Trekking around Thailand

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Latimer: Lately I’ve been doing some globetrotting. Every time I hitch up my trusty wheelie bag and head off into the far blue yonder, I come back with lots of stories and lots of ideas. I think the most recent trip to South East Asia has me all inspired for writing!

Ridley and I are really excited to be working our way through our Keeping Secrets series, plotting and outlining all the books to come. We are back firmly on track now – and we’ll be releasing Book 2 by the end of August! So stay with us for updates!

In my recent travels I visited Thailand. It was a quick run through the north of the country from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, to a fly-by visit at Chiang Rai and then Chiang Khong (to cross into Laos). I didn’t see that much of Thailand really, but what I saw was stunning, beautiful, strange, inspiring and… stranger still!

Bangkok is a pretty cool place. There are lots of things to see there – when I was there I took a trip around the canals in the city and went to Wat Pho to see the huge golden reclining Buddha, which was amazing. Buddhism (and monks) feature strongly in my Asian travels; I sometimes think I’m starting to understand it, then I always get stuck and realise actually I don’t know much about Buddhism, but it’s really interesting.

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Bangkok canal views

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Reclining Buddha… massive!!

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He looks like he’s pretty comfortable here!

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Wat Pho outside views

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More of the Pho

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Yet more Pho!

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Another Buddha inside another temple in Wat Pho – I ear-wigged as this guy was explaining Buddhism to these people!

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Lot’s of monks – notice how young some of them are! All men in Thailand must serve a year (at least) as a monk before they get married, to be considered ‘a good man’ for marriage

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Thai green Curry… because… it’s Thailand!

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From the back of a tuc-tuc… the only way to travel in Thailand… I love tuc-tucs!

From Bangkok, I got an overnight train to Chiang Mai. Lots of people on the tour were worried about the overnight train, but having experienced the Chinese ones, I was no longer afraid. The ones in Thailand are actually brilliant; and compared to the Chinese ones, they are very spacious and comfortable – this coming from someone with extreme ‘creature comfort’ problems!

Chiang Mai was a fun place; we had a walk around in the blistering heat, went to see beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple ate some lovely Thai food and went for a cool bike-ride around the city. While on our bike ride we stopped at an orphanage for Hill tribe children, for dinner. I bought some lovely artwork by the children – it was Naruto inspired 🙂

During my time in Chiang Mai, I was coming to terms with the heat, I won’t say I ever ‘got used to it’, just learned to accept I would always be dripping sweat and needing to drink water and isotonic drinks.

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Train station catching my ride to Chiang Mai

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These trains are fantastic! So clean and comfortable. There’s a bunk that comes down from over these seats and the seats themselves are transformed into another bed – big and very comfy.

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I had the top bunk, which was fine… but not as big. I had some pocky for the trip!

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Some cool outside dining in Chiang Mai

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Artwork on the streets

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Beautiful, random temple

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More temple action

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Buddha outside the temple

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A very cool dragon vomiting snakes… well, maybe not but that’s what it looks like!! Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Walking up to the temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep bells

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Getting my fortune at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Monks visting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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I got this white blessing bracelet from a monk in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; he said a prayer over it, for luck and safety in travel.

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A delicious vegetable spicy soup…. it was feckin hot though!

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Buddha overlooking the river on my bike ride around Chiang Mai

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Handle bar views in Chiang Mai

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Buddhas in Chiang Mai

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More views from my bike in Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Cool artwork done by the Hill tribe orphans

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More temples from my bike ride Chiang Mai

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Buddha and candle wax – from bike ride Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai, we stopped off briefly in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, which is a bit like Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, in that it’s unfinished at the moment and being built by the artist that designed it. It’s full of demons and cultural references – though I never got to go inside, as we were late getting there and it was closed! It’s supposed to have like cartoony stuff inside and be really strange and interesting. This temple was badly damaged after we had seen in, in the earthquake that hit Thailand – so I feel lucky to have seen it before that happened!

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Batman and Pinhead… heads.. .weird!!

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Freddie, Pinhead and Hellboy… retro weirdness!

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Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Then from Thailand, I took a bus into Laos! But that’s a post for another day!

