Good Morning Vietnam

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Latimer: What else could I call a blog post about Vietnam? It’s a phrase I overused so very much while in Vietnam. I said it basically every morning, and if I forgot, I’d say it mid-way through the day.

This post is a continuation of my trip around South East Asia, as it’s getting to the end of summer now; I find myself reminiscing more and more about my adventures in the past. They were so good; they make me consider what the next adventure will be!

But well, back to my South East Asian adventures! I had made it through Thailand and Laos, with lots of fond memories and exciting adventures, onward to Vietnam, a place that I was expecting to love, though I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting to love about it…

I was right about the loving part; it’s a gorgeous, bustling fun place, full of amazing places to see and history to learn about, all inter-spaced with yummy food, cool art and random livestock on bikes (the motorbike is everything in Vietnam!)

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Beer corner, Hanoi where local people sell beer and we all watch the crazy traffic go by, as we sit on the street and drink. Yup. I randomly met up with some of my China-travel buddies here too, so the world is a very small place guys!

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Bun Cha, Vietnamese delicacy, Hanoi

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Crash site of Senator John McCain’s plane, shot down by the Viet Con during the Vietnam war (it is still there in Hanoi where it fell)

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They are super happy about having shot down this plane, so it’s very well sign posted – I think it’s because Senator John McCain is a Senator now

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This is the Hilton Prison, Hanoi. Hilton was a nickname placed on the prison, by the prisoners, who were American POWs

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Motorbikes on the streets of Hanoi

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More yummy Vietnamese food!

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Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) propaganda artwork for sale in Hanoi

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Artwork, Hanoi

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Chinese monument in Hanoi – there is a heavy Chinese influence in Vietnam, as the country was part of/occupied by the Chinese during it’s history (Vietnam feels like it has more Chinese influence than, Laos, Thailand or Cambodia)

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Halong Bay

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Sunset, kite-flying off the back of our boat in Halong Bay

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Yes, that is a cow on the back of a motorbike… yeah

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Food wraps and kawaii fingers, Hue

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Vietnamese dragon and my Chinese Travelling Buddha, in the Vietnamese ‘forbidden city’, Hue

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Just on the road in Vietnam, amazing

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Blurry Buddha and me in an old American war bunker, on the road

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The Mighty Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City (kinda)

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Fresh coconuts on the Mekong Delta

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he's at the Chu-Chi Tunnels

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he’s at the Cu-Chi Tunnels

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Tofu, noodles and veggies, yum!

I saw a lot of amazing places, but my favourite had to be the laid-back beautiful Hoi An, I could have spent a long time there, it was a small, but very lovely town?

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Beautiful wedding couple. As in Chinese tradition, red is the colour for the bride in Vietnam, not white

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Laid back streets of Hoi An

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Hoi An streets

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A bridge across the river, Hoi An

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Lanterns, beautiful Vietnamese lanterns

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Sunsets on its way over Hoi An!

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A cool eatery Hoi Ah, though it looks very Spanish or something!

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Super fresh noodles and yummy avocado smoothie (delicious!), Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Hoi An has a lovely river running through it. I went on a boat ride during the sunset and cast some lanterns out on the water, sending my wishes with it!

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It’s where people get clothes made lots of the time, but it has some cool art shops also, and also, the best tea shop I have ever been in in my whole life. It’s called Reaching Out Teahouse and it’s run by deaf and mute staff, so everything is done by indicating via the menu and also these little notes where you can ask for a re-fill of water etc. It is a Fairtrade shop and it works with people with disabilities in the community to find employment and live an independent life, so it’s well worth supporting. They also sell these amazing crafts in the shop – and all the tea cups and cutlery (metal and ceramic) are made by the Reaching Out artisans.

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Used to communicate with staff

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Iced coffee, with coffee ice… haha

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Crafts from the shop

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Traditional seating

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The tea tasting menu (3 types) – soooo good, plus you get three interesting treats with it! Like, eg., a sweet potato swirl, or green tea biscuit

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A platter of very interesting treats!

