Enlightenment

Posted: Jan 16, 2004 12:29:52 PM


Hi everyone. Sorry this last report has taken so long to write: I've had to deal with the usual furore of returning home, coupled with the fact that I've been moving that home at the same time! Nevertheless, I think you may enjoy this final entry, which describes the last days of the trip and then offers a quick summary of many of the things I haven't told you about on this website. It also has a number of photos taken by the wonderful Charlotte (whose birthday it is today, by the way, so please send your best wishes in her direction!), and also by various assisting strangers we met on the way.

When last I left you, Charlotte and I were about to go to Nara to explore the various interesting sites there. Nara, as it turns out, was more fun than I expected. First we explored the largest wooden building in Japan, and indeed the largest in the world. I believe that the parliamentary building in Wellington, New Zealand is the second largest. Hmmm, you know, temples in Japan burn down so easily, and it would be nice for NZ to have another record setter...

On second thoughts, this is not a good idea, because they'd just rebuild it. And it's actually two thirds smaller than it used to be, which is very big considering how large it is now:

todaiji

Inside, a big Buddha, made of bronze and gold. A very big one. It's quite neat to visit because, like all Japanese temples and shrines, it is covered in gift shops. And by covered I don't mean there's one in every temple - I mean there's five in every temple. This is not tacky, however, because gift-giving is an important part of Japanese culture, and I was very keen to get a feel for the 'real' (that is, non-tourist) side of Japan. But, more on that later. Here's the Todai-ji Buddha:

buddha

A curious aside: there is a large wooden pillar behind the Buddha with a hole cut into its base. This hole is the same size as the Buddha's nostril, and supersition has it that if you can fit through this hole you are assured of enlightenment. Which is funny, because only a great fool would do something that embarrassing in public. Er:


nostril

I received an absolutely priceless incredulous look from a Japanese tourist when I took off my coat and prepared to enter the Enlightenment hole, but there's something very encouraging about knowing that this tourist and I will never meet again. In this life, anyway.

After this memorable spiritual event we wandered around Nara and then returned to Kyoto - over the next day and a half we ran into so many unexpected Japanese events it was like being immersed in a travelogue. We saw a Noh play being performed (think of it as people in masks or face-paint doing mime in extreme slow motion), a Kabuki play (it moves faster, but still took more than five hours to complete!), and sumo wrestling. My hero was a wrestler who, despite being older than all the other participants, managed to defeat competitors half again his weight. Unfortunately we don't have a picture of this little trooper, but here's a nice action shot:

sumo

And then, just like that, I was in the Last Full Day of my trip. There's always the risk of burnout even at this late juncture, but I was rescued from that by the attentions of an excellent guide: Kenichi, a former student of mine, who most enthusiastically showed us around Osaka. He took us to all the wonderful highlights of the city, including the absolutely incredible Osaka Aquarium (more about this later - it ranks right alongside Monaco's as the best aquarium I have visited), Osaka Castle (surprisingly, one of the very few castles I had a chance to visit in the whole trip), and many other highly impressive sites.

But if that had been all Kenichi had done, it would have been little different from every other tourist experience. What I am particularly pleased about is that our guide was smart enough to know that Japanese culture is just as fascinating as the touristy stuff, and that while it's good to do all that it's also important to experience the other side of life. And experience it we did - Kenichi talked me into trying a wide range of fascinating food (Octopus Balls! yum!), took us for a walk through some of the more quiet and tranquil spots in the city (even if it was a bit chilly!), and gave us an insight into some of the more incongruous activities that the Japanese people like to participate in.

I noted in the last report the delightful incongruities of Japanese life, and Kenichi was able to guide us towards some delightful moments of amused awe. An example: in Osaka Aquarium, there is a very large tank. It is in fact the second largest in the world, and houses a prized whale shark (the largest fish in the world). The day we were there, a diver dressed in a Santa Claus costume was swimming through the tank waving at spectators and posing for photo opportunities. Absurd, delightful, marvellous.

We also saw such off-the-beaten-track sites as a historic neon billboard next to the Dotomborijawa River (no kidding - it's sixty-eight years old), which was incidentally also the location for a mass jump into the water when the local baseball club won the championship. You'd think they'd jump in if the Hanshin Tigers lost, surely?

In any case, we rounded off the day with a quick trip to Kobe to view the spectacular Luminarie Light Festival - simply a huge collection of light-bulbs arranged in the most awe-inducing way possible. Nothing can reproduce the feeling of being there, but to give you an idea, this was the entrance:

luminarie

And like that, it was over. I was soon saying goodbye to Charlotte at the airport, flying over the Pacific, and arriving in Christchurch airport in style (on a 747 decorated with Lord of the Rings images). I boggled over our weird-looking money (I had forgotten how colourful it was), hugged the waiting family, and returned home.