For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Lovely Laos and Laotian Living

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Ireland Comic Con 2014

IMG_20140412_174850Ridley: The first ever MCM Ireland Comic Con came to the RDS in Dublin during the weekend and I decided to check it out! There were kids dressed up to the nines in fantastic costumes, award winning comic book artists, famous television personalities and numerous stalls selling fantastic bits and bobs, all of which were anime, comic, and game related. IMG_20140412_170236 IMG_20140412_165937Basically it was a massive amount of fun packed into one very large room. I went for the atmosphere, the excitement, to see the costumes and of course for all the fun, shiny things I could buy!

There were comics for sale, necklaces, keyrings, t-shirts, Asian food like Pocky and drinks like Pacari Sweat (great stuff if you’re ever dehydrated!!), posters, figurines and loads of plushies.IMG_20140412_174747IMG_20140412_175120

I bought a notebook.IMG_20140413_125129 I’m just a sucker for stationary.I had convinced myself I was going in to buy some original art to hang on my bedroom wall and I walked out with this instead. Not that I regret it!IMG_20140412_174649 IMG_20140412_174641

They also held a Yugi-Oh tournament, wrestling demonstrations and you got a chance to play old school Street Fighter with the joysticks. Famous people wandered in to say hello, like comic book artists Simon Bisley, Glenn Fabry. Dr Who’s Ian Mc Neice attended the event, along with Warwick Davis of Harry Potter, Star Wars and Idiot Abroad Season 3 fame (and numerous other things but I’m just going to list my favourites, of course! 😛 ) Colin Ferguson, the sheriff in the show Eureka was also at it, and the English language voice actors, Maile Flanagan who voices Naruto and Bryce Papenbrook who voices Eren Yeager in Attack on Titan were signing there as well. An impressive line up!IMG_20140412_174634

So all in all, I’m pretty certain anyone that attended will really really be hoping that MCM do another event soon! Though I will warn you for next time, make sure you show up early, the queues into the event were massive, that or make certain you bring lots of provisions like snacks, a drink and a fold up chair, then you’re sorted! Or do what I did and wait until the crowds have died down a tinsy bit to do your shopping, I’ve gotten too old for those young ‘uns and their hustle and bustling!! 😀

For more photos of costumes that were at the convention, go here!

Manga and Me

I'm a manga nut and I'm okay!!

I’m a manga nut and I’m okay!!

Latimer: I’m a bit of a manga nut.

I really adore them. They are also the means through which I’ve developed, rightly or wrongly, my view of Japanese, and to some degree Korean, culture!

I’m a fangirl, so I love shoujo – the girly manga! I love the ones set in schools; the drama between the school president and the yankee, or the shy girl and the cool guy.

In Korean ‘shoujo’ manhwa there’s always (ALWAYS) a jjang (leader of the gang), in the story. Sometimes it’s the girl, and sometimes it’s the boy. So again, I know I’m misguided, but I just assume in every Korean high-school there are warring factions of gangs, and everyone can fight and kick-ass! And everyone is angry… so angry!

I wouldn’t be able to hide my disappointment if I turned up (very randomly) at a Korean high-school and I wasn’t caught in a show-down between two rival gangs from opposing schools. Even though I don’t speak the language, I’d know… I’d just know what was going on. I’d know the first jjang had kissed the other jjang’s sister, or belittled her… and I’d stand there fists waving in the air screaming.

“Oh it’s on! FIGHTING”

Then if I ended up at a Japanese high-school, I’d be looking for the yankee (the bad boy, delinquent) and the bookish girl – or the tsundere (initially cold character who shows their good side in time – a staple of the shoujo!) school president and the silly, but kind-hearted girl… and I’d be chuckling to myself thinking; “Oh how is this going to turn out!”

It's Yank-mee!! Nani TEME!!

It’s Yank-mee!! Nani TEME!!

Ah, manga (and manhwa), you really distort reality for me (but in a way that makes me so happy)! Reading them is a roller-coaster ride of emotions!

Pandora Hearts, confuses me, makes me gasp in awe, then confuses me again…

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Naruto always makes me emotional – it’s the best manga for making you empathize with the baddies, because they were good once… or they have these tear-inducing back-stories…

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Kamisama Hajimemashita makes my fangirl squee – such a lovely romance story! 

