Photo Friday, International Women’s Day Edition: Buying Tampons In Japan

As I’m  presently very removed from the feminist activist space, I failed to post something this week for International National Women’s Day. So here’s a Photo Friday, MENSTRUATION EDITION to make up for it. #MenstruatingandProud

Last December when my sister and I were in Japan, we ran out of tampons and pads. When we went to the store, we struggled to find the ‘feminine product section.’ Once we got to the checkout, the woman quickly stuffed our tampons in a special paper bag, and even sealed it. Was she afraid it would accidentally open, spill out and then someone might find out that we menstruate?!

Like the rest of the world, Japan still holds period taboos. Taboos that need to be WIPED OUT. Ever wonder why women aren’t sushi chefs?

So as my sister as my model (don’t kill me!) here’s a series of photos about buying tampons in Japan.

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Some more for you for this glorious day:

Want to learn about what I did for International Women’s Day in past years? Last year I was in Melbourne and the year before I was running in Ibiza.

Want to hear more about MENSTRUATION?! Check out the time I bled all over my Thai massage, LOL.

Are you in Melbourne and want to do something feminist? Here’s where.

 

What I Did In…Guangzhou, China

This is the first post of my new series, “What I did in…,” where I aim to detail some of the most fun (or worst, if I want to warn you) activities, eateries and places to stay. I might also give helpful resources I used to prepare, if applicable. This isn’t meant to serve as a an all-encompassing travel guide, but merely an example of some of the possibilities for that destination. 

Guangzhou, China


Resources

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Sunset near Liwan Lake Park

In this Pink Pangea article, I give advice for those stopping by on a 72-Hour Free Visa on how to most easily enjoy their time. This guide is a resource for those who don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese.

This Photo Friday post, I aim to show you some of my favorite images I took while I was there. I show the people, some of the food and interesting sights.

Accommodation

Grand Continental Services Apartment – Nomo Beijing Road
A moderately priced hotel just two blocks from Beijing Lu, one of the busiest pedestrian-only shopping and eating districts. The room had WiFi, multiple plugs and comfortable beds. The staff spoke English well, but a warning: be careful with the staff you trust for directions. I was told wrong directions multiple times, and once spent two hours at a bank trying to find my way to where I was meant to be going.

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Haizhu Square, Guangzhou.

EAT, EAT, EAT

Dim Dou Dak 點都德(聚福楼)
I got this suggestion from Thanis Slim and was not disappointed. Go to the location near Beijing Road (470 Hui Fu Dong Lu  惠福东路470号). According to those in positions of authority, one of the best places for dim sum in the city. I ate Har Gow (shrimp dumplings), mango and coconut sweet dim sum, and herbal tea.

Coffee Corner
This Korean-owned cafe has spectacular machine espresso, pastries to accompany and delectable Korean desserts. The WiFi works great and the rustic chic decor is pleasant. Location: right across from the Haizhu Square metro stop.

Cafe de Coral
This chain has disgusting instant coffee, but it was a great place to people watch and journal. I went to the Haizhu Square location, but there are several throughout the city. Plus, who doesn’t love the positive affirmations written on the wall? Examples: “Best of THE best/A Beautiful Day/Time of Your Life.”

Unknown Dim Sum place
Right down the street from Huangbian metro station, the third shop along Huangbian N. Road, is a place with delicious dim sum. I was here by accident after being told wrongly how to reach a museum.

Tao Tao Ju
Excellent traditional restaurant near Shangxia Jiu Lu, another pedestrian-only street near Beijing Lu, whose specialty was apparently ginger chicken, until the waitress laughed and told me they don’t serve it. I got the goose. That was interesting. Location: DiShi Fu Road 22.

PanXi Restaurant
Location in the heart of old Guangzhou, Liwan, this traditional restaurant had great food, fast service and an intricately decorated decor and gardens. I tried black fungus, sweet and sour fried fish, taro with blueberry sauce and savory min quiches, among other Guangzhou specialties. Well known by tourists and locals alike, it is definitely a must-eat!

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Bubble tea chain from Taiwan. They say they’re the best. Find them in shopping areas.

