Kate Topham


Kate Topham

When I was very little, or at least little a bit littler, I remember looking at a Globe with my school friend Jenny and planning various imaginary trips. It was on one of those occasions when I saw not only how vast Russia actually is but how close the Eastern coast is to Japan.

Now, I am taking that journey. Overland from Woolwich to Japan - all 5,900 miles of it. Luckily years of commuting on the Jubilee line and having experienced the number 53 through New Cross, I feel as prepared as I can be for cramped and challenging travelling conditions. Even in London you can feel like you are on a safari.

Once I get to Japan, I will fly to South Korea, New Zealand, Hong Kong and then home. I am scared and excited all at the same time. Let's see what happens....

(For your interest, experiences on the number 53 included someone trying to steal my shoes while I was still wearing them, and witnessing someone having their hair set on fire. Actually I should really have written this blog from the bus because God knows there was enough material).

Asia » Hong Kong » Hong Kong Island » Wan Chai December 5th 2012

Hong Kong is a sultry kind of place and is like living in a cloud. My hotel is in Wan Chai where old, ugly, colourful buildings stand high above the streets and trams shuttle past busy pavements. My balcony overlooks an apartment block and I can spy on two by one metre squares of the tenants lives. Many people watch television on unfeasibly large screens in tiny rooms. Red and gold daily calenders are on the walls. One man sits alone and stares into space smoking. Another, his kitchen full of pots and pans, chops tomatoes. Washing dries on the barred windows outside - underwear, trousers and t-shirts. Somebodies blue and white striped boxer shorts have fallen onto a window ledge and I wonder if they will ever be retrieved. I also think I should stop ... read more

Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Christchurch November 26th 2012

Christchurch is a very English city with spires, private schools and punting on the tranquil river. It is also a city which was nearly destroyed in a series of horrific earthquakes. I had no idea the quakes were so bad. The first in Sept 2010 caused significant damage and the second in Feb 2011 further damaged imany unstable buildings and killed 185. Most died in the Canterbury Television Building which completely collapsed. The effected area of the city is now sealed off - approximately 0.7km sq. I took a tour bus through the area wondering how appropriate it is to be a tourist in such a space. It is like a city after a terrorist attack or a war. Shops, churches, pubs, restaurants, the cathedral, bus stations, tram stations all closed. Some offices still have furniture ... read more
Lake Tekapo
Doubtful Sound

If you live in Marlborough Sounds (a green and gentle coast in a green and gentle sea) it is quite possible that you will get your post delivered by the mail boat. The service leaves several times a week and delivers letters and parcels to all the residents of the Sounds. I was lucky enough to join a trip for one afternoon. The skipper will deliver parcels for five dollars each until the parcel is large enough to hurt his back. At this point delivery is supplemented by beer. He did note though that once he delivered a goat and was paid in cray fish. This seems like a sensible bartering system to me. The skipper delivers and receives the mail at the different moorings across the Sounds. This is of a great way to meet ... read more

Asia » Japan November 6th 2012

Here are - hopefully - some photos of the trip so far. You know me and technology. Nevermind, I have capitals now! Kx... read more
Japan - Graveyard
Japan - Sunset
Japan - Temple

Asia » South Korea » Seoul November 6th 2012

When visiting the border between North and South Korea the tour agency provides a dress code. No scruffy jeans, no t-shirts, no short skirts or revealing clothing. No sandals, flip flops or shoes without cover at the heel. I had presumed this was a dictatorial demand from the North on visitors to the border (otherwise known as the DMZ or demilitarised zone). It is actually a demand from the South. In the past poorly dressed westerners had their photos taken by North Korean soilders and their images were used as propaganda in the north - "look how messy the westerners are", "look at their messy clothes", "they are poor too". As a result the tourists are expected to at least look relatively smart. Disconcertingly the ban on flimsy shoes is to allow tourists to run quickly ... read more

Asia » Japan » Tokyo » Ikebukuro October 27th 2012

people say that japan is where fashion happens first and that sooner or later the rest of the world will get to see what we should all be wearing. well, having completed a thorough investigation of numerous shops i can provide some fashion forward feedback. this month we will be mostly wearing tartan - tartan high heels, puffa jackets and mini-skirts. hats have ears. berets with ears, trilbys with ears, bobble hats with ears. yes, ears. get with the ear programme. also making a feature are temporary lip tattoos - think rainbows, leopard print, and hundreds and thousands. unusually we can also look forward to decorative eye patches. don't worry though, the eye patches are perforated and vision is not impaired. fashion can be friendly. shopping in japan isn't all about fashion. the food is incredible. ... read more

Asia » Japan » Tokyo » Ikebukuro October 23rd 2012

i am in toyko and still have keyboard issues. this time my internet cafe is quite cosy. i have a thick cushion in my computer booth and have to take my shoes off before entering. this morning i went to watch kabuki - an old fashioned form of japanese theatre. i thought it was a cross between chaucer and the panto. the plays are meant to look like the floating world with every scene perfect and balanced. so much so that the story is secondary to how everything looks. the audience was filled with japanese ladies-who-lunch with some incredible designer clothes and some questionable plastic surgery. there were two plays - kokusenya and kanjincho - at a total of 3 hours. several people fell asleep but all woke up for the interval where the mingled smell ... read more

Asia » Japan » Kyoto » Kyoto October 16th 2012

so i am in a japanese internet cafe in kyoto and i can't use capitals. if i do this happens - ¥個vのsdbんそん. it might look cool but it isn't very helpful. i always have trouble with keyboards abroad. the @ keeps moving too... still the cafe is quite funky. it has a manga library, tea, coffee, and a free dog grooming parlour. yes. dog grooming parlour. there are blankets and brushes and combs for the canine customers, some of which have little outfits and hair ribbons. i am in one of the 37 individual internet pods - some smoking, some not - but all of which have a little privacy curtain in red and white gingham. i also note from my receipt that i could have booked a wider seat for an extra 200 yen. good manners dictated that ... read more

Europe » Russia » Far East » Vladivostok October 9th 2012

My proudest moment in Vladivostok has been negotiating my way around the local bus network without speaking a word of Russian. I am probably more proud than completing the Trans-Siberian. The journey only costs 30p and the buses have curtains. They are also tiny and if I have the seat over the wheel arch, even I can rest my chin on my knees. The tiny bus does mean that I get to observe my fellow passengers. One thing I have noticed is the high number of people with bunches of flowers. At least five on the single decker bus. I have also noticed several 24 hour florists accross the city. Are florists really offering such a vital service? Apparently so, if you need a rose at 3am come to Vlad. That said the flowers that the ... read more

Europe » Russia » Far East » Vladivostok October 4th 2012

One of the guys on our trip is a man named Brian. During the War, when he was four years old, he was in the house with him Mum, Aunt and Grandmother. The house was bombed out and caught fire. They all survived but the next day he began to stutter and never stopped. Brian thought if he could speak a million words the stutter would go away. Of course it didn't but numbers give him comfort. On every stop he knows the population size, interesting facts and historial dates. He is also the only one in the group who can actually work out what time it is. This is more complicated than it might seem. The Trans-Siberian route goes right across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok (where I am now). Crossing 9288km and seven of ... read more
Don't Climb Under Trains
Lake Baikal - Boat Trip
Irkutsk - Locals Party

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