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Tomoe is a Kitsune (fox) demon – not a vampire (though it looks that way here!) …. Anyway, I’m off on Cloud Squee!

Anything by Minami Maki will make me laugh and wait desperately for the next chapter; her stories and artwork are sweet and cute and hilarious…

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Then, recently (and as it’s a week for pets!), I came across this webcomic (they seem to be v.popular in Korean – at least to my untrained eye). It’s called My Young Cat and My Old Dog (by Cho) and it is… wonderful…

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If you have a pet, it will make you cry.

At times the issue/episode/chapter is about the young playful pet and all the silly things they do. Then at times it’s about the old pet, who isn’t quite as fast as they used to be, or sleeps more than they used to. It’s those one’s that grab your heart and squeeze the feels out, leaving you gasping and in tears (I am an emotional being!).

I'm 16 years old 1 im 16 I'm 16 years old 2I have an old, old dog, and those episodes make me pause and think of him 😦

Well, but there’s lots of joy to be had in the series too, things that make you remember how wonderful your pet is. How selfless and how they love you unconditionally; they love you for you, no other reason and we love them too..

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Ah, manga and manhwa, you give me so many different feelings – and I love you for it 🙂

Food, glorious Food!

When lunchtime rolls around in Ireland, Latimer and Ridley find themselves getting hungry, but roast dinners and stews aren’t what occupy their thoughts; no, they’re reminded of their culinary adventures in Tokyo!

Latimer: whenever I get hungry, I think back on food I had in the past. And for me, it can be the very distant past.

For example, my sister went to college in London when I was 6yrs old; when she moved there, myself and my mother went with her, to help her settle into her dorm for a few days. One night we were very hungry so we decided to get chips. I can remember it vividly, how dark and cold it was (my sister tells me now that it wasn’t a good area to be in at night time!), the roads were black, wet with rain, and the chippy was a little suspect.

We got three bags of chips wrapped tightly in newspaper (old school!). They were massive bundles and the chips were delicious!

There were so many that we could only manage to eat a few.So the majority of those chips were tossed in the bin.

That was a lifetime ago, but to this day, I remember those chips when I get really hungry. I think back and always say to myself ‘oh why did I toss them! I wish I could eat them now!’

It’s such a strong memory. We always remember a good meal, as if our body is saying ‘yes, remember how much you like to eat! How tasty food is! REMEMBER!’ Somehow it seems like the body is afraid one day we might not like food anymore!

When we went to Tokyo, it was one of our aims to eat well everyday. When we were in Japan 4yrs ago, we were with other people and it was hard to find food that everyone wanted to eat. This time, we had no worries; we’re pretty similar in that we wanted true Japanese food, and we wanted to eat!

Thankfully, Tokyo was only too willing to feed us!

Every time we went somewhere, I took out the camera and snapped some pictures. Because we wanted to remember the food; we wanted to show people; ‘look, look at the food! Look how yummy it is… we ate that! We remember the taste’.

Looking at these pictures now, I have very fond memories of sitting in these places, munching on this food as Tokyo and its people flashed passed us; we ate in good company, had good chats and dreamed good dreams… so with that, let me show you our food memories!

Day one of serious photo taking involved yummy okonomiyaki (sort of savory pancakes) at the famous restaurant, Sometarou in Asakusa. We mentioned it in a previous post, but it’s worth another mention. It was amazing!

It was also the most tradition place we ate in, and while it was roasting sitting by those frying-slabs, it was just perfect!

Ridley lovingly paints our pancakes, with a substance we didn’t recognise but had the consistency of tar!

Cuttlefish and tiny red shrimp- probably us at our most adventurous I think!

The next day we were off to Ueno Park.

Now the Lonely Planet guide book didn’t recommend many eateries in Ueno, so we were stuck. It was a hot day, the park was vast and we were hungry. Looking around the periphery of the park we managed to find the Korean cafe.

Ah, we love Korean food, it’s hearty stuff, so we were very happy with this find!