So, what can I say about this trip? It has been wonderful, and wonderfully packed; I have not even mentioned half of the things I've seen on the way. So I figured I may try now. Those of you who bore easily might want to skim-read these lists, but I want to communicate that it is perfectly possible to do so much in only four months.

I visited palaces: Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; the Palazzo Reale in Naples; the Palace of the Grand Masters in Malta; Holyrood House in Edinburgh; the Royal Palace in Stockholm; the Old Royal Palace in Prague; Schloss Schonbrunn in Vienna; Hofburg (the Imperial Palace of the Hapsburgs) also in Vienna; the Palazzo Ducale of the Doge of Venice; Versailles; the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence; and Kyoto Imperial Palace with its wonderful toilet sounds.

I saw holy relics: Mohammed's sword, and hairs from his beard; John the Baptist's index finger; pieces of the Crown of Thorns of Jesus; the Spear of Longinus; and many many many pieces of the True Cross.

I tried as much eponymous food as possible: Neapolitan ice cream in Naples; a danish in Denmark; a hamburger in Hamburg; a berliner in Berlin; and Wiener schnitzel in Vienna; as well as haggis in Edinburgh, pickled herring (for breakfast) in Oslo, locusts in Berlin, chocolate in Bruges and Zurich, sushi in Osaka, and red-bean ice cream too!

I've travelled by plane, train, bus, car, scooter, ferry, sampan, luxury cruiser, minibus, tractor, Jeep, Segway, and bicycle; seen the world's longest escalator, the oldest working clock in the world, and the smallest book in the world.

I've been to innumerable holy sites, temples, cathedrals, shrines, and mosques, including: the Aya Sofya in Istanbul; the Blue Mosque in Istanbul; the Duomo in Naples; the Chiesa di Santa Chiara in Naples; the Chiesa di San Cataldo in Palermo; St. John's Co-Cathedral in Malta; St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh; Yorkminster; Shrewsbury Church - the church Darwin was baptised in; Salisbury Cathedral; St. Mary the Virgin University Church; Westminster; St. Pauls in London; the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey in an Oslo Fjord; St Vitus' Cathedral in Prague; Stephansdom in Vienna; the Duomo in Milan; St. Peterskirche in Zurich; the Aachen Dom; the Cologne Dom; Notre Dame in Paris; the Duomo in Florence; the Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte in Florence; the Sagrada Familia; the Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome; St. Peter's Basilica; the Basilica di San Marco in Venice; the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere in Lyon; the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, not to mention Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Heian-jingu, Kiyomizu-dera, Todai-ji, Horyu-ji, and more.

I've seen performances of: real Whirling Dervishes; 'The Taming of the Shrew' by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in Stratford-upon-Avon; 'Stomp'; 'Mousetrap'; 'Jerry Springer: The Opera'; a Noh play; a Kabuki play; and Sumo wrestling.

I've performed numerous literary pilgrimages, such as: climbing up Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, visiting Tolkien's haunt, the Rabbit Room of the Eagle and Child, Poet's corner in Westminster, Strawberry Hill, Shakespeare's birthplace, the reconstruction of the Globe, the house Keats died in, and Kafka's house in Prague; as well as seeing originals of the Magna Carta, the cuneiform Hammurabi law codes, the Flood Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Rosetta Stone (not to mention a long walk through the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers in Paris, for all you Eco fans out there).

I've slept in some uncomfortable positions (in trains, planes, buses, and ships), and stayed in some strange lodgings: Kadiz's Treehouses in Turkey; a troglodytic cave in Cappadocia; an old Choir School for St. Paul's in London; and a former monastery built in the 12th century, five minutes' walk from Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de France.

I've visited so many fine galleries and art collections, seeing work by artists such as: Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Monet, Renoir, Duchamp, Raphael, Delacroix, Donatello, Giotto, Rubens, Caravaggio, and Botticelli, as well as famous works such as Munch's 'The Scream', Brueghel's 'The Tower of Babel', Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch', Van Gogh's 'Crows in a Cornfield', Rodin's 'Le Penseur', Michelangelo's 'David', Da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa', and the 'Venus de Milo', and delightful modern art from Hirst, Klimt, Rothco, Pollock, Lichtenstein, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman, Sigmar Polke, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Fiona Tan, Le Corbusier, Kandinsky, and Magritte.

