Plane food

I’m the only one who loves plane food

It’s true, I’m a genuine fan. I get excited about flying largely because of the plane food. I’ve been told that I’m totally insane, but I’m going to give the reasons why I like it here:

Plane food

Enthusiasm

Compartments
The little tray with its perfectly proportioned compartments for the different parts of the meal. The cutlery with salt, pepper and napkin in a bag. A tiny juice, a mini water, pats of butter and cheese individually wrapped. SO MUCH FUN.

Variety
You always get a starter, main and dessert plus extras like cheese and crackers. It’s usually pretty healthy (vegetables and fruit are frequent visitors), and you can choose your main. TIP: If your bread roll and butter are a bit chilly, heat them up by resting them on the main while you eat the starter.

Abundance
If you’re not full, don’t worry, there’s more. This is especially true of long haul flights that often have a basket of snacks in the preparation area, or even hot snacks on call. On my NY flight there were only about 6 hours of flight time and I got dinner and breakfast, plus nuts! I’m sure it’s a tactic to keep the cattle class docile, but I’m cool with that.

Alcohol
Even though you’ve paid for it many times over, the free alcohol is great, as long as you ensure you match your drinks with water. I didn’t learn for years that youcould also just ask for more. I have a friend of a friend who used to be a flight attendant. You can ask them for anything. Don’t feel bad about it, after all, you paid for it! Just don’t go overboard – I once sat next to a guy who was cut off after seven glasses of red.

Taste
Yeah, sometimes it can be a little glutinous and it’s certainly not gourmet, but I generally find the taste to be pretty good. And I have certain standards (I haven’t eaten a McDonald’s burger in about 8 years). But it’s hot and comforting.

Anyone else like plane food? I can’t be the only one.

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New York Birthday

Joint 50th: Amy and me on our 25th birthday

Joint 50th: Amy and me on our 25th birthday

One of my travel missions is to spend my birthdays in as many different countries as possible. It’s partially a challenge to make sure I go somewhere I haven’t been at least once a year, and partially something I realised when, at 24 I had just happened to have birthdays in four different countries. So, now it’s five because I turned 25 last week in the USA – specifically, New York.

What was particularly special about the trip was that I would be spending my 25th with my oldest friend, Amy, who is currently living in New York and happens to share my birthday (June 6, 1988 – if you were wondering). We’ve known each other for 20 years and went to primary school, high school and university together, so it was pretty damn special to stay with her. Here’s how we spent the day:

Got up at 5.15am to queue for cheap tickets to Pippin, one of my favourite musicals. (Post coming soon about how to nab discounted seats to Broadway shows). Amy, Jon and I sat in the line on the pavement for over 4 hours so we could be guaranteed seats to the show. It sounds like an awful thing to do on your birthday, but it is actually lots of fun. We met some lovely guys who were both professional musical theatre performers, Family Feud and Sporcle and chatted about musicals to pass the time. We were also interviewed for Japanese TV about Broadway and the Tonys (it was only a few days before the Tony Awards ceremony happened).

Following our ticket coup (box seats!) we went home for a nap (ROCK AND ROLL!), and spent quite a lot of time choosing birthday outfits before heading out to Grimaldi’s pizzeria in Brooklyn. A New York institution, Grimaldi’s does big pizza at low prices. You get a base for $14, and then add your desired toppings for $2 each. As a menu, it can’t be beaten for expediency – they don’t do salad, or even pasta, just pizza for mains, an antipasto starter and home-made cannoli for dessert. Brilliant.

CHALLENGE

CHALLENGE

Grimaldi’s is also perfectly placed for a wander around Brooklyn Bridge Park, which affords a stunning view of the skyline of downtown Manhattan, and, very small in the distance, the Statue of Liberty. It would be a great place for a picnic, as there was loads of seating, tables and barbecues, plus courts for some kind of sporting endeavour (although not much grass or open space).

Next, Amy and I treated ourselves to shopping at criminally cheap Forever 21 at Times Square and each bought ourselves a birthday dress. Then, we went for a cocktail at a small hotel bar, so we tried to get birthday special treatment. The awkward conversation went something like this:

Us: Is there anything very special on the menu?