Hot Pizza
For when you’re really down and out and want some western food. The margarita pizza wasn’t very good. Near the Central Business District (CBD). Location: 1/F, Tianyu Garden, No.136 Linhe Zhong Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, 天河区林和中路136号天誉花园首层

Old HK Cafe
Located a few feet away from Beijing Lu, this eatery is open late night. There were lots of youths around. I tried the taro filled buns, Congee and pork dumplings.

Grand Hyatt
I spent way too much money on bomb-ass high tea high up overlooking the CBD. Excellent service, the kind that makes you feel like you’re not a broke traveler. Need I say more.

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High tea with my friend Carina. We did, however, get massive sugar headaches. We brought it upon ourselves, most obviously.

What I did (that wasn’t eating)

Disclaimer: There is so much to do in Guangzhou, even culturally even though it doesn’t have as much fame for it as other Chinese cities. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up doing much between catching up on sleep from jet lag and getting lost. I did do some cool stuff, though.

Walk, walk, walk
I walked around Haizhu Square, Liwan district, the CBD district, Beijing Lu and Sh. angxia Jiu Lu. It was great for people watching, observations, shopping and eating random dim sum. In Liwan, we saw the elderly playing games, street musicians, local markets and even a Peking Opera performance.

Redtory Arts and Design Factory
I cannot emphasize enough how much I loved this space. This abandonded factory compound has been reappropriated to create a space for museums, galleries, design and offices. The various exhibits in various buildings featured artists from China and other parts of Asia, Europe and North America, among others. As the old buildings remain, the eerie and tragically beautiful space is ideal for photography.I saw the videography exhibit “Time Test: International Video Art Research Exhibition” that left me speechless.
Location: No. 128, Yuancun Si Heng Rd., Tianhe District, Guangzhou City Tel: +86 20 8557 4417;

Massages at Fu Yuan Tang
I read about these massages on this page. I had a lot of stress in my back from my heavy purse and this traditional Chinese massage forced it out of me. Address available on the link.

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High buildings in the CBD.

Featured photo: this will be the offical photo of the “What I did in…” series. Taken at Sunshine Juice in Tokyo, Japan. 

 

 

 

Oslob, Philippines: Whale Sharks, Tourism And A Changing Climate

The exact details on how and why Oslob, Philippines recently became a whale shark feeding epicenter differs depending on the source. Here’s what I was told:

In 2011, when a Norwegian marine biologist passed through the small town of Oslob, a roughly three and a half hour drive from Cebu City on the Filipino island of Cebu, he had the intention of studying the local species. But when he saw a local fisherman throwing rocks at whale sharks, who had recently began feeding in the area again, he complained to the local government and convinced the mayor to make it an official tourist attraction. And just like that, Oslob became an internationally known tourist destination.

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Taking a nap in between customers.

The center of Oslob consists of one main road called Natalio Bacalso Avenue, which houses a small market, a few restaurants, convenience stores and numerous guest houses. Ten kilometers from the main area of town is the whale shark area, Tan-awan, where tourists are dropped off to wait in line to be taken out on a small rowboat. From there, they can scuba, snorkel or watch from the boat while whale sharks get fed. Each person gets 30 minutes in the water.

While I was there, I estimated around 200 people were around trying to get a look as well, so the experience is far from intimate. Fishermen paddle around nearby dropping food in the water to attract the whale sharks to where the tourist boats sit.

Tourists travel great distances for just 30 minutes alongside the impressive sea creatures. Seeing them is on all of the great to-do’s of Cebu and gets mentions on all of the travel blogs.Tourism brings income, jobs and infrastructure, but it usually has a mixed reception for those directly affected.

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Many tourists opt to take a 3:00am bus from Cebu City or from the popular diving spot Moalboal. They leave and return the same day, therefore bypassing most of Oslob. Restaurants and the local government still benefit from their visit, which once used to cost tourists 50 pesos ($1 USD) for 30 minutes of snorkeling but now amounts to 1,500 a person ($28USD). Because the local government manages the project, only locals are employed.

Those who lived in Oslob before the big tourist boom mention that before, it was a very quiet town. I spoke with Pretty, a fruit vendor at the town market who told me the whale sharks bring lots of tourists who spend money. Now, the locals have more buildings and more business. (Later in the day, I returned to the market to pick up more fruit. I spotted the woman who at the whale sharks wharf sold me a few slices of pineapple and a bit of watermelon for an overpriced 100 pesos ($2 USD), something that would normally cost half that price, if not less. I tried to bargain with her, but she wouldn’t budge. I was starving, so I didn’t really care; and after all, what are two dollars to me? “Ah, I recognize her,” I told Pretty. “Oh yes, that’s my mom!” she said. And I realize now why else it’s beneficial to have tourists.)

