Priceless when abroad

I can’t live… if living is without you…

As we are currently in Japan, we have been reminiscing a lot about the years we have spent in this country. We have both lived away from home for many years – as have many of our readers – and we thought it was time that we shared some tips on the stuff we have needed during those sometimes tough times. Here is a list for those of you planning on doing the same that we came up with.

1) Skype

Probably the best invention ever made to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world. You can even get a phone number for people to call you on and it’s so user-friendly that even my grandmother is on there!

2) Whatsapp

Most people already know about this amazing App, but just in case you have been in hiding – get this App! All you need is some internet and you can message all your friends for free. I have been using this for years…

3) Facebook

I know, I know… but Facebook really is an amazing network. You might be headed off to Fiji and once you post it in your status, messages will come pouring in – Who knew your best friend from school now lives there? Your friend’s cousin has a job available? A colleague went there years ago and gives you a list with the best restaurants? The amount of happy connections and opportunities that Facebook has given me is astounding!

4) MeetUp

Wherever you are in the world, this website links up people with similar interests. You enjoy boardgames? Volleyball? Eating out? The Eurovision Song Contest (–> I wish I was making the last one up but alas…). Some of the people you meet will probably be weird, but if you can find one or two gems, hold onto them. New friends and hobbies are a great way of meeting people and getting accustomed to your new life. Try something new and who knows – maybe you will be bouldering for the rest of your life!

5) Duolingo

This is a language teaching programme online that is completely free. It’s easy to use and fun. I find the best way to really get into a new culture is to learn the local language, so try and work on learning even a few words before you go and then drink lots of local beer and the courage to talk to strangers will come to you. All you need is practice and a whole world of communication opens up to you. If you have some spare cash, Michel Thomas is your man! His audio language guides help you learn to speak a language without even trying. All you have to do is listen and repeat – I have recommended him to so many people after doing the Spanish course and everyone is always delighted.

6) Bring a suit!

Every time I have been abroad there has been an emergency “formal-wear” moment. Whether it’s a wedding or a sudden meeting with someone important, trying to find a well-fitting smart outfit is hard and also expensive in your own country – imagine having to do it in another country!

7) A cuddly teddy

I know I’m an adult now, but we all have a cuddly teddy we can’t bear to part with. I would suggest bring this fluffy bit of joy with you – they squash into a small space in a suitcase and you wouldn’t want it sitting all alone in your attic at home now, would you?

8) Photos of home and whitetack

Print out some photos of your friends and family and here’s a gem of advice: bring whitetack with you! You will be able to stick your pictures to the walls wherever you are without leaving any trace when you move out. Trust me – this stuff leaves no marks and no pin-holes in the wall!

9) Boardgames

I’m putting this in for Jason. When we moved to Germany, I had a suitcase full of clothes and my ukulele. He packed one set of clothes and his 40+ boardgames. You can see our differing priorities… Through his hobby, we have made many friends and spend many lovely evenings together playing games. I always have on a different outfit, whilst Jason always wears the same thing – haha!

10) Cheese!

What’s the one thing you just can’t live without? Find it online – mine is cheese and although we have a supply of it in the freezer at all times (we have a LOT of guests from England), just in case we have an emergency shortage, we know where to get more cheese in Germany.

Cheese Cheese

Is there anything else you would add?

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Ramen Noodles in Berlin

Yummy Yummy Yummy, I got Love in my Tummy…

So, staying on the Japanese theme today, I will tell you about one of my favourite meals.

In England, when you have been out partying hard, nothing beats a kebab and a strawberry milkshake. In Japan, Ramen is what you need. A noodle soup that will warm the cockles of your heart. Such a greasy and filling meal, it basically guarantees you not to be hungover the next day. A miracle food. I have to even admit that once I had two bowls.

Different areas in Japan have different specialities when it comes to Ramen. My favourite are the Tonkotsu Ramen from Kyushu, the big island in the South. The broth is made by continuously boiling pork bones and all the fat and collagen that goes with it. When you get slices of pork in your soup, it just melts in your mouth. You can choose if you want hard or softer noodles and it always comes out piping hot, steaming so much that you have to marvel at the Japanese people slurping away happily at this lava-like temperature.

Other areas go for the more traditional Miso or Soy Sauce flavour and literally every single Ramen Restaurant you go to will have a unique flavour. A tasty side-dish are gyoza (dumplings) and I love fried slabs of squid as well, but these are harder to find in Europe. As with all food, some restaurants better than others and if you are curious and living in Berlin, here are two recommendations:

- Cocolo Ramen – best Tonkotsu Ramen in Berlin and if you need a desert recommendation, well, we have done that for you too: cheesecake. Cocolo: Paul-Lincke-Ufer 39-40, Kreuzberg, 10999, Berlin

- Try the Toku Miso Ramen at Makoto for something a little spicy – make sure you get the plum wine ‘on the rocks’ to go with your meal. Makoto: Alte Schönhauser Str. 13, 10119, Berlin

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Friday Links

Some kind of wonderful…

It might help to turn the computer on before blogging...

It might help to turn the computer on before blogging…

An interesting read about the evolution of online learning. I am doing an online photography course and enjoying it and there are so many courses out there, it’s great to read about someone who is learning from them too.