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The famous Vietnamese coffee (iced) – three type tasting menu here! It was so good!

It was really serene and it was nice to sit in this traditional style teahouse and look out of the open shutters at the front at the people passing by in the street. Some Chinese tourists randomly stopped in front of the windows and took photos with us Westerns in the background, which was… well, hilarious and random, but I had noticed this happened a lot in China also, so I was kind of used to it, in a very weird way!

Vietnam was a brilliant place, I would definitely go back. Maybe one day I will, but from there it was onward to the place I had wanted to visit the most, Cambodia (and the stunning Angkor Wat… what)!

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Laotian Living

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Latimer: Ridley and I are working hard to get the second book of our Keeping Secrets series read for publication! But, in the meantime, we are daydreaming about the exotic and the far-away, reliving some holidays and thinking about some new ones.

Last I left off on my trip down the South-East Asian holiday memory-lane, I was in Laos, heading towards Vang Vieng and the capital city of Laos Vientiane!

In Vang Vieng, we were lucky enough to stay with a local family in a small village (just a few minutes from Vang Vieng central). It was a real eye-opener because we just don’t live like this anymore in Ireland. Everyone was really nice and the homemade food was yummy.

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Village living

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Little piggys!

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While in Vang Vieng, I checked out the beauty of the Blue Lagoon; petted a butterfly – no really, it felt like I was Snow White or something, it was crazy, I was surrounded for the briefest moment by a flock (?) of colourful butterflies! I trekked up a mountain and had a poke around an amazing cave, which really inspired me for writing! And then, I had some fresh coconut juice. I also had a bit of relaxation getting a brilliant Laotian massage – I definitely recommend them!

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Blue lagoon… beautiful!!

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Stunning butterfly

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My Disney/Snow White moment!!

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We had a few relaxing days in Vang Vieng, ending the trip there with a beautiful sunset and some nice juices…

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Then it was off to Vientiane, the most laid-back capital city in the world. It’s really small, but has this relaxing feel to the place, that just doesn’t exist in… well, basically any capital city I’ve ever been in. It’s such a cool, fun place. We managed to get lost walking around the whole city, but all roads lead to where you want to go eventually in Vientiane! On the detour we managed to check out some nice temples.

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We didn’t have long in Vientiane before we were saying goodbye to Laos and GOOD MORNING to VIETNAM 🙂

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For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Lovely Laos and Trekking through Thailand

A Chinese St Patrick’s Day

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Latimer: I know Saint Patrick’s day is long over, but this year was the first I’d spent ‘off world’ and it was a little out of the ordinary!

I didn’t really expect to see any Paddy’s Day stuff in China and just as well because I didn’t. I had to explain Paddy’s Day to my Chinese guide. In primary school we all learned about Patrick from An Bhreatain Bheag (Wales, that’s what we were told anyway), and how he was kidnapped by the Irish slaver Niall of the Nine Hostages and taken to Ireland.

I got a bit of a way into this story and paused.

‘Well, Saint Patrick’s day itself is more about celebrating your Irishness’; the guide looked confused, so I carried on, feeling the weight of the whole of Ireland bearing down on me. ‘It’s for the people that went away’, I smiled, ‘you know like in China when people leave and then they want to feel connected to home?’

He nodded. I’m not sure I explained it well enough in the end!

It’s just an Irish holiday to celebrating your culture and where you come from, or just having fun (or craic – Irish for fun)!

I spent the day in a monastery! I had fun letting everyone back home know I was in a monastery on Paddy’s Day!

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During the day I climbed the Giant Stone Buddha at Leshan, looking for any ‘signs’ of Paddy’s Day –  haha, which I didn’t find!

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There were no signs – no green, no shamrocks, nothing… BUT! When we got to the monastery to check-in we were introduced to our local guide.

Aside here: in China, people take Western names (like Tom, John, Seamus, Charles) so it’s easier for Western’s to say their names (their parents don’t actually call them John etc). These names are usually given to the Chinese people by their English teachers.

The local guide introduced himself; “Hello, my name is Patrick!” And I just started laughing. Brilliant.