I've met and walked around with fascinating people: the Kurdish tour guide, the Italian nun, the Norwegian belly-dancer, the Australian social-worker, the Slovakian herpetologist, as well as travellers from Jerusalem, Brazil, Edinburgh, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, and of course the U.S. Amongst many others.

I've been to so many places for dead people, such as: the Catacombs of San Giovanni in Siracusa, the Catacombs of St. Paul in Malta, the Graveyards of Gallipoli, the Bayeux War Cemetery, and the Paris Catacombs. I've visited: the graves of the founder of modern Turkey (at Anit Kabir), Tolkien's grave in Wolvercote Cemetery, Chaucer's grave, Charlemagne's tomb, the Magi shrine (where the Three Wise Men are supposed to be entombed), the Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise (graves of Chopin, Heloise and Abelard, Jim Morrison, and Oscar Wilde), The Pantheon in Paris (last resting place of Rousseau, Voltaire, Hugo, Dumas, Zola, Braille, and the Curies), Napoleon's coffins in the Hotel des Invalides, the burial place of the grand dukes of Florence in the Cappelle Medicee, Federico Fellini's grave in Rimini, Julius Caesar's final resting place in Rome, and the tombs of Edward I, Henry III, Henry V, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Henry VII, Mary Queen of Scots, Edward III, Richard II, and St. Edward the Confessor.

Not that I'm morbid or anything

In total, I have stood in twenty three countries: China (Hong Kong SAR), Germany, Turkey, Italy, Malta, the Vatican City, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, San Marino, Monaco, Spain, Andorra, and Japan.


And you know what? It was very fun. I'd do it again in an instant. It's possible, and what is more it's easy. No amount of reading can truly compare to what it's like to travel, and I hope that many of you get a chance to explore this strange, difficult, and wonderful world we all call home. Soon.

I'd like to end this report by giving my heartfelt thanks to all the people who have put me up along the way, dropped by to say, run into me and provided companionship on the route, or offered advice, warnings, or encouragement. You all mean a lot to me, and I appreciate it hugely. And for those of you overseas, if you ever come to New Zealand be sure to give me a call, or if you are not able to come drop me an e-mail and keep in touch!

Here's one last picture, of Charlotte and me in the gardens of Ginkaku-ji. Enjoy!

ginkakuji

Comments:

Sahi   Jan 16, 2004 1:09:05 PM

Eek! An actual picture of Damon! Blasphemy! ;)

Great reports! Thank you so much for sharing them with us. I doubt I could ever make my reports this entertaining. You know exactly the right mix between what to tell and what to leave out.

I enjoyed reading it all. And of course I enjoyed meeting you even more!

Sahi   Jan 16, 2004 1:09:30 PM

Oops, and then I'd almost forgot.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHARLOTTE!

Damon   Jan 16, 2004 1:11:56 PM

Thanks Sahi! I didn't list the museums I went to, because there are really far too many of those to count quickly. We're talking perhaps close to sixty here?

Charlotte   Jan 16, 2004 1:44:59 PM

Ah, the same excellent standard of report we've come to expect. Well done son!

(Hmm, according to my mother my photography sucks)

@Sahi: Thanks! Of course, in Japan there is still 2 and a half hours until my birthday rolls over on the 17th. And apparently it will snow in Matsuyama. Snow on my birthday. First.Time.Ever!

AJ   Jan 16, 2004 2:13:37 PM

Excellent as always, Damon!

It was fun to read about the trip and get a sense of travelling along with you :)
Hope you settled into your new home ok.
Take care, AJ

And last but not least, Happy Birthday Charlotte, I hope it's a great one!!!!

Rimmers   Jan 16, 2004 2:30:10 PM

so it seems you enjoyed your trip, over all.

and how many smarchers have you met?

oh, and happy birthday, Charlotte!

Jaime   Jan 16, 2004 3:54:39 PM

A picture! Of DAMON! And Charlotte too!

*fangirly screams*

Glad you had a great time, Damon, that's an experience to remember all your life.

Ian   Jan 16, 2004 7:13:18 PM

:)

strangeshe   Jan 16, 2004 7:56:51 PM

*eeks along with Jaime*
(& I was so sure I'd never have a chance to see you, as opportunities for me to travel to your stomping grounds are rather slim. So, thank you.)