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My sister and I decided to stay two days in Oslob, hopefully avoiding the potential for an excruciating, nauseating bus trip (prone to motion sickness). When we walked around town and children saw us, they, scream “Hello!” suggesting that they realize we’re a novelty, but our presence isn’t something new. Young boys got nervous speaking around us and several people stopped to ask where we’re from. Whereas surrounding the wharf there were crowds of tourists (reminding me of a smaller version of what I saw at the Vatican), around town my sister and I only saw a few. We asked Pretty what there is to do on a Friday night. Unenthusiastically, she explained that there is a bar, but it’s not that great. “Maybe singing,” she said. We had already heard the painful karaoke from our neighbor the night before.

In that sense, the tourism hasn’t caused the town to be overblown. A few tourists linger around Spanish colonial ruins, but not many. Most locals still live exactly as they used to. But the international community’s “discovery” of the whale sharks has inevitably changed it.

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John, the owner of the guest house where were staying, says that the whale shark tourist industry has altered his social relations with locals. He came here around 15 years ago when he retired after years of living in Canada. His aim was to fish, relax by the ocean, and host friends. He got to do so for a while. The water in front of the guest house used to be teeming with fisherman, he explained. While we were there, we only say two or three.

They would bring their fish in, drink a beer and talk. Now after they fish, he says they say hello but quickly run to their next job attending to tourists. “We’ve lost quality time, you could say,” he told me. John also explained other changes, like the how the road next to his house used to be like an old country road but now sounds like a freeway.

Even his guest house’s very existence is a direct result of tourism: The town didn’t have the capacity to hold the steep increase in tourists, so the mayor asked those with extra spaces to convert them into accommodation. John refused twice, but the third time he wasn’t really given a choice. “You don’t say no to the mayor,” he sighed.

But like all towns and people, they adapt. John realized he enjoyed meeting people from all of the world and eventually came to like being a guest house owner. Pretty seemed pleased with the changes, but she could have just been telling me what she wanted to hear. Obviously Pretty and John come from opposite sides of the spectrum and are aiming for different things, but whether or not others are positively or negatively affected by the newcomers is yet to be analyzed.

To me, Oslob was still a sleepy town. Besides the whale sharks, there’s simply not much to do. Of course there’s karaoke and the beach, but those aren’t unique to the place. And there are the recent travel warnings. My sister and I ran into a cheery Australian couple on the bus from Oslob to Moalboal. “Yeah, we were going to stay four days and we already paid for the accommodation, but we ditched after two nights,” they said, referring to the lack of activities.

Even though I didn’t see much destructive evidence of tourism beyond the area around the whale sharks, for those that saw the before and after, like John and Pretty, it must require some getting used to.

More demand brings hostels, drunken backpackers, bars and prostitutes. It’s not Phuket and it’s not Boracay, but as I watched the stream of yellow buses full of tourists disembark at the wharf, a fear washed over me that this could eventually become what no one wants it to. At least for a while though, it’s too boring to become any of those things.

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The oldest street in Oslob.

Thinking about swimming with the whale sharks? This article wasn’t about the environmental controversy, but if you’re going to Oslob you should do your research. Here are a few articles to help you make you decision:

5 reasons not to swim with whale sharks in Oslob

Whale Sharks in the Philippines- is it wrong to swim with them?

Should you swim with whale sharks in the Philippines?


Featured photo: A man rides his bike in front of the cuartel, still standing from the 1600s.

Photo Friday: 72 Hours in Guangzhou, China

 

Is it still Friday? Even if it’s not let’s just pretend it is.

Earlier this week Pink Pangea published my article “Make the Most of a 72 Hour Free Visa in Guangzhou, China.” In the article, I give tips for others looking to take advantage of the free visa.