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 So that was my Paddy’s Day in China – a simple name had me smiling all day!

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My Bailey’s Irish Cream drink 🙂

Take to the Streets

Down by the Luas Lines in Dublin

Down by the Luas Lines in Dublin

Latimer: Recently I’ve been taking a lot of notice of street art. To the point where, as I walk down the street and come face-to-face with an empty wall, I start to daydream about what maybe I could put there…

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I imagine images weaving across the concrete. And I start to think, leaning back and getting some perspective on the wall – ‘That would be fun!’

My daydream then takes me to the street at night-time, wearing dark clothes and carrying a bag of spray-paint cans. I’m going to unfold my masterpiece image. I’m going to fix it to the wall, by climbing a steep rickety old ladder that stretches up six floors to the roof. And I’m not afraid to do it (this would never happen, I’d be crying if I had to climb a ladder).

I spray-paint the stencil. I scramble down the ladder and race across the road.

Girl in an egg, Barcelona

Girl in an egg, Barcelona

No police catch me.

I admire my mural, and then, I fade into the darkness like a thief in the night. A wispy shadowy creature of the witching hour; in the morning people will pass the image, wondering – who did that? How’d they do that? And I’ll pass by, smile a secret smile, and walk on.

Then my daydream ends with the harsh whack from the reality stick. I don’t go down that street at night-time, because it’s too dark and could be full of people baying for my blood; like gangs of New York.

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I don’t dress in all black, because if I remember correctly I don’t have a black hat and I threw out those black jeans the other day. Where would I find the stencil? That’s a big wall, the perspective would be too much; I mean drawing on an A3 page is the most I’ve ever done. And I’ve never made a stencil…

No. I’d get caught! Definitely; if anyone would I would. The police would catch me. I’d get in trouble.

It's too risky!!

It’s too risky!!

Where do you get the spray paint anyway… is it expensive… etc. etc.

Yup, the dream fades pretty fast.

So, I’m left as a voyeur on the street art of others. I like the secret pictures and I like the mysterious people that flit in the night, spicing up the streets with quirky images. Their work waves at me as I pass the streets, from time-to-time, and I smile thinking, “Well, hello there piece of art!” Like it’s a secret discovery, belonging to just me and the street.

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After you see one, as with all things, a door opens and suddenly they’re everywhere. It used to be a Dublin thing, now it’s a world thing. The images from people I’ll never know, waving across countries at me, a little Latimer they’ll never know.

Here are some I found in Barcelona.

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Keep an eye out on whatever streets you’re walking! There are cool secret artists out there! Thank you for sharing your art!

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I’m not sure who the artists are, so if anyone knows, drop us a message and we’ll tag the photos etc!

Chillin’ at Court

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Latimer: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to Hampton Court.

But, I kept forgetting/never knew, what it was called, so I’d get really frustrated trying to explain to people where it was I wanted to go.

“I’d love to go to Henry VIII’s Palace… you know with the,” cue my distant expression, “with the red-brick gatehouse.”

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I would stare expectantly at the person and they would stare back rightly confused. I would get frustrated, thinking everyone should know what I meant and give me the name of said building (so I could forever remember it and not look like a fool every time I said I wanted to visit it!).

This has been the way it’s been for me for years. But finally I realised it was Hampton Court I wanted to visit.

It’s in London, so when Ridley and I went there, I just had to go!

Hampton Court is epic and after being stuck in a queue for every which-way-thing in London, it was surprisingly low on visitors, which probably made the experience all the better. We had an ice-cream on the lawn, enjoyed the sun and stared in wonderment at the gorgeousness that is the Court.

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While there, Ridley got real bohemian. She headed over to a tree, sat down, pulled out a notebook and pen, and with a big smile said –

“Let’s do book-work!”

I shuffled over to the tree, thinking this was a very quaint idea; we’d be like Jane Austen or something. A minute later I leaped up. “There’re ants crawling all over the tree! I hate nature -!”