And Happy Birthday, Charlotte! I think the photos are wonderful! I especially like the luminiere entrance thingy. And the wooden temple -- very cool. And the feet protruding from the nostril stand-in. Hee! All very enjoyable. :)

One of these days, I plan to take a long strange journey myself. I may be 90, but I'll get there someday! ;)

Hope the house moving went well, too.
Welcome home.

strangeshe   Jan 16, 2004 7:58:52 PM

luminarie. luminarie.

spelling -- or rather, memoory -- not my strong suit today ;)

Tiny   Jan 16, 2004 10:38:28 PM

*Applause*

Morgan   Jan 17, 2004 2:01:06 PM

Good last report Damon,

Now maybe I'll catch up with you and get to see the rolls of film you took on your travels. :)

fangler   Jan 20, 2004 12:20:14 AM

Yay! you made it home and enjoyed yourself. i look forward to your next trip. :)

Claudia   Jan 20, 2004 12:41:11 AM

Damon, I've enjoyed travelling round with you via your reports.

I bet you're really enjoying having your own place and just being able to sit still in front of the telly for a while, instead of dashing off to the next destination.

How long do you think till you're bored with that, and get wander-lust again?

Ken' ichi   Jan 20, 2004 5:23:46 AM

Thanks Damon for your excellent report. It was such a pleasure to be part of your trip. And thank you once again for visiting Osaka and spending your precious time with me. I hope you'll come again (so that I can get you to taste lots and lots more "exotic"food!!!).

A brief, yet most comprehensive report.
A+ 17.5/20 Well done! (^ -)b

p.s. I'm glad you had a chance to try "azuki aisukuriimu", or red-bean ice cream. Did you taste green tea ice cream as well?

Firsfron of Ronchester   Jan 22, 2004 8:30:16 AM

Sounds like a wonderful, life-changing trip. I was able to visit eight countries in 2001, and I thought THAT was a trip to remember! ;)

red neck bill( short for william)   Feb 1, 2004 11:11:08 AM

i like it alot

Aan`allein   Mar 21, 2004 10:27:09 AM

*blinks* What happened to the recent comments? (Or am I experiencing cache issues? But I shouldn't be... is this showing up?)

Damon   Mar 21, 2004 1:44:00 PM

Just a mild snafu. Peter's sorting it out.

Aan`allein   Mar 28, 2004 3:22:28 AM

*glares at Peter*

Bad administrator, bad! ;)

Damon   Mar 29, 2004 4:44:42 AM

Well, given how much I'm paying for his work (i.e. not a sausage!) I think he's doing a fantastic job.

Peter   May 10, 2004 10:33:20 AM

And I'm really fast at answering too...

@Aan: I moved everything over to a new linux based server and thought that Damon's site wouldn't have changed (it hadn't for weeks...), so I didn't make a fresh copy of the database. You most certainly proved me wrong...

@Damon: Well, I've got those great Shadowmarch fridge magnets (which I still don't know where to put) and a weird weapon to threaten you with if you do weird things to my server. So it's all good ;)

Aan   May 12, 2004 10:23:01 AM

*grins* So you're almost as bad as damon at not accepting that this place will never die, eh? ;)

...what intrigues me is how in one of the now missing posts damon said new content might be showing up 'soon' - I wonder if he's forgotten all about that... ^_^

Damon   May 13, 2004 8:40:16 AM

I'm getting there! I'm gonna have all my pictures up some time soon. Soonish. Definitely within the next few ... uh ... well, don't hold your breath.

Siobhan   Jun 19, 2004 4:12:15 AM

Pictures? In my lifetime? ;p ;p ;p ;p

Aan   Jun 19, 2004 8:33:52 AM

Maybe we should make damon hold his breath, see if that has things happening more swiftly... ^_^

Damon   Jun 20, 2004 1:04:03 AM

Yes, I'm getting there! There *are* a ridiculously large number of pictures to identify, organise, edit (straightening, fiddling with colours and lighting), and summarize. This is made worse by the fact that I have barely started yet! *grin*

Incidentally, how would people like me to organise these pictures?

Aan   Jun 20, 2004 5:25:44 AM

"organize"??

I do not know this thing you speak of...


uhm, but chronologically _and_ by subject I think. (Overlap is okay, as long as there's not too much.)
So:
people: day 1, day 2-5, day 6, ...
landscapes: day 1-4, day 5, day 6, ...
old buildings: day 1-5, day 6, ...
boring linguistics stuff: day 1-100 ;)

and maybe a hightlights category (containing no more then say, 50 pictures).

Oh, and can I have fries with that?

