My sight-seeing in Hiroshima was finished off with a free tour of the Mazda factory. There is a museum showing all their old models, a rake of information on the manufacturing process and a visit to the working factory line. The tour was very interesting but unfortunately the guide was non-technical so I couldn’t ask any intersting questions like: “Why does your rotary engine burn so much oil?” and “why do Rob’s RX-8 alloys corrode so quickly in the winter?” Still it was fun and like clever guys they’d built the factory in one long straight line 1Km long, had highly trained operators and some good design touches unlike some industrial plants I know of. Afterwards I headed back to Tokyo and arrived at the hostel at 9.30pm only to find they’d closed the reception at 9. “This is outrageous”, I blustered, while pondering the dilemma. I had the option of wandering around in the dark and cold trying to find another hotel or of checking myself in. So I stood around for a bit looking like I was supposed to be there, followed some guys in, followed some other guys into the dorm I’d been in before and checked myself into an empty bed. Happy days. All was sweet and I was fast asleep feeling smug until I was shaken awake at 3.30 in the morning. Oh no, my slowly waking mind thought, I’ve been rumbled. But no, it was just an earthquake. Hold on - an earthquake! The whole building shook violently for a good 25 seconds while I cowered under the covers and had vague thoughts of making a run for it and then it was all quiet again except for the snores of the stinking gap year students who’d slept through it in a drunken stupor. I found out later that it measured 5.7 on the Richter scale so it wasn’t huge but still not what I would call a pleasant experience.
The next day I took a train to the second biggest city in Japan - Yogohawa. My destination was the Mitshubishi Heavy Industries museum which had lots of displays bigging themselves up on all the different engineering branches they work in. The museum was pretty cool and interesting for an engineer like me but the highlight was definately the helicopter flight simulator. This was a real simulator used to train helicopter pilots and it proved very easy to take off and fly. Cruising around above the simulated city was cool. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy to land and after missing the landing spot by about 10m and coming periously close to crashing into a building the simulator cheerfully told me I was a failure which I repaid with much swearing and uttering of heinous insults.
On Wednesday I got a flight out of Japan and back to sunny Thailand where I met back up with Rich who’d been lazing around on islands and taking a gazillion photos of Angkor Wat while I was suffering earthquakes in Japan. We got ourselves ready for an iminent departure from Bangkok and sorted out a list of things we had to see before leaving. So the next day, we went down to the snake farm where they milk several of the most venemous snakes in the world. After enjoying a slide show by the man with the creepiest voice in the world (think several degrees creepier than Gary Oldman in Dracula) and seeing a live handling demonstration by a guy with one finder missing (necrosis from a king cobra bite) we got to hold one of the cuddly creatures for the obligatory photo. Afterwards, we roamed the streets eating locusts, cockroaches, and fried frogs before having something truly disgusting - Durian. This huge, green, knobbly fuit smells absolutely revolting and tastes like really bad cheese, I mean seriously - what kind of fruit tastes like cheese? Worse than kiwi fruit it is and I don’t say that lightly because as we all know there are precious few things in this world more bile-inducing than kiwi. We couldn’t leave without experiencing some sleeze but a trip through a few go-go bars proved disappointing. They’re pretty much like strip bars anywhere except they don’t seem to actually be bothered about employing attractive girls and they were pretty deserted. It was funny watching one huge muscle-bound ladyboy (whom we nicknamed Conan) take a shine to Rich though but the smile on my face was short-lived because the hideous looking bar owner took a shine to me shortly after and we had no option but to leg it muttering piously about how awful it all was.
On Friday we went to the ActionAid office to get a route together before picking up the Landy and heading south. We made it to Hua Hin before camping up for the night in a field. Back to the good old days of constant sweating and grubbiness at last!
Saturday and Sunday were spent cruising down towards Trang via some beaches where we are due to meet the ActionAid team on Monday morning before heading up the Andaman coast to see some projects involving the Tsunami affected areas and the enigmatic Moken people (commonly known as Sea Gypsies). This should prove really interesting because very few people ever get the chance to meet the Moken as they spend over 6 months of the year living on their boats and rarely associate with people from the mainland. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moken.