Although the waiter didn’t understand us, and we had some mishaps ordering, which left Ridley with food, and me with a drink! Ha! We managed to sort it out and I ended up with food, but Ridley didn’t get her drink! But she didn’t care by then, it was too much hassle!

But actually, the drink was AMAZING! Like drinking sunlight (big assumption!).

The food was typical Korean fare (yummy!)….

Except for these….

Ahhh! What are they? They’re looking at me! Ridley ate them without looking as far as I’m concerned! When I pointed it out to her, she was two mouthfuls in… she was rightly aghast!

When we went to Ikebukuro, we ate in one of the shopping malls.

Which we were kind of thinking was a cop-out as we should eat ‘authentic’ food out in the little restaurants. But the guide book (not that it had become God in the last few days…well actually it had, all hail guide book!) said that the malls actually have some really good places to eat in!

They were right! This was a veggie noddle dish, with rice, served in a pipping hot stone bowl. Which, in winter would be just amazing, in summer a bit too hot, but still lovely!

At one point I remember we spent hours looking for this one restaurant around the Ginza area I think.

Ridley had her google maps out and we managed to find the place where the restaurant should have been. But it was mysteriously absent (she was annoyed because we had spent all that time looking and it was almost like the map had bested her!).

So, falling back on the God, Lonely Planet, we headed into the nearest shopping mall. We judged based on pictures what restaurant we would eat in.

It was on the top floor and faced a massive sky-bar that loomed over the mall from across the road. We sat down, and a lovely waitress came over and explained the menu (we had been staring at it completely bewildered). She had very good English (we were soooo happy!). The first thing she asked though was…. ‘have you ever eaten Korean before’.

Haha, we didn’t even know we’d come into a Korean restaurant. We were even happier!

The food was cooked (by her in front of us) over a small hot plate, in a large steel bowl.

She asked us if we wanted rice or noodles, we said noodles…. but they didn’t materialize. We were baffled, but we ate away not caring.
It was great, sharing food over a hot plate like that. Korean food is so hearty and built to share (kind of facilitates conversation too!).
When we were finished the waitress returned with the mysteriously absent, much discussed noodles. She put them into the remaining sauce and added water, leaving it to bubble away… It was so good!
It reminded us of being in a Korean drama! It was the best feed I think we had while in Japan.

I get very hungry thinking back on this dinner… sigh. On another day we contemplated going back to this place, but Ridley frowned, “I don’t think I could find it even if we wanted to, we did so much walking around… I wouldn’t know the way.”

Ridley is like a human GPS, so if NavWoman couldn’t find it, it wasn’t possible!

Of note here, is that myself and Ridley have this deep love of ramen. It started really from watching anime (Naruto mainly). We always wanted to taste the real stuff in Japan. We managed to on our first trip a few years back and we always regretted not eating more of it (our other friends didn’t really like it that much).

So this time we were noodle crazy- we wanted to go to ramen places as much as possible. It’s a massive bowl of happiness!

This place was a ramen shop around where we were staying (Akasaka). It wasn’t the best ramen we had, but it was nice. We had to use the typical vending machines the Japanese use in eateries like ramen places and curry houses.

Bascially you select the meal you want, pay for it, get your ticket and give it to the people in the shop. It’s a brilliant idea, because us foreigners aren’t left feeling confused… although a few times some kind Japanese people had to step in and help us! You have to match up katakana, kanji and hiragana symbols to identify the food you want on the machine (a little time consuming, so we had to make sure no one was waiting behind us, or sidestep and let them in first!).

I was actually always very happy to see these machines in the places we were going to eat in- a deep sense of relief!

Our search for ramen brought us to another cool, traditional restaurant around Akasaka. This ramen was delicious!

These were Ridley’s gyoza (dumplings… she didn’t like em- too many onions!)

My yummy ramen (I love sweetcorn)

Ridley’s pork ramen (looks delicious)

The best ramen we had, we got in the Ginza district, in yes, another shopping mall! This was our last night in Tokyo, so we finished it with the food we had loved most- (well, next to the Korean food!).

This business man was eating beside us. He was a little rude to the guy making the ramen.

I found at times the meat that was being used was tough. But this was melt in your mouth pork. I feel like Homer Simpson at the moment, drooling away at the thoughts of eating.