Waiter: All the cocktails are special.

Us: But, you see, it’s our birthday, so we’re looking for something special.

Waiter: Special event doesn’t make the cocktails any better. All the cocktails are special.

Us: Right, okay, it’s just that it’s our birthday so want a special drink.

Waiter: All the cocktails are special.

We were not subtle, and it was pretty awkward. But he eventually cottoned on and brought out some mini hamburgers. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite calculate the tip in line with the waiter’s expectations so he followed us out and asked if there had been a mistake. We all felt guilty and went and gave him extra. Lesson: if you’ve been a bit demanding, always tip generously. I will do another post on tipping soon because it’s a fascinating and strange and highly annoying world.

And to top off the day: Pippin.

Pippin is a much under-appreciated and very beautiful early work of the great composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pocohontas, Godspell, The Prince of Egypt, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It’s about Pippin, the son mediaeval king Charlemagne on a classic “hero’s journey”, feeling he is destined for greatness and trying to find it in all the wrong places.

But it is more than a simple “coming of age” story: the whole thing is witnessed – and sometimes, meddled with – by a troupe of players, helmed by the Leading Player, a kind of ringmaster (an aspect brought to the fore in this circus-inspired production), and is a meta-theatrical masterpiece. Each aspect of Pippin’s journey is introduced in the first song, Magic To Do, which also is very aware of its own theatricality:

The ensemble of Pippin.

The ensemble of Pippin.

“We’ve got magic to do
Just for you
We’ve got miracle plays to play
We’ve got parts to perform
Hearts to warm
Kings and things to take by storm
As we go along our way”

It’s dark and compelling and sexy, with a classic Broadway sound and incredible performances from some extremely talented carnies (seriously, some of the cast were 5th-generation theatre folk), and there was all kinds of clever staging, contortion, balancing, tumbling and trapeze.

I laughed and cried, gave a standing ovation IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SHOW, and couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. It is one of the greatest things I’ve ever witnessed on stage. It was the perfect way to finish the day: next birthday has a LOT to live up to.

Songs to get Parisian to

P1000203I’ve been in Paris for the last two weeks, and while bits have been lovely (new friends, cheap wine), others have been less inspiring (see my previous post on Paris). I am trying to get in the mood of being inspired by Paris so I asked some friends for their best songs about it – anywhere that inspires so much music must be alright. Right?

1. Aux Champs-Elysées

I know a more recent cover of this song, but I cannot for the life of me think who might sing it or where I know it from. This is a lovely song about a lovely street though.

2. Parlez-vous Français

Still on the theme of the Champs-Elysées but with rather more techno, Aussie outfit Art vs Science plays this song that never fails to get me pumped.

3. Paris is Burning

Another antipodean, Ladyhawke’s Paris is Burning is a song with a quiet intensity. I love the insistence of the harmonies and the fact that it’s actually quite a quick beat even though it feels a kind of medium tempo. Not sure the film clip is actually filmed in Paris, though.

4. Offenbach’s Galop Infernal (aka the Can-Can)

This one is my own little video of gay Paris that I made for my mum. The music was recorded by my friend Laurence, who is part of superFLORENCEjam and is the long thin one in techno duo Happy Music Radio Hour. Check ’em out.

There are many more but these are my favourites. Suggestions are most welcome.

The weird world of Tokyo Disneyland, the happiest place on earth

That's me on the left at the Lex nightclub. I'm WASTED

That’s me on the left at the Lex nightclub. I’m WASTED

It’s 3am and I’m dancing on a cracked red vinyl banquette in the “VIP” section of a dingy basement bar in a back alley of Tokyo’s neon-lit Roppongi city centre. I have paid for neither my entry to the club (ordinarily ¥3000), nor any of the drinks that were brought to the table (an entire bottle of Belvedere Vodka, a dozen Red Bulls and a jug of a shot called Blue Sky), not the pizza and fries my friends and I have shared, and I do not want to leave. Later, we will be given ¥5000 towards the cab fare home. Why? Because I’m partying with the young, beautiful, white performers who work in Tokyo Disneyland, and this is a standing arrangement – where they go, the Japanese will follow. Welcome to the weird, weird world of the “face cast” of Tokyo Disney theme parks.