Ridley jumped up, screaming, her dream of book-work in the park destroyed by nature. Deflated we gave up and headed into the Palace, letting the magic of Hampton Court wash over us.

If anyone watches/reads Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon reminds me of Henry VIII. I think that might be intentional – George R. R. Martin draws from history right? Well, the banquet hall has Baratheon stamped all over it – it’s so cool!

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In my head I was saying, ‘ours is the fury’! over and over again, until I annoyed myself!

Ours is the Fury!... or something.. ha!

Ours is the Fury!… or something.. ha!

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Apparently the tapestries that hang in the hall are made of gold and silver thread.

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Rich people back then got tapestries as a show of wealth, because of the cost involved in making them and the materials used. Henry VIII amassed tapestries like celebrities today buy diamond encrusted iPhones and fancy cars. Tapestries were the flash accessory of the day, and Henry VIII had the largest collection. The tapestries aren’t as bright now as they were in his day, but they are still impressive!

Throughout our holiday we were asking each other the question of – ‘what would you do if you fell back in time?’ Our hypothesis started out with the notion that we’d be gods! We’d know everything.

But, Dara O’Briain sums up the truth of what would happen…

Ridley struggled to read the tiny script writing on a massive charter in Hampton Court. Waving her hand she moaned; “And I wouldn’t even be able to read!”

Even if we could read it wouldn’t be written in the same English as it is today – we would probably not even understand what people were saying to us. That old adage by Wittgenstein that; “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him,” because his frame of reference would be so different to ours.

So, the portal that opens sucking me and Ridley into the past becomes more and more dangerous! I think our science backgrounds would also lead to us being burnt as witches!

We did conclude, on our travels, that it would not be good to get sucked back in time and end up in Edinburgh. It was hit by ‘plague’ (we never learned which plague) 11 times. We also would not have survived the closes, with people tossing buckets of waste down the narrow streets… or having to drink beer because the water was so dangerously full of bacteria (from the waste flowing down into the lake and therefore the drinking water).

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Walking around the Court is almost like walking through time (the safer version of it). You half expect to turn a corner and see a man in tights, a grey curly wig, heels and a fancy velvet jacket…

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Funnily enough, that did actually happen at one point. He was sitting talking to a 1700’s era woman.

We (the tourists) all walked past them, listening in on the conversation, confused as to whether they were in-character or not and nobody talking to them to find out.

We all kept a safe distance; blinking and straining inward to listen to them, but glancing to each other and giving a nervous laugh, like we were all thinking, ‘is this a mass hallucination?! Can you see them too?!’

We left the palace, happier for having been there! If you’re in need of an oasis of calm in London, head to Court!

Vogue Vogue Go with The Flow!

Latimer and Ridley hit the ‘beautification button’ and got dolled up for a photoshoot… no seriously… they did!

Ridley: We’ve been doing exciting things the last little while. Busy, busy! We got our structural edits back from our editor. So the last two and a half weekends, Friday night to Sunday evening, (with many cups of tea), in between colds and broken laptops, we’ve been working away through his notes. We’ve been changing, adding, rewriting and generally whimpering. The words, ‘location description’, have become despised at MLR central! Haha! It seems while we’re decent enough at the ole characters, setting them into a specific location and describing it is something we forget to do. (Sure, why do we need to do this, it’s in our heads, we see it, surely you all have telepathic powers and can see it too, no?? Haha.)

Latimer: It’s going really well. We feel pretty positive. Although writing a story is fun, it’s a lot of hard work, but every time we edit the story gets tighter. We are now nearing the ‘we are happy’ point! So onward, onward we go!

Ridley: Other than that, the second exciting thing we’ve been getting up to is we did a joint photo shoot a few weeks ago (I love saying this, we sound so professional! ‘I can’t do Saturday, I have a photo shoot to attend, shall I check my diary and I’ll get back to you?’ Ha!) Anyway, yes a photo shoot and before I run away with a massive hot air balloon sized head, it was a groupon voucher deal (a company that gives fantastic discounts on different things, from hotel breaks away, bean bags to teeth whitening!) Anyway, we jumped at the chance to do the photo shoot, not only was it something completely different, we wanted a nice author biography picture for both the Amazon author page and our blog.

