The deck shudders under my feet as the hull of the ferry slams against another wave. Neesha squeezes my hand. Out the window, the rain-blurred horizon pitches at wild angles. My stomach rolls in a different direction.

We are sitting at the back end on the lower deck of small ferry taking us from Lanta Island to Phuket. This is apparently the best location to minimise sea sickness, but the number of green-hued faces around us say otherwise.

The engine hums as it pushes us through waves too big for the boat. The smell of Gasoline fills the air.

We crash into another wave and the deck shakes against my shoes. The troop of cocky lads from London, who’d boarded with their caps on backwards and swaggered right to the front of the boat, stop laughing and put on life jackets.

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The man sitting to the right of Neesh catches my eye and smiles. His round, friendly face is flushed pink with alcohol and sweat beads on his upper lip. I’m thankful it’s not just me that’s sweating bullets in this humidity.

I smile and nod toward him, lean forward in a micro-bow. “Konnichiwa.” Hello.

He bows in return and asks, “Konnichiwa… Nihongo?” Hello… you speak japanese? His eyebrows rise halfway up his forehead and his smile broadens.

“Iie,” I say, No, holding my thumb and forefinger close together in front of my face. “Sekoshi.” A little.

He says something else in Japanese.

“Sumimasen, Wakarimasen” Sorry, I don’t understand.

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The sidewalks of Shinjuku glisten in the lightly insistent rain. We’re on the side of a major road, rain jackets zipped and hoods over our heads, huddling under an umbrella that shakes in the occasional gusts of wind. To our left, a concrete building rises up, festooned with colourful signs of smiling cats, smiling women, cartoonish noodle bowls and line after line of Japanese script.

We are lost and in search of sake.

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It’s about 7pm in Shibuya, Tokyo and we’ve navigated to a recommended Izakaya, a Japanese-style pub. We take our shoes off at the door. Deliciously cool air conditioning asserts itself over the humid heat lingering by the door. The indistinguishable hum of a handful of conversations emanates from the next room. Glasses clink somewhere inside.

“Kanpai!” Cheers!

A slight Japanese woman welcomes us, smiling, and I hold up two fingers, saying “for two?”

“Hai,” she says, “dozou,” holding her palm out. Please come in.

We step up on the tatami mats, down a short hallway and around a corner and the Izakaya opens up.

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The coin passed straight through the chute and rattled in the coin catch. My laundry mission had hit a snag.

I was in a Japanese Laundromat where everything seemed to be unattended and entirely automatic. LED lights spiralled the doors of the washing machines, bringing to mind Las Vegas and slot machines. Large cartoonish instruction charts hung on the wall, with professional-looking English translations. Those translations still managed to omit important details like which buttons to actually push and when.

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