I got to spend a week at the performers’ village with a friend last year, and it was a real window into the odd world of the Disney industry. I met a 30 year old woman who played Wendy from Peter Pan. She’d been working for Disney all around the world since she left college. I heard about the incredibly strict rules surrounding the performers’ identities as character actors – there could be no intimation that they were actors: when in costume, they were those characters. Even in the “backstage” area – anywhere beyond their private dressing room – they were in character. I discovered the hierarchy between the white and Japanese performers – Japanese performers are instructed by management to always make way for the westerners backstage. I heard a rumour that Tokyo – the only Disney theme park not owned directly by Disney itself – might actually be run by the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. I learnt that if you’ve worked at Tokyo Disneyland, it’s so well regarded that it’s basically your golden ticket to work for any other Disney park in the world.

The Disney experience in Tokyo is a truly bizarre one. There are locals who spend basically every spare moment in the park. They buy year-long tickets. They have their favourite characters, whose meet-and-greet appearance schedules they learn and whose merchandise they buy religiously. I found out how the cloying smell of popcorn and other sweets is pumped into the air to make people constantly crave snacks (it made me mad because it smelled awful but also made me hungry).

DSCF2916

The “Face Cast” do their thing.

Between the two parks, you can visit the Middle East, an Italian piazza, a life-size ship, the Wild West, and a European-style castle without ever leaving Tokyo. You end up marvelling at how real the fakeness is; it’s a strange paradox. Wonderland is mashed up against Agrabah, Mickey hangs out with the Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story characters appear in the same parades as the Princesses. There is no logic to it other than it’s all DISNEY (though some of it only tenuously so). You can tap into any emotional reservoir you want – romance, adventure, adrenaline. It is extravagant, excitable, and manufactured.

I was (and remain) torn about how to respond to this fairground behemoth. On one hand, it’s a blatantly capitalist money-grab, where people go as a total escape from real life. A docile population kept more docile by a world of huge plush characters, actors who wave to you and over-priced food. But on the other, it genuinely makes them happy. Not pretend-happy, real-happy. Does the fact that it’s making some people extraordinarily wealthy negate the fact that millions go through the park each year and have a wonderful time? I don’t know. I’d never been to a major theme park before and spent the whole time oscillating between the fun of it all – there’s no denying it was a lot of fun – but also the feeling of being very uncomfortable at the thought of it all.

Any thoughts?

Why Paris is not all that

I’m just going to come right out and say it: Paris is the Emperor’s New Clothes of travel destinations. We’ve all been fed a myth about how great it is since we were born, through movies and images and novels, Audrey Hepburn and croissants. It’s so romantic, so chic, so transformative, etc.

Younger, more impressionable days

Younger, more impressionable days

I have been here (for Paris is my current location) three times now, and so have pondered it several times. The first time I came was with my ex-boyfriend, and I admit it was pretty romantic and stuff. We stayed in Montmatre like the n00bs we were, and went to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and the Arc d’Triomphe. I bought, wore berets. He gave me a rose. We drank wine and I put the table bread from restaurants into my pockets for later. It was all pretty vomitous.

Discussing Paris with a friend over Facebook chat, she revealed similar experiences:

Her: how’d you like Paris? I either have a billboard time when I go, or it’s shit

Me: well it’s been weird as I’m working in my flat most of the time and I’m living by myself, and the flat is in the suburbs so it really feels like I could be anywhere, just being a hermit. I’ve never loved Paris, I must say. It smells of pee and everyone is rude!

Her: AMEN!

Me: The first time I came was with [ex-boyfriend] and it was romantic and shit but the novelty has since worn off

Her: yeah, I went with my ex too. On New Years Day, EVERYTHING was closed. I went with my friend and had an awesome time. Coincidence? Hell no!

Parisian lemonade lived up to its name.