I was so tired this night. Me and Ridley sat at this bench for ages. We were the only people there. I nodded to sleep at one point (resting my eyes, haha). When we got up to leave, the two ramen chiefs smiled over at us and gave us big goodbyes and thank yous. It was a nice way to end our ramen adventure!

A side project we had was to have proper Bubble Tea/Milk Tea. This is popular in Asia. Basically it’s a milk-based, flavoured drink, with tapioca balls in it. The straws are thick so you can suck them up. The desire to get the Bubble Tea wasn’t that strong as the days wore on. It was only as we passed through Harajuku on our third round that we found this Pearl Lady place. Which seemed to be where all the kids hung out.

It was all pink and open plan and full of cheap fast-food places selling curly potato fries and so on. 

After about 10mins of trying to remember my Katakana (argh, I hate Katakana). I was able to figure out two flavours, caramel and strawberry! That’ll do we thought!

We settled down at the window overlooking Takeshita dori. We slurped on our Bubble Teas, with intermittent coughing/choking fits when we gulped down a tapioca ball or three, or ten.

We’ve had some bad Bubble Teas (Christmas market, Berlin brings back bad memories of gingerbread, hot Bubble Tea! Oh nasty). So, I was dubious. But this was so tasty. I wish we had of known about this place sooner! Check it out if you’re ever there- it’s so good!

Following a delay in our flight (actually an out and out cancellation), we ended up in an airport hotel. I finally tasted the strange green-tea and cherry blossom flavoured kit-kat I’d bought. It was actually nice. But doesn’t it look weird?

We were offered a free all you can buffet lunch- I should never be offered such a thing! I tried a bit of everything (and felt sick afterward). I snapped a picture of the fancy Japanese sweets because they looked so lovely. But I didn’t like them- they were made from rice dough and filled with bean-paste… I was expecting chocolate- so I was left grimacing, while Ridley nodded, “yep, bean paste! Knew it!”.

On the way home, our fly was practically empty- it was heaven for a long-haul! Everyone, I kid you not, everyone had a three seats to themselves! 

I won’t end with airplane food- don’t worry (it makes me sick and I can’t eat it). But I was able for this ice-cream….

Our final taste of Japan, for a few years at least!

On a book related update, the editing of our book is nearly finished! By me at least… procrastination must be the way of getting things done in a weird way! I’ve done so much of it. Soon we’ll be sending it to the professionals. We are so excited to be walking down this road! Ridley is busy with her book trailer too, so all is going well!

In the editing process I have been armed with my moomin cup (always full of Lyons tea) and my moomin pen for the taking of notes (both bought in Kiddyland in Harajuku)! The kit-kat, yes, is one I bought in Japan. If it keeps I plan to eat it when the book goes ‘live’ so to speak! Keep watch… it might not last that long!

One Piece of what?

Since returning home to Ireland from Japan, Latimer has begun to wonder- what is One Piece and why was it stalking her across Tokyo?

Latimer: I am a massive manga and anime (subbed) fan. I follow, what I term, two ‘epics’- Naruto and Bleach.

While some would say, you like cartoons seriously? I would reply; stories are stories, no matter the media… and I love a good story!

Naruto (by Kishimoto Masashi) started out initially as the story of a very annoying child. But as it progressed it turned out to be a very deep story; one of friendship, love, loss and betrayal. Naruto as a main character grows as the series progresses and becomes an actual inspirational figure in his world. No, he isn’t the strongest; no, he isn’t the best looking and NO he isn’t the coolest. But, he is the most courageous and determined. He comes to embody a true hero; someone who never gives up and will sacrifice everything to save his friends and even random strangers. It’s actually a great story about the growth of the individual (not just Naruto, but all the characters, villians and goodies alike).

Then there’s Bleach (by Tite Kubo). The story of an ordinary boy, Kurosaki Ichigo (not that ordinary as it turns out) who becomes a substitute Shinigami (or ‘death god’/soul reaper). He reaps ghosts that have become wild, beast-like creatures called ‘hollows’. The story really comes into its own when the real Shinigami (a woman called Rukia) who appointed Ichigo as a substitute Shinigami, is arrested for doing just that. The story gets some real pace when we are introduced to the Captains of Soul Society (the Shinigami world).