I may not have gotten to spend much time there, but in three days I quickly figured out the city is more than just the place that makes all of consumers cheap goods. Its a warm, bright city with patient people, religious worship, Korean cafes, consumerist youth, famed Cantonese cuisine and a diverse expat community. Here’s a bit of what I saw when I was there:

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Painted rubbish bins at Redtory Art and Design Factory.
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A woman cleans the streets near Beijing Lu, one of the busiest pedestrian only streets. Taken around 7:30am.

 

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Old city bikers.
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Unknown numbers. 
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Taking a break near the old city.
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A boy makes an offering to in Old Guangzhou. 
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Posing. 

Coming soon: A “what I did” series, including a what I did in Guangzhou. Sort of like a travel guide, but less formal. I just want you know what I did and what I thought was cool!

Photo Friday: Death On Phillip Island

 

Perhaps the featured photo is misleading. When my friends and I took a day trip from Melbourne to Phillip Island in April, it didn’t end up being a murder mystery.

For us at least.

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The six kilometer walk around Cape Woolamai (try the Cape Woolamai Beacon Walk!) passed through the sandy beaches, slight inclines through bush and around dramatic cliffs below the lighthouse. But it wasn’t the scenery that kept our attention.

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It was the sheer number of dead animals.

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Despite the fact that park rangers trolled the kilometers of the coast on their 4×4, they didn’t seem phased by the number of animal carcasses littering the premises.

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Death is a natural part of life.

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But one has to wonder if the park officials should be a bit more concerned with tidying up the trail for the thousands of tourists that visit each year.

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I can imagine that all of the dead wallabies would be something especially traumatic for young child. They are, after all, a sought-after site for tourists in the country.

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People normally go to Phillip Island to see the overpriced, hyped-up Penguin Parade. (Don’t try to not pay and instead go up on the cliff overlooking Summerland Beach. The park ranger will ask you to leave.)

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But when I go to Phillip Island, I tell people why I make the trip. It’s not for penguins.

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I go for the views.

Photo Friday: 36 Hours Staring At Sydney Streets

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View from the train stop. Not bad. 

It’s been 36 hours since I’ve been in Sydney. It’s my first time here and the reason is to visit my sister (you’ve met her before: she had no patience for Pitbull in Basque Country, got screamed at at a restaurant in Hoi An and loves Koh Phi Phi as much as me). I know it won’t be my last visit, so I’m in no rush see or do anything “touristy.” (Except if you count an afternoon wine and cheese spread at the Opera Bar, in which case, I’m “guilty as.”)

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Being very disrespectful in front of “Warrang” by Brook Andrew. Taken at the Contemporary Art Museum.

What never ceases to command my attention and strike me as fascinating in any city is its street art. Grand murals and graffiti, yes, but also the tiny details that add flavor to an otherwise mundane street.

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Sydney also wins for capturing one of the best toilet signs I’ve seen since being in Australia! Thanks, Coogee Pavilion. 

The areas I walked around in today in Sydney were full of them. Melbourne may have the reputation for street art, but Sydney’s streets haven’t disappointed.

(I forgot my DSLR at home, so all photos taken on IPhone)

5 Ways Not To Spend 12 Hours In Dubai

Everyone raves about Dubai. Visiting it elicits the kind of responses that people get when they say they’ve lived in Ibiza; a mixture of awe, disgust and dollar signs cartoon eyes. People stuck with layovers have managed to hit the beach, buy gold and even eat like a local (well, I suppose we more or less did that…).

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We didn’t pop champagne or even have a real meal, but we did see this real estate sign.

Here’s a spoiler alert. We didn’t win the “Dubai challenge.” (But we did have “Young Abu Dhabi” in our heads the whole time.) When Erin and I had a 12-hour layover in the city of gold toilets, we pretty much did everything wrong. We had high hopes for our visit after being groomed on a luxurious 13-hour Emirates flight from New York. Only two out of a hand full of passengers, we were treated like royalty, or better, like the young flight attendants’ best friends. We washed our hands with lemon scented towels, ate gourmet food from a beautifully designed menu and got tons of free alcohol. (I know it’s “included” but they still have a way of making you feel elite.)

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BFFLs.

When we arrived in Dubai and got off the plane, we remembered the phrase “all good things must come to an end.” Spending a total of $27.00 in 12 hours, we managed to eat oily mall food, miss the major sites and somehow failed to make it to the beach for sunset, our one goal. That’s a list of what we didn’t do. But here’s 5 things we did that I don’t (not) recommend you doing.