Parisian lemonade lived up to its name.

The next time I went was with my mum, and while it was very special hanging out with her there, I was much less blinded by the Paris bit and much more aware of the fact that there were cigarette butts everywhere, that shopowners swept their rubbish into the gutters, that they were mega unimpressed with my lack of language skills, that there were  pushy-to-the-point-of-intimidating street vendors. I saw a fight break out in the street during which someone left and returned with a massive wooden plank.

  • Not everyone is gorgeously stylish
  • Not all the food is to die for (in fact there is a lot that’s really crummy)
  • There’s litter everywhere
  • There are lots of young men who think that playing gangsta rap loudly on the train is acceptable

Paris: you are not perfect. But I have two more weeks here till I’m back in London, so I’m going to give it another chance. I know a good few people who have fallen in love with this place, so I’m sure they can’t all be talking crap… can they?

The World’s Weirdest Festivals

Festival in Narita, Tokyo.

Festival in Narita, Tokyo.

Anyone who’s interested in travelling is usually interested in culture, and culture is an endlessly fascinating thing. I love this infographic about the world’s weirdest festivals – it gives you fantastic insight into some really bizarre stuff that some people participate in. My favourite is probably Japan’s crying baby festival. It seems at once adorable and deeply, deeply odd.

For the original post, head on over to FHR.

The World's Weirdest Festivals
The World’s Weirdest Festivals – An infographic by FHR

When things go wrong!

IMG_1037 On Tuesday, I was meant to go to Paris. On Monday night, I was all packed and everything was lovely. I was prepared to take the relaxing Eurostar trip from St Pancras International to Gare du Nord. But at around 11pm, I was visited by a horrendous evil that was to prevent me from travelling. Namely, exploding at both ends for six hours, aka acute gastroenteritis. So I ended up in hospital, got rehydrated via a drip, and babbled nonsense caused by some anti-nausea medication to my wonderful boyfriend who accompanied me the whole way (except for the bit where the doctor poked her finger into my bum, when I ordered him outside).

So I spent Tuesday sleeping it off and nibbling dry toast. I had to rebook my transport to Paris, and miss my first night’s accommodation, so now I get the fun part of doing the travel insurance admin. My first thought was “thank goodness for travel insurance”, but now that I consider it a bit more closely – the cost of the insurance is far more than the cost of this mishap. Granted, my insurance covers me till next March and there could be another incident before then, but the chances seem unlikely. I’ve been living away from home over two years now and it’s the first time this has happened. I didn’t have to pay anything for the medical treatment I received because the UK has a sterling public healthcare system (more on that later). Of course, travel insurance is *just in case*, and it could have been a whole lot worse. I suppose you never know what might happen and you do have  peace of mind knowing it’s there.

2013-05-07 06.43.52 I’d also like to give a massive plug to the NHS, Britain’s public health system. Like Medicare at home in Australia, you can get free healthcare, including GP, ambulance, hospital and any medications you got at the hospital. As an Australian citizen, we have a reciprocal arrangement whereby I can access public healthcare in the UK, and Brits can do the same in Oz. Until now, I’ve never seen it properly in action. I started by calling NHS Direct, the diagnostic helpline. They asked me a series of questions and dispatched an ambulance, which was there within 10 minutes. I was shown to a private room and seen to pretty quicksmart, despite my maladies being relatively minor (I mean, it was AWFUL but I hadn’t lost an eyeball or been shot or anything). I was given as much time as I needed before leaving. Everyone was lovely to me.

I made it to Paris only a day and a half late in the end, still in time for the first night of the three weeks’ accommodation I booked over AirBnb (I have a whole flat to myself for the same price as I would a dorm bed in a hostel in central Paris, it’s AMAZING). Now I just have to wrestle with my insurance company. Wish me luck.