I wouldn’t say that Bleach has the emotional heart of Naruto (Ichigo is typical shounen (boys) manga main character material- he’s strong and keeps getting stronger and has powers likely beyond anyone that’s ever existed).

Ichigo isn’t as limited as Naruto in terms of strength, which lessens his chance of having the same emotional draw. It actually highlights the importance of character flaws. It is often stated in the DC comic and Marvel comic worlds, that all superheroes must have a cap on their abilities, otherwise we can’t understand or respect their struggles- ultimately for us mere mortals to fully connect with a character we must see that they are at least in part, as crap as us!

That aside, Ichigo’s story is very intriguing and when he gets strong enough to stand up to someone- it’s great! But there’s only so many battles that that can stay cool for.

I enjoy both Naruto and Bleach for different reasons. But, as Naruto is my first epic (Bleach is Ridley’s) it has a slightly bigger place in my heart.

 

One Piece (my Tokyo stalker) is older than both Bleach and Naruto. I know this because Wikipedia told me.

I thought because Bleach and Naruto were massive in the West, we wouldn’t be able to move for Bleach and Naruto junk in Tokyo.

Oh, how wrong I was… instead I was stalked around the city by ONE PIECE… it was in the shops, on the subway… in the cinema… at the airport… it was FOLLOWING me and I knew nothing about it! That always annoys me.

It’s supposed to be a fantastic story. It is extremely popular… and the marketing was working on me… I wanted to know about it.

So, I decided I would A) do a One Piece Stalking me post, and B) in order to do this, I would watch 1 episode of One Piece.

It’s an epic story (551 episodes long TO DATE). The manga is a staggering 15 years old this August (and still ONGOING)!

I can’t commit to this; but I am curious (good marketing Tokyo… very good).

So, I am now going to watch my first episode (before this, I’ll get some tea, in my new Moomin Cup I got in Harajuku’s Kiddyland- that’s a shop, by the way!).

Okay, now I’m ready to go… (I will record initial thoughts):

(Pirates… uh-oh, not a fan of the sea)

(One Piece is some mythical treasure)

(That orange-haired girl has massive hands)

(Damn, this cup is SMALL… but that’s a fine cup of tea if I do say so myself- Lyons Tea, are you listening?)

(I’ve learned new words: Muri desu- ‘it’s impossible’. ‘KAIZOKU’ is a pirate- interesting because ‘kazoku’ is family- so you got to be careful when saying KAIzoku and KAzoku! Makes me wonder; have I ever said; “there are 5 people in my pirate”, in my old Japanese classes?)

(Monkey… the main character is called Monkey?)

(Monkey reminds me of Naruto- he’s pretty annoying… but this likely means he has great potential as a main character?)

(Monkey ate a fruit that makes him essentially elastic… and therefore strong? Yep. Someone (a massive ‘woman’ pirate that looked like a man) just hit him with a giant Morningstar and he was fine)

(He is a lone pirate looking for a crew. Obviously that means the orange-haired girl anyway)

(End: if someone could download the story into my head, then fine, but I can’t watch 551 episodes…)

I’ll tell you what though, I am very interested in something as a result of one split moment… The orange-haired girl was running around in the background of the whole episode, looting from the pirates. Then, she’s escaping off the ship at the end of the episode; Monkey is also. His escape boat crashes down beside hers, spraying her with a wave of seawater (she screams). Then, the camera shot slows down and they look at each other for a brief moment…

My lasting thought… do they fancy each other? Does Monkey have a thing for the Orange-haired girl? I know she’s important because…

she was on the cover of the orange-juice I bought!

A love for subtitles and Asian drama

Ridley: I hated subtitled films when I was younger. I found it too difficult to read the words and watch what was happening at the same time. 

Now though, I love them. It opens up other fantastic stories from other cultures that you may never have in your own and you get to read a film! It’s a great way to increase your reading speed! 🙂 (The geek in me just has to ruin it!)