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How my grandparents met

It was love at first sight…

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I love the story about how my grandparents met. I think my family is full of very special and unique stories and because we are in Japan right now, I thought you might all enjoy a Japan-related post.

As I told you a few days ago, my grandfather was a Japanese Prisoner of War during WWII. He didn’t really tell anyone about his experiences, but we did know they weren’t good. He went from Changi Prison to help build the Bridge over the River Kwai. Most people went here to die and were tortured along the way.

My grandfather Albert tried to learn the local languages as well as Japanese. He became a translator for the Japanese guards by using his language skills. When he returned to the UK (after another stint working in Asia), he opened up a sweet shop in North London. It no longer exists now, but my father always points it out when we walk past where it once stood.

One day, a Japanese man walked through the door. Albert said “konnichiha” (hello) and after the man got over his surprise, the two men became friends. My grandfather then started teaching him English. Soon word got out and the man’s friends also started using Albert as their English teacher.

Many of my grandfather’s friends were horrified. They too had been Prisoners of War and hatred for the Japanese was not forgotten. There were not many Japanese people in London in those days and my grandfather lost many friends and connections by befriending the people from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Then one day, he met Yaeko.

They spent all their time together and got married just before I was born. They were inseparable. We would visit every weekend and for a while we even all lived together.

When Albert passed away a few years ago, Yaeko came to live with me for a while. She now resides back in Japan, but comes to England every summer and this year she will once again be visiting us in Berlin I hope! :)

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Why Japan?

I am turning Japanese…

222151_504614882803_6530_nEveryone always asks me “Why Japan”? And it seems only fair to tell you all as well, especially as we are there right now…

My grandfather Albert was a Japanese Prisoner of War (PoW) during World War Two. He was captured in the Far East and ended up at Changi Prison in Singapore. He was then transported by cattle trucks for several days by rail to Thailand to build the famous railway to Burma. He volunteered to learn the local languages, dabbling into Malay, Thai, Cantonese and Japanese and was used by his officers as a translator.

After his return to England, he studied Mandarin at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where I actually ended up studying Japanese myself many many years later. Then he returned to Asia, working in Malaysia for a few years, where my father was born and grew up.

After returning once more to London, his wife passed away and he met a Japanese lady called Yaeko. They were married before I was born, and to me, she will always be my grandmother. From birth, she taught me a few words of Japanese and cooked delicious Japanese food. My grandparents would have huge parties in their backyard and it felt like the whole Japanese population of London came and enjoyed summer evenings with us in that garden.

230901_504614962643_103_nAlongside this, I was brought up in West Acton, London – the Japanese neighbourhood of the UK. There is a Japanese school, which pushed Japanese people into the area and our neighbours were always from Japan. My first ever friend was called Megumi, from Tokyo, and I spent more time with my Japanese neighbours than with any of my other friends when I was little.

Then suddenly I was introduced to Mary-Grace Browning. She organises trips for grandchildren of PoW’s to go on trips to Japan, in order to bridge the gaps between the two countries. At first I was interested in a two-week fully-paid trip to eat real sushi and see Mt Fuji. When someone dropped out of an opportunity to live in Japan for 5 months with a host family and go to a local school… well… you know me… I just said yes. A few weeks later I was packing my bags and flying towards the Land of the Rising Sun.

It was a crazy experience – my hostfamily wanted me home at 5 o’clock – at first I thought they meant in the morning… but alas, my freedom of being an adult in London didn’t mean the same for this 18 year-old in Japan. My classmates were 16-17 years-old and very immature compared to back home. But as I adjusted and learnt the language and settled into my new home, I grew to love it more and more. I realised that for the first time in my life, I went home and opened a book to study. I had winged it through school, doing my homework on the bus and revising the day before a test. I didn’t really enjoy school or studying, but all of a sudden I found myself going home and retracing one letter of the Hiragana alphabet after another, for hours on end. When I said “Neko ga hashirimasu” (the cat runs) on my second evening to my host sister when we passed a running cat on an evening walk, even I couldn’t believe it.

When I got home to England, I ended up applying to study Japanese at SOAS, just like my grandfather. During my university studies I found myself studying in Kyoto for a year.

222301_504614972623_724_nI was poor but so happy, cycling around that beautiful city with all my new friends. It was a wonderful and very happy year. When I returned to finish my final year, I realised I wanted to go back to Japan once again.

This time I went back on the JET Programme as a Coordinator for International Relations. I was out in the sticks. A tiny little countryside town in the mountains. A beautiful town. With lots of very old people who were farmers.

226901_504614778013_4726_nThese three years were very different from before. Now I had money and could travel all over Japan as well as Asia. I had a respectable job and many opportunities were available. It was even where Jason and I officially met, alas for one evening only, but that’s another story.

At the end of my three years, I was tired. Being foreign and female is very hard in Japan. I have lots of stories to tell you about those crazy years, but they have yet to be written. For now, I just wanted to explain why I love Japan so much and how it influenced my life. I would never have imagined I would be there again right now, in a place so foreign and alien and yet it always feels like I’ve come back home…

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