makes the journey a dream. Head out with Indonesian Island Sail on its traditional timber boat, and you can spend 14 glorious days sailing from Bali to Komodo and back. Along the way you’ll feast on fabulous food, snorkel some of the clearest waters in the region, swim with manta rays and turtles, and arrive at Komodo National Park where you can snatch a selfie with those gorgeous giants.
4. Float with the Manta Rays
Did someone mention manta rays? A few years ago, while staying on Hawaii’s Big Island, I had the fabulous fortune of a night float with the manta rays. Courtesy of Manta Ray Advocates, at Kona, after dark you are taken out into the bay on an outrigger canoe. Then, when the conditions are just right, you are invited to slip into the ocean. Holding on to a surf board with handles, and sporting a snorkel and mask, you are invited to plunge your face into the ocean and watch as the magnificent mantas swim right up to you. If you are lucky, they will eye-ball you before they perform a tumble turn.
5. Drive a Reindeer or Husky Sleigh
They are hard-core up in Finnish Lapland and it’s easy to see why. When you have months of darkness during winter, and the temperature plummets to minus 40 degrees Celsius, you tend to be made of serious stuff. Up at Beana Laponia Wilderness Boutique Hotel, a working husky farm, you are invited to not only join a husky safari, but are taught how to drive the team. Yes, you can become a musher. And it is seriously great fun as you fly through snowy trails in a pure-white winter wonderland. For those looking for something a little more sedate, the hotel can also arrange for you to do a reindeer safari. Not as fast or as fun as the huskies, but if Santa is your thing, this might be right up your alley.
6. Meditate with a Horse
If only the horse could talk. One of my craziest animal experiences to date, this one occurred in the Gold Coast Hinterland at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. Sure, you can do yoga, tai-chi or go bushwalking, or, if you’re like me, you can indulge in a one-hour meditation session with a horse. At first I was dubious, but it became very obvious during this session that Jack knew far more than I realised. Horses are used for therapy as it is believed they can pick up on human emotions (without any of the bullshit) and from my experience, Jack was spot on. When I was nervous, Jack was skittish. When I lost confidence leading him around the ring, so, too, did Jack. By the end of this session I was able to command Jack to gallop, and stop, purely by using my breath.
7. Witness hatching Turtles
There’s few nicer things in nature than watching an animal begin its life journey and at Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, you can do just that. Between November and January, head to Mon Repos Beach and watch the lady loggerhead turtles lay their eggs, and then, between January and March, you can encounter the hatchlings as they erupt from the nests. Carefully managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, join a ranger on a guided tour at night on the beach and your life will never quite be the same again. https://www.bundabergregion.org/turtles/mon-repos-turtle-encounter
8. Hang out with some cool Cats
If you’ve ever wanted to witness Africa’s Big Five, this is your chance. And at Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges, you can do this in style. Plonked within South Africa’s Kruger National Park, each day you’ll head out on two safaris, one before dawn and the other before dusk, for your best chances of seeing animals in their wild habitat. Again, I was initially worried about being mauled by a lion, but you are in a four-wheel drive with a ranger and a spotter who are fastidious about safety. And, by the end of my trip, I was even going on walking safaris, out in the open, with the exceptional guides who will explain animal tracks and the stories behind them.
AND ONE I CAN’T WAIT TO DO
9. Swim with the Whales
Last year, I was all set to slip into the Pacific Ocean off of the Sunshine Coast and swim with the whales, but wild weather prevented that adventure. But each year, between July and October, when the humpback whales are migrating from Antarctica to breed and play in Queensland’s warm waters, visitors have the opportunity to go out with Sunreef Mooloolaba to get wet with the whales. You hold onto a floating line attached to the boat, and then it’s up to these mammoth mammals as to how close they wish to get to you. Watch this space…
What animal experiences have you done that you’ve loved or want to do? My list doesn’t end. At number 10, I want to swim with the whale sharks and do a shark cage dive
JUST like this camel caravan I captured in the Sahara Desert, I’ve been working hard to attract more followers. For the past year, I’ve posted a photo a day on Instagram and recently hit my first 1000 followers. I’ve also posted more than 1000 photos, so that’s at least 1000 reasons to follow me. Here’s a selection of my most popular pics, taken from my global travels over the past six months, and published under my Instagram handle @aglobalgoddess. I’d love to see you over there.
From the desert dust to the brilliant blues of Chefchaouen, Morocco served up a kaleidoscope of colour and charm.
Indonesia’s beautiful Bawah Island gave me the blues, in the best possible way.
Finland’s Lapland was all white and all right.
Back home, the Aussie summer served up its bushfire orange sunsets and aqua beach days.
While on my first trip to Japan last month, it was better to be red, than dead.
Follow me on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
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