Siobhan   Jun 20, 2004 10:41:12 PM

I was thinking chronological by place. Maybe with a seperate catagory "gallery" up in the uh, the link thingy where all the other ones are. Next to the dragon. And then a link to each individual catagory at the bottom/top/whatever of the corresponding report. Yeah.

Maladroit   Jun 23, 2004 2:13:41 AM

And, uh, sorted also by:
- GPS location sequence
- sunny days, overcast days, rainy days, foggy/misty days (this last one should be easiest to sort within)
- predominant color in photos (I particularly will be interested in the "Green, with varying shades of blue" section)
- and a section of "random pictures I did not intend to take," such as "the ground at the bus stop", "ceiling at hostel #14" and "My Thumb"


charlatan   Jun 23, 2004 4:17:51 AM

Found this recently:

"A recent internet poll conducted by the Licensed Institute of Ecumenical Studies (Inc) on what people really want to see uncovered the following startling result: when shown an eclectic array of unsensored photographs, an overwhelming 93.7124 percent of pollsters indicated that they only wanted to see pictures of three-legged chihuahuas with blue fur rinses wearing tiny clown hats. This study had a margin of error of 10% for people who pick their nose with their left index finger.

Note: Complete results for this study are confidential but can be obtained from the researchers on presentation of a liberal grant towards further study on the subject."

Of course, although I am dying to see your pooch pictures, this ones I really want to see are of all the cute semi-naked guys on beaches. I probably won't look at the rest.

Damon   Jun 23, 2004 1:00:04 PM

Well as you all know most of my photos are of cute semi-naked men on beaches. They're just so darling! *snort*

It's nice to see that people are still hanging out at a website on which nothing is happening, though. I will try my best to get the photos organised in some kind of sane way (*coughGPSwhatthe?cough*) as soon as possible.

Ken'ichi   Jun 24, 2004 3:24:55 PM

Hi, Damon. This is just a quick note to say that I sent you an e-mail. (I hope your address still exists!)

I can't wait for the new update!
Keep up the great work!!! Gambatte (good luck)!

Rimmses   Jun 29, 2004 9:51:37 AM

hey Damon how is it going?

any ideas what you could do with this place in the future?

lian   Jul 3, 2004 11:36:53 PM

Oh my. Without booknarks, I'm nothing. And since I lost my bookmarks due to mysterious circumstances (one day, they were simply...gone. Aan, does Mozilla exist off bookmarks?) I'm still working on re-finding all those interesting net tidbits. But how could I forget this site?! *sobs*

Hm. Order? I second cute semi-naked men on the beach. Then again, maybe not. Let me prove my geekiness by stating that I prefer temples of guys any time ;P

lian   Jul 3, 2004 11:39:15 PM

LOL. Erm, Freudian typo. I meant...temples *over* guys.

Get thee to a nunnery! -- Damon, is there conclusive evidence (i.e. 'is it true') that 'nunnery' was an Elizabethan slang term for brothel? I never know which reading to pick.

Aan   Jul 4, 2004 4:07:04 AM

lian: It shouldn't. My mozilla's have never lost their bookmarks, not even the really broken daily builds just after the tree opens again after a long freeze and everybody checks in their patches at once. But it seems almost half you smarch people are having this problem. I don't know why... Do you give your mozilla enough love? Talk to it regularly? Give it a bit of virtual water every so often? Make sure that it isn't jealous of Tad or anything?

(Anyway, you know how to find your profile? documents & settings\[username]\application data\mozilla\profiles\[randomstring].slt \ - bookmarks.html lives in there, so I suggest making a backup of it every so often.)

lian   Jul 4, 2004 11:39:13 PM

You-are-invaluable.

*kisses Aan*

Hey, and I look good today. You've just been kissed by a beautiful girl! *laughs*

Aan   Jul 5, 2004 8:56:04 AM

*blushes* :P

Damon   Jul 5, 2004 10:33:41 AM

Hey guys, still working on the update, will get there eventually! Maybe in the next few weeks. Maybe not. Rimms, I don't know what I'll do with the place, but it's not disappearing as I'm soon going to renew the domain name for another year. Lian, I've heard the rumour, but I don't think I've ever encountered conclusive evidence that it was so. Nunneries to my mind were more like prisons where recalcitrant children could be kept.

Siobhan   Jul 23, 2004 5:31:53 PM

You got...seven days to get those pics up or I win my bet and the the reward I so richly deserve. Taco human.

Aan   Aug 1, 2004 2:10:05 AM

So, what did you win? :)

lian   Aug 9, 2004 1:53:23 PM

oh, yeah, and have I asked this before? -- but: how does one pronounce your name, bank robber lady?


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