Latimer: I’ve never been properly done up so this was great fun! My constant thought was, ‘well, however I look, it will be the best I can ever look, so, please God don’t let it be bad!’.

Ridley: Now, getting my picture taken is not one of my favourite past times. I think we were both worried that we’d be stiff and awkward in front of the camera. (Smile with your eyes people!) However, going in we’d decided we wanted it to be as natural as possible, no posing.

Latimer: I was worried it would take ages for us to warm up and then it would be over and we would be left with some very awkward photos!

Ridley: When we arrived at the studio (MFK on Dame Street, in Dublin), it was in an old building on the second floor. However, to get up there we had to walk through a Chinese herbal shop (I know, really weird, right?) The shop also happened to be closed. So it was dark when we walked in. Expecting to be met by glamorous studio people with flawless skin and high stilettos, we stopped and stared around at the giant jars filled with dried who knows what.

There was this little white door just in on the right with a black arrow and the words MFK studio. I reached out thinking that we had to duck in through it and maybe twist up some narrow winding stairs. I swung it open and tried to walk into an electric box. We burst out laughing. Eventually, we found the lift just around the corner.

Once upstairs, we had our makeup done and our hair styled for us. Then we were ushered up to a small room with a white backdrop (and a black one to the side) and giant spot lights (my eyes started watering at one point from them). The photographer was very welcoming. When we explained we had cups that we wanted in the photo (we wanted it to appear as if we’d been having a cup of tea and a chat).

I think she thought we were crazy, but then she said a few weeks ago, there was a woman who wanted to have tea cakes in her picture. (*Sigh* That would have been a great addition with the cup of tea! Haha.)

We had so much fun. The two of us and the photographer basically spent the whole time giggling, you should see some of the rejected photos, we’re bent over (we were telling her about how I walked into the cupboard downstairs). She let us in on the old trick of extras in the background of Fair City (Dublin based TV show) use the word, ‘rhubarb’, to appear as if they’re talking about something.

That cracked us up; the idea of all these people wandering around a television studio set mumbling rhubarb at each other while the main actors said their lines. So, of course, we started saying it. Anyway, by the end and shots later, here’s the two we picked!

Latimer: Hopefully they look like we are having a laugh and a bit of craic, Irish stylie!

Ridley: The only other time we had so much fun with a camera was when we were in Tokyo and we discovered the photo booths in their arcade centres, there’s loads of them (in the same building as the infamous pachinko parlours).

Latimer: These photos are called ‘purikura’ and are very popular with the ‘kids’.

Ridley: Each one have different effects, in the one we picked we had five seconds to copy different random J-pop poses before the camera flashed, then you can basically add loads of effects and random clip art to the resulting photos. This was the result.

Latimer: Very crazy pictures you have been warned! The people on the screen suggest the poses- we didn’t do them randomly… ah sigh well, here they are!

The eyes are just so freaking looking. 🙂

Harajuku Girls You Got That Wicked Style!

On Sunday Latimer and Ridley journeyed to the colourful and crazy Harajuku to see the Harajuku cosplayers. We’ve figured out that the best time to see them is between 2-3pm on a Sunday, on the Harajuku bridge just beside Meiji-jingu shire. We trawled the internet looking for this information and it was hard to come by, so spread the word!

Latimer: Harajuku is one of our favourite places in Tokyo. It’s the fashion hub for the cool, quirky and kitsch Tokyo teenagers. Takeshita-dori is the main street containing all the main shops sporting the standard to down right bizzare fashion trends.

I would love this superman bag. It’s pretty cool (but I may be too old to pull off the awesomeness!).

These pants are what we’ve termed ‘clown style’. It’s colourful, random and just plain crazy.

I love just looking at what people are wearing. While some things are just too crazy for words, I am still impressed and awed by people’s sense of style, however easy it is to come by in the endless shops of Tokyo.