1- Observe families in the mall and the airport

Somewhere along the line, someone decided families shouldn’t just match, they should match in neon colors (easier to find if one of the ten kids gets lost). There was the matching minion family and the family with matching checkered button down shirts.

Then there were the families in the airports, each with at least four matching children each. It just so happened that one matching family was friends with another matching family. Sitting across from them, we witnessed an interesting social dynamic. One of the family’s children threw things at each other in silence. Meanwhile, the more active matching boys kept running in circles or in short sprint drills. The boys from the other family just stared without saying a word.

2- Take pictures with odd things

Forget trying to inspire or even get some naysayers jealous on Instagram, here’s what you should actually take pictures of.

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Notice the Burj Al-Arab in the background. Evidence. Photo: Erin Morris.

3- Get stared at

Sitting at Cafe Blanc, we were warned via stern facial expressions to pretty please shut our traps because we were laughing too much trying to imitate how Moroccans poured their tea.

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I took this picture last year in Merzouga, Morocco. Do you see that skill? That’s what I was attempting to imitate….in Dubai.

We were severely judged for not being fancy enough at Jumeirah Village. We felt vulnerable, dirty and too “poor” to even be using the public toilets there. (I later looked on Kayak for room prices at Jumeirah Al Qasr [see below for incident] and a “deal” was advertised at $1,046 USD/night.)

But when we saw the beacon of hope – the bright red cherries of the entrance to Pacha Dubai – we were right at home.

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Fitting in quite well, given our expertise of the club…

In a drawn-out attempt to just get to the beach, we walked almost an hour along the coast attempting to cut through mega-hotels and gated subdivisions just to see the sand. We found a way at Jumeirah Village below Jumeirah Al Qasr, except, I can’t lie. You had to be a guest to take the boats to take you to the beach.

“Are you a guest here?” the man asked when I tried to board the boat. He could tell from one look that we didn’t belong among the wealthy patrons that frequent the boats. “Yes,” I said. When he asked me for my room number or key, I panicked. Then admitted I had lied about the whole thing, mumbled and kept walking.

4- Walk way too much

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Erin poses near(ish) to the Burj Al Arab. The walk from this picture to the building took us around an hour and a half.

They say that people like Erin and I who underestimate time are highly optimistic. Well, what a better way to express our optimism than the huge miscalculation we faced when thinking the space between the metro and everything on the map wasn’t very far away.

What seemed like no more than 20 minutes took at hour. What appeared to be across the street was like five normal city blocks. It even took 15 minutes to walk from the metro through a tunnel to the Dubai Mall entrance. Even the bathroom sign was 5 minutes from the actual bathroom.  After the incident where I lied at Jumeirah Al Qasr about being a guest, we had to do the long walk of shame towards the exit and an extra 20 more minutes to find the “next left turn”towards the beach- the public entrance. Aka, the entrance for everyone else who isn’t shitting gold in Dubai.

5- Spend way too much time at the mall

Everything I know about Dubai I learned at the mall. Said no one. But me.

Feeling the staleness of artificial air felt natural after being 13 hour on a flight. Then the extended time in the metro and further indoor time in the mall made it unbearable. Even though I was wondering what real Dubai air smells (and feels) like, the mall was still a fascinating place. It was a mini sampling of what I can only assume is the diversity and opulence of the city. We heard the  call to prayer, saw a weird Pinocchio store, passed by electronics stores, clothing stores and chocolate stores. We had gelato samples and sucked on the plastic spoons until we got on the metro (that’s a 15 minute walk if you remember correctly).

We just couldn’t get away from the mall. But who could when just across the street you can watch a choreographed fountain performance to Enrique Iglesias’s “Hero” in Spanish. As soon as the music started, the crowds of people (us included) went running to the edge of the pond beneath the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and oooed and awed as the water rose and fell and twisted to the notes of the dramatic Spanish love song.


Maybe we did it “all wrong.” Maybe we didn’t feel like paying $30 for a cup of tea to sit at the top of the tallest building. Looking back, though, it wasn’t so bad. Feet aches go away and eventually everyone has to breathe real air. On second thought, maybe those are five things you should absolutely add to your Dubai itinerary!