If I hadn’t gotten over this dislike. I’d have never watched the Spanish film Pan’s Labyrinth, which was fantastic (and beautifully creepy) or the Russian film Night Watch (which was very weird, gritty too! And set me off on wanting to learn Russian for a little while until I realised how hard it was….one day…)

It’s strange how our tastes can alter so drastically. Though I know when mine did, I’ve a very good reason for it. A few years ago, I discovered anime and not the voice-over kind, (unfortunately, if I’ve watched the subbed version of something first, dubbing hurts my ears. To me they aren’t the characters’ voices!)

The world of anime was introduced to me with the show, Dragon Ball Z. God, I loved it. When I was 14/15 years old, it was on Cartoon Network and it was dubbed (I knew no different at the time. For ages I thought it was American.). I used to rush home from school, throw off my uniform and grab a cup of tea to watch the next episode. My cartoon crushes from it were Piccolo and of course Vegeta (gota love a bad boy!). DBZ had it’s poor points too, especially if there was an epic fight, it often took three episodes just for them to go Super Saiyan (power up basically). There was always lots of gritting of teeth, bulging muscles and shouting, oh and bleaching hair.  

I didn’t immediately begin to watch subbed anime after that. I continued to follow what Cartoon Network gave me (during their Toonami time-Cardcaptor Sakura, Samurai Jack, bit of Gundam Wing, Tenchi Muyo (never knew what was going on in this though), Shin Chan, Xiaolin Showdown….) It took awhile to embrace the notion of watching something with a subtitle. Eventually though I became hooked on Bleach and Naruto (two of the obvious and most popular anime out there).

Then I discovered shoujo manga, anime and dramas. The best way I can describe it is, it’s a little like YA in television form. I suppose similar to our Vampire Diaries or what have you. The target audience would be 10 to 18 year old girls (we could shove that age up a good bit higher I’d say…) There’s always a relationship and it’s always done particularly well. Though I will admit sometimes the endings leave a little to be desired. But with the dramas and anime that get them right, the pay off is wonderful. In terms of anime, I devoured the likes of Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club, Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge…to name only a selection! 

(It has always helped that Latimer is a fan too! So we can trade anime ideas and we’ve each been guinea pigs-one of us tests a series first before the other trails on behind. She began Naruto first, whereas I watched Bleach. Then we switched, after approvals were given, but forever more we each prefer ‘our’ anime, though both are, of course, brilliant. It’s the same ‘side choosing’ we did during Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I’ve always been a tiny bit more on the side of HP and she’s always been more LOTR, but only by a smidgen of a degree…barely even….and only because I read HP before LOTR and Latimer did the opposite!)

Of course eventually I found Asian dramas, following on from anime. Suppose it was only inevitable.

Now, dramas (with real people) gave me one advantage over anime, in that when I love the leading man character I could actually tell people. Having a crush on a cartoon is something that could probably get someone committed…not that I ever liked any cartoon men…ignore the above comment about Vegeta and Piccolo, I was delusional…

I’ve watched quite a number of Asian television dramas, from Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese…following on from this, as a non-Asian sometimes there are things we don’t quite get, such as cultural references. So we (Latimer and I) came up with the Five Episode Rule. Watch five episodes before making a decision on whether to continue or not. Often times that’s how long it takes for the drama/anime to really get going, for the love interest to be introduced, for the conflict or main plot to get set up….you get the idea.

This Five Episode Rule had to be applied to one of my favourite ever dramas to this day. It was the Japanese version of Boys Over Flowers, Hana Yori Dango.

From Wiki: “It’s about a girl, Makino who is a middle class student attending the prestigious school Eitoku Gakuen. She enrols there because her idol, an internationally-renowned model named Todou Shizuka, was an alumna of the school. However, it isn’t long before Makino discovers the superficial nature of her classmates. Their arrogance and her inability to relate to them, limit her chances at making friends. Worse yet, the school is ruled by the F4 (Flower Four) a group composed of playboys Nishikado Soujiro, Mimasaka Akira, introverted Hanazawa Rui and violent Domyouji Tsukasa. They are all sons of Japan’s wealthiest and most powerful tycoons. They rule the school, bullying fellow students out of boredom or malevolence.

