A few weeks ago, I became much more excited about going to Taipei for two weeks during my internship and being separated from Steve during that whole time, mostly thanks to the fact that I had read a Lonely Planet article about all the cat cafés in Taipei. It’s actually pretty awesome how many cat cafés I’ve been to in Asia now: the first two we visited were in Tokyo and Bangkok, respectively, both during our original circumnavacation. I’ve now added three more to the list, all in Taipei, and a more detailed report is due! Friends and family will know that I adore dogs, and our corgi-mix Stella is pretty much the thing I love most in the world. But I was first and foremost a cat person, pretty much from the cradle. My family had cats when we were in China, and had more after we came to the States. It’s thus fitting to get crazy about cats again when I come back to Asia!
Cat cafés are a relatively recent phenomenon. The very first cat café, called Cat Garden, opened in Taipei in 1998 and has since been renamed Cats and Café 1998. Thus, cat cafés are actually a Taiwanese invention! However, they’re most popular today in Japan, which people theorize is because there’s very limited space and it’s hard to have pets. Oh, and also that the Japanese are crazy about cats. Hello? Other than having cats, these venues also differ from regular cafés in that they often have an entry requirement or a minimum spending requirement. In Japan, the cat cafés we visited stipulated that you had to spend a certain amount of money (like 500 yen) for a cover charge to stay for a certain amount of time, but it did usually come with a beverage. In Taiwan and the cat café we visited in Bangkok, there is usually a minimum spending requirement, ranging from 120 to 200 NT. That’s usually the price of a drink, which is astronomical compared to what they can usually cost – 20-30 NT! It’s to deter people from coming in just to gawk and take pictures of cats, without spending a penny. I used the Lonely Planet article and another article from City543 to plan for a list of cat cafés…
Since we arrived in Kochi by the train last week, I have found it very easy to lose track of the days. We are here for nearly two weeks in Kerala, which is an exquisitely relaxing place, I am happy to report. Last Thursday, we stumbled off the train and took a tuk-tuk ride to our homestay (an Indian B&B) in Fort Kochi, on the tip of the island where it meets the Indian Ocean. Our room has a small balcony on one side, and on the other, a small sunny verandah that holds a few tables and shared as a communal breakfast space.
From where we like to sit, I can see the flower pots on the edge of the verandah, a few rooftops next door, lines of laundry, the green tops of coconut trees and a hazy blue sky. Our second day here, I sat out in the heat to do a brief watercolor of it, which I’m going to pass on making public for now. Truthfully, my photography skills still far exceed whatever I can do on paper, but it’s relaxing to work on mixing the right shade of green and drawing miniature palm leaves. Kerala is a jungle-like environment. A few nights ago, we shared drinks and a long conversation about India on the balcony. As we talked, we saw and heard bats flapping from palm to palm. There is a strange birdcall sometimes, like a whooperwill (or maybe just what I think a whooperwill sounds like). Steve scoffed and said it was fake at first – that’s how weird it sounded to us. And there are crows all over the place too.
We’ve been in Bangkok for three days, and it is dizzying here. During our first evening, wading through alleyways and streets of food stalls with Steve, I kept repeating, “I feel overwhelmed.” It’s been a while since we were in a Big City, and Bangkok is definitely that. It has soaring tall Sky Train subway systems, skyscrapers and giant, shiny square malls home to stores like Hermès and Miu Miu, and countless tiny streets and alleys through which people, cats, scooters, tuk-tuks, and cars race at every hour of day. And we kind of love it.
We’ve been in Tokyo for about 28 hours, give or take a few, and have had a number of exciting adventures and trials already. However, I’m really barely functioning given the amount of sleep I’ve had and the amount of jetlag that I’m dealing with.
Let’s try to detail some of what has happened so far. Lessons learned: Do fly Malaysian Airlines. They offer free wine and beer, which makes any flight, especially trans-pacific ones, go faster. Customs is much more casual here, as compared to China. Or even compared to our border crossing in Vancouver, Canada. Nevertheless, it took us an unexpectedly long time to reach our Couchsurfing host, Ken, by JR Railroad and Tokyo Metro, which are two of the rail networks here. We crashed last night, and this morning, got up with the sun, feeling remarkably fresh after 5 and 1/2 hours of sleep. We set off to Shibuya this morning, where we enjoyed breakfast at McDonald’s and internet at Starbucks, took some pictures of the famous Shibuya Scramble, and then set off on the road to investigate Tokyo.