Japan or China

Japan or China? One I have never visited, the other I seem to have fallen in love with. For various, mostly positive, reasons we may not have such opportunities for travel in future and so I have been thinking about redeeming our frequent flyer points for another holiday overseas. Yes, we should be saving every last dollar for the future, but personally I would rather another holiday memory than another piece of furniture. B wants to go to China, it is in her heritage after all. After reading a number of books on China I too would love to travel around that country.

Barriers remain to travel around China. Despite her Chinese heritage, B neither speaks or reads Mandarin and it is not a language that appears simple to pickup the basics in, unlike German or French which share much in common with English. From what I've heard and read, the Chinese infrastructure is not really set up to cater for the foreign tourist (fair enough, if you consider how many locals there are!). So, we started hunting around for tours. There are some quite cheap tours available that see a lot of sights quickly, such as those offered by the China Travel Service. After talking to them it was apparent that they catered for the type of tourist who just wants a photo of themselves in front of the landmark before whizzing off to the next stop. All meals included and no doubt stops at some "genuine local craft" shops. No free time, no fun!

The tour that caught my eye was the 15 day East China Adventure from  Peregrine Adventures. They visit some places that I'm particularly interested in, such as the gardens of Suzhou and waterways of Tongli, remote areas of the Great Wall and much else. Plenty of free time, some bike rides and a maximum of 15 people. The biggest problem is the cost, almost $6000 for the two of us (return airfares to China "free" courtesy of frequent flyer points). I still want to go, but I guess we will have to wait and save. Surprisingly, my next choice, Japan, looks like it will be significantly cheaper.

On our last overseas holiday we had a three day stopover in Tokyo. At the end of our time there I did not want to leave, despite spending a month on the road. Ever since our return I have sought out elements of Japan in Sydney, dining frequently at Japanese restaurants, staring longingly at the pottery in the "Made in Japan" shop, admiring the items we brought back. It's very strange, because our first trip to Japan in 2002 did not leave me feeling the same way.

It was a hot and sticky August when we arrived in Tokyo and I think it made both of us a little cranky, despite B and I both having lived in the tropics before. There were happy memories that we brought home with us, but overall we felt rather underwhelmed by the experience and the food. Yet, on the second visit, that all changed and now I dream of soba noodles and sushi, of the crazy streetlife, the gardens.

On the second trip we brought a tatami mat home, if only for the smell of the Kyoto ryokan from the first trip. I wish we could also have the deep, hot bath. The idea of sitting down to wash one's body under a mini shower before using the bath purely for relaxation is very attractive, a calming antidote to a busy day, rather than the quick shower which we have now (water restrictions -  wasting water is bad!). Wouldn't mind one of their toilets as well!

I am highly attracted by Japanese aesthetics, with their simple yet good looking designs in everything from gardens to computers.  My scientific mind says that function beats form, yet the hidden artist in me appreciates working and playing in locations and with tools that look good. It's relaxing and I find that it helps me to focus.

It's interesting to contrast the Japanese aesthetics with those of the Chinese. I am really not a fan of modern Chinese design, especially that from the mainland. I find it often to be gaudy and kitsch. It certainly doesn't help that I am not a fan of red or gold. While I look forward to seeing historical and natural China, I have the gut feeling that city and tourist locations in China would not be particularly relaxing places, especially with the crush of noisy, spitting, shouting, pushing locals. I am hoping that if we do go to Japan that I will feel more centred at the end of it. Well, so long as we don't spend all our time in computer stores in Shinjuku - they take the prize for crazy noise!

By organising our own accommodation and transport (Japan Rail Pass) it appears that we could well organise a holiday for around half the price of the Peregrine Adventures tour of China. Maybe we won't see as much, but perhaps that isn't the point. I hope that we will have a holiday.