Doing family long-distance

So I’ve been living away from Sydney since February 2011 and I’ve got used to the whole distance thing, mostly. It’s tough and I miss my mum a lot, but I choose to see the bright side rather than the negative one. I have friends who live overseas whose parents make them feel really guilty about their decisions, and approach the fact that their offspring live far away as something their kid has “done to” them, which is not fair. You raise your kids to give them as many opportunities as you can and then they have to make their own choices. I’m lucky that my mum insists that I mustn’t feel guilty about being far away, even though at times I do. She’s very supportive and she always has been, and in some ways my being far away has done several great things for us:

At Tokyo DisneySea

At Tokyo DisneySea

We’ve been able to travel together

In 2011, mum came to Europe for the first time to visit me. I got to show her around the Edinburgh Fringe festival, showed her around Brighton and saw some theatre with her in London. She then went off on a cruise through central Europe and I met her in Paris. In 2012 we spent two weeks together in Japan, meeting halfway between Sydney and London. In February and March of this year I stayed at home with her and it was really lovely. Later this year, she’s coming for another extended stay in the UK. We would never have done those things together had I stayed in Sydney.

We spend a lot of time talking

We Skype about 2-3 times a week and spend a long time talking. When I was at home, we may not have been able to spend as much face-to-face talk time. We hung out a lot, sure, but actual conversation was probably less than it currently is. I’m so grateful there is a free way to talk to her via video. When my older brothers lived in London in the mid-90s, we’d hear from them once every few months, maximum. This is truly the best time to be alive.

We get to be creative

When you can’t be with someone, you come up with great ways to show you care. Like, for Christmas last year, mum sent me an incredible bed-throw that she’d made with a whole lot of different fabrics (she and I used to make costumes together, so I recognised the different fabrics from different costumes – very special). And today was Mother’s Day, so last night I made her this little video of a day out in Paris (I’m pretty chuffed with my mad video editing skillz).

So yes, it can definitely be really difficult and there are times when being away is really hard and times (like when I was sick recently) that you just want your mum to give you a hug, but there are upsides if you create them.

Birthday/travel announcement!

times-square

One of my travel projects is to try and spend every birthday in a different country (or, as many different countries as possible). This is because I spent birthdays 1 to 22 in Australia (barring 11 in Fiji), then 23 in England and 24 in France. I turn 25 next month and I will officially be spending it in New York City with my boyfriend and my oldest friend, Amy, whom I’ve known for 20 years and who shares my birthday.

I last went to New York five years ago, even though I swore at the time that I would be back at least once a year. I spent two and a half weeks falling in love with the theatres, the delis, the museums, the shopping, the Park and the Ben and Jerry’s shop we used to check our email in (no laptop, iPad or iPhone back then!). I went with my musical theatre friend Benita and we saw 24 shows. Yep, that is a show every single day and sometimes two. We had a very comprehensive schedule of when rush/student/lottery tickets were on for different shows and we managed to see a lot of them for $20-$30. Did I mention we were also below the legal drinking age at the time (not that that stopped us)? Benita is moving to

Me with the Naked Cowboy

Me with the Naked Cowboy

New York later this year to begin the prestigious Master of Fine Arts (Directing) at Columbia University, so I’m sure to be back again.

Luckily, both of my companions for my upcoming sojourn are massively into theatre (particularly musicals) as well, so I am looking forward to catching some shows this time round, and also getting some higher quality pictures than last time round, when my camera was mega shitty and I had no sense of framing. I’m also looking forward to revisiting the first place I ever travelled to without my parents as someone who has now done a lot of travelling.

So, from June 2 to June 9, watch out world! I will be hitting the Big Apple with two of the humans I love best, turning a quarter-century with my oldest friend and “twin.” Can’t wait.

Engrish lessons

DSCF2730One of the things I looked forward to most about Japan (aside from the food, the culture, the architecture, the bullet train, the clothes, the immersion in a totally different way of life….) was getting in some cracking examples of Engrish, and in no way was I disappointed.

Now, I know it is a terrible thing to mock someone else’s language skills when I sure as hell can’t speak Japanese, but I’m only human and it’s hilarious. I also studied linguistics at university, so it’s kind of like study. Right…?

Anyway, here’s a collection of my favourite examples of English rendered in signage in Japan (click on the thumbnails to embiggen and open up a slideshow).