When Makino’s only friend, Sanjo Sakurako, accidentally spills juice on Domyouji’s shirt, Makino is forced to defend her. Thus coming to the notice of the F4. The next day, she receives a red tag in her locker, which is the infamous order from the F4 that this student has been picked as their next target. As a result, the whole school turns against her. Despite the harassment, Makino refuses to give in and quit. Eventually, after a particularly cruel joke by Domyouji, she finally snaps and punches him. This unexpected retaliation catches him by surprise and causes him, ironically, to fall in love with her. Makino, we learn, is in love with another of the F4, the gentle Rui, who in turn harbors romantic feelings for his childhood friend Shizuka (who is Makino’s idol)…..” 

And over two series (and a movie, which I didn’t see the point of), we find out what happens!

It has an absolutely fantastic love story. With a beautiful rain scene, both main characters get soaked. There are so many ups and downs in it, you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster (I mean that in a good way….i’m sure…) Granted there are some parts that they could have cut out, they almost acted like filler episodes in between the proper ones (which knowing that this happens in the case of anime, perhaps it happens with dramas too?) It still doesn’t take away from it. The song from the show is also beautiful.

My second all time favourite drama was Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Wiki again….I sorry, but if it’s been summarised already *shrug* what can you do….(i edited them a tinsey bit…)

“Set in a period where society does not allow females to be educated nor employed, Kim Yoon Hee (Park Min Young) disguises herself as her brother, Kim Yoon Shik, in order to save her family from abject poverty. She goes through a series of odd jobs, mainly at a local bookstore, before (through a series of events) accidentally enrolling in the prestigious Sungkyunkwan University. All the while pretending to be a man, she must bear with the endless mischief of upperclassman Gu Yong Ha (Song Joong-Ki), put up with the constant mood swings of roommate, Moon Jae Shin (Yoo Ah In), avoid getting in trouble with the strict, student body president, Ha In Soo (Jun Tae Soo) and at the same time, try to suppress her growing affections for Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun).

Together, the four form the “Jalgeum Quartet” (sometimes affectionately also named by fans of the series the “Joseon F4“).”


A Korean drama, this has another beautifully woven love story, with a love triangle, of course and there are characters in it that are quite funny too. There’s also a rain scene where the main people get drenched (if there’s one of these you know its going to be a good!) The historic outfits were beautiful as well, very colourful.

In a way it was the better drama of the two. The writing is far tighter, there’s less rambling and random side stories than you’d find in Hana Yori Dango (but at the same time I kind of like the randomness and extra side plots, except towards the end.) Also, there’s only the one series for SS, which for me was enough. 

The ending was nice and the beginning is quite fast paced, you get introduced to all the main characters pretty quickly. There was no need to apply the Five Episode Rule with this one!

Both series of course have RSAs. There were numerous sqwee-ing moments and definitely a fair amount of swooning throughout!

If you’ve seen these dramas, would you agree?

I’ve watched numerous other anime and dramas, there’s quite a lot of them out there. (You’re Beautiful (another recommended one, great music in it too!) Mischievous Kiss, My Princess, Hana Kimi, Mei-chan no Shitsuji, Romantic Princess…)

All I’ll say is, if you’ve read your new romantic fantasy/YA novel or watched your usual English television show or seen a riveting film- it’s now over and you are now depressed. There doesn’t seem to be anything else available to watch or read and you’re looking for your next romantic ‘fix’? Don’t rule out other countries! And definitely don’t exclude them because they don’t speak English. I’ve grown to love the Japanese language because of these shows, to me it sounds quite lyrical.

Dramas from other countries, manga, comics, movies, anime….give everything a chance and you’ll find other cultures and people do a pretty fantastic job too! Good place to start: http://www.mysoju.com/

I hope other people who have ventured out there agree?

If anyone has any other viewing suggestions, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m always in search for something new to read or watch! 

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Latimer and Ridley love hearing from people, so if you have any opinions, non-opinions or little nuggets of wisdom please share them with us in the comments below! Alternatively, if you’d like to get to know us more, why not email us or follow us on twitter and talk to us directly!

In other MLR news, we are currently working on two novels, one of which we intend to publish free on our website. We’re striving hard to make them both LSA and RSA worthy! So stay tuned for more information!