I am currently obsessed with the artistic tattoo tights everyone seems to be sporting; see-through with stars (or birds) twisting around the leg. Very cool (I am determined to find a pair!).

We headed to the Harajuku bridge at 2pm to try and find the cosplayers (these are teenagers who dress in dramatic, over-the-top outfits every Sunday and meet up with their similarly dressed friends to hang out). They have become a tourist attraction. I don’t know if they like getting their pictures taken by random tourists (I’d hate it), but get their pictures taken they do.

I abandoned Ridley and got in as best I could (as respectfully as I could) to snap some shots. We’d searched so long for them, I couldn’t leave without some good photos! (If anyone knows what style this falls under please let us know because we’ve been musing over the point of the white nose strip since we saw them!)

I think these girls in the last picture wanted to kill me, but I love this photo all the same. The looks go perfectly with the image. Plus they are leaning against a black stone covered in Japanese writing; a mix of the old with the new. While I was getting up close and personal (probably too much for all concerned- but I thought they were cool so it was flattery!) Ridley had disappeared! I turned confused; “where is my friend?” I mused aloud, drifting away, wanting to assure the Harajuku girls that I did indeed have one and I was leaving them alone. Then I spotted Ridley at the forefront of a large crowd… what was she up to?

Ridley: Well at first, I was huddling by the wall on the bridge, baking in the sunlight and wondering where Latimer had disappeared to, she was lost amongst the hoard of photo-hungry tourists. Personally I think she started it all-the gathering of crazy camera snappers. As she started to buzz around the poor crouching Harajuku cosplayers, one by one, people began to join her. Soon she had created a crowd, all surrounding her, as she slipped in and out, happily snapping everyone! I dismissed myself from the madness, with a hurried ‘I’m off over to the wall!’ There I stayed, staring across at the ‘free hugs’ people. There was row of a few girls and two boys with signs offering free hugs. At one point, I’m nearly certain they were smiling over at me and nodding, as if encouraging me to come over. Which I would never do, I’m not a huggy type. I wanted to tell them I wasn’t alone and in no need of comfort, that my stoic expression was just my default one but I knew it would all seem like lies, as I couldn’t produce my friend, I only knew her general area. It was then to my left I noticed a frenzy, there was lots of colour, I saw a pink wig and suddenly there were hoards of tourists whipping out their cameras. There were Harajuku girls all lining up for a photo opportunity.

“Latimer!” I squeaked, but it got lost in all the noises. I threw a desperate glance over at where she was supposed to be, then with a big sigh I launched forward, squeezing in through the bodies to reach the front, knowing I’d never be forgiven if I didn’t get the pictures. I went head to head with giant Nikon cameras and video recorders! And won, well if it had been a competition, I would have! 

(Side Note: Ah! As I was writing this, I was rudely interrupted by a small earthquake. They don’t happen in Ireland. I think I panicked a little. Latimer and I just looked at each other and were like ‘What do we do!?’ All I could remember was, door jam, get under a door jam! Or something! But we stayed sitting on our beds, I think I covered my eyes at one point. Cowardly, I know…thankfully it’s over now! Back to the story!)

So, yeah…eventually after the cosplayers began to disperse and I’d pressed the button on my camera about a million times, I turned to find Latimer hurrying towards me, with a panicked expression, demanding to know what she missed. With a nod, I proudly held up my camera, “I got it all, never fear!”

So, we finally managed to see the Harajuku people, after quite a bit of effort really. They were nowhere to be seen last Sunday. We found this week, the best time to be around there was between two/half two to about half three, this photo opportunity happened about twenty past three, then everyone started to go home. Though the Rockabilly boys were around from quite early, from half eleven or so, just in the front of Yoyogi park. They were dancing to loud music, it was funny, so I got a few shots of them.

We’ll be heading back to Harajuku later in the week me thinks, Latimer really wants those tattoo tights, haha, and I like to people watch there! 

More from us later! Hope you’re liking our Tokyo posts, let us know if there’s a particular picture you’d like to see. We’re here for a few more days, so we may get a chance to capture it!

Laters!

MLR