I would like to be able to report more on Manila or my trip of the Philippines, but during my 10 days there, I came down with a horrible flu and decided that taking an overnight bus to the middle of nowhere is probably not the best idea.

Instead, I spent my time in Manila sleeping, drinking Starbucks coffee and eating Japanese food. People had warned me about Manila before - the poverty, the dirty, the traffic - and I didn't take it seriously, because I'm a city girl and that's all the stuff I love (well not so much the poverty). I ended up taking no pictures in Manila because it turned out to be the way people had described it to me... a permanent war zone where you don't dare getting your phone out even in the best areas of town. Yet, I found myself having a perverse fascination with the city for exactly that reason.

In all of this, I found my way back to health, awesome people and a little bit of peace in a homestay-style hostel near the Chinese cemetery of Manila - usually not being catholic, the Chinese were not allowed be buried in the regular cemeteries, and being Chinese, they were pretty well off compared to the locals. This makes the Chinese cemetery the most peaceful and safe area of Manila. Before I went, I heard a joke that the dead here live with amenities that millions of people in Manila have to do without... such as aircon, windows and doors and bricks that are not crumbling.

I thought it was an exaggeration but it turned out that it wasn't... it was like walking around in a deserted Chinese town. A beautiful one. And somehow, I even managed to take a nice picture of Manila at sunset!

teensy inari
When I write about Japan, I write a lot about Osaka, and about other places, but so far, I've neglected Kyoto, the tourist capital of Japan. Because it's not easy to write about Kyoto... many people who come there are a bit disappointed, because it's not that Old Fashioned Japan Wonderland they think it might be.

Actually, downtown Kyoto is pretty drab, expensive and doesn't really have any nightlife. It's best feature is Nishiki Market, an amazing covered food market. The secret with Kyoto, I have found, is to spend lots of time there, preferably not in one go, and explore the thousands of temples scattered around the city, otherwise you'll get templed out. I'm planning to introduce some to you over the next weeks (I have by no means seen more than two dozen of them yet ;) ).
someone having a torii party

My favourite has become Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shinto shrine in a suburb of Kyoto, dedicated to Inari, the god of rice (as in inari sushi, delicious rice stuffed sweet tofu pouches), who, mysteriously in the world of shinto, comes in the shape of a fox-like being.

Fushimi Inari has lots of foxes and more amazingly, it's set around a mountain covered in torii (those red entrance gates you'll see at all shinto shrines). Whether you have a thing for shinto and Japanese mythology or not, everyone will enjoy wandering along these – it's an easy but interesting hike and you'll come across many awesome things as you walk along them.
main shrine building
people writing their wishes on foxy boards

If you have been to Kyoto, what was your favourite temple/shrine?
even the train station had inari!

check out "Hard Gay" in YouTube. Work safe - nothing bad will happen to you, I promise.

So, when I named this blog, it seemed like the right thing to describe me. But the truth is, since I packed up my stuff in London 8 months ago, there hasn't been much queer stuff going on in my life, not on a social, sexy times and cultural level.

I came out when I was 14 and living in a small town. I thought was would be it in terms of coming out. After this, I moved to big cities where coming out to people consisted of no more than saying I was a lesbian and a nod from the person I'm telling it. All this changed when I started travelling.

lesbian movie from South Korea. Need I say more?
In East Asia, I barely came out to anyone. Out of all the people I met in Japan, including people I consider friends – I told exactly one person, and surprisingly one I barely knew at all. I had a few sad attempts of trying to get into the Osaka gay scene and thought it was my lack of Japanese preventing me from meeting women – nope, they only have one „for ladies“ event per year, the rest is all for guys looking for easy sex. In Korea, there was no gayness at all. In Taiwan, I fared a little better because I friend hooked me up with a local lady who took me out to a regular cozy little rainbow bar/café. It was the only time in Asia where I felt being gay was just normal (and also, she forced me to eat lots of dumplings!).

South East Asia? Yeah right, women here have way other problems but being a lesbian. It's tough enough for most of them to get recognized as a full human, in the first place. There are ladybodys and Bangkok has a teeny bit of a lesbian scene, but it's Thai only, and if you don't fit into one of the local butch/femme („tom/dee“) boxes, you are fucked. There was absolutely nothing gay about my time in SE Asia except the friend I travelled with for some stretches of time (who felt pretty much the same as me, as a gay but not camp dude). In all of Asia, you won't get into trouble if you say you're gay, but people probably won't react to it at all.

And now, in South America? There's a much more upfront culture and none of this saving face stuff. People are much less catholic than I expected and locals seem to be cool when I come out to them (I've only tried this with artsy citifolk, though). But again, the gay scene seems to be a male thing, and something that's only acceptable when you're from a rich family.

Outside the rich industrialised countries, if you are accepted as a gay person, you still have to fit into a box. I had plenty of fitting into boxes as a teen, and was pretty butch for years, mainly out of teenage protest. I'm tall and have short hair, yet I wear dresses and sometimes make-up. I can drink and swear like a sailor and am hopeless in high heels, yet I'm bad at “roughing it” and will swoon at pretty jewellery. I have no trouble about hitchhiking with a total stranger yet I will cry over a pretty painting. In short, I'm no gender stereotype, and not a lesbian stereotype, and in Europe, that's perfectly ok. In Asia and South America, I am just a straight woman to everyone and it's ticking me off, because I'm not. I've met a few other solo lesbian women during my travels, and we all agree on this (I have no clue about the guys – I would probably tell nobody I was gay either when I was sleeping in the all boys' dorm).

I'm sick of being an invisible minority.

And anyway – I don't want to be somewhere where I can only be „in the scene“. I had plenty of that as a teenager when I tried to keep my head down during the week and went clubbing in Cologne and Düsseldorf on the weekends. I want to be somewhere where people can be openly gay in the streets, where gay events make the local news, where there is „a scene“, but one that spills over in many other parts of society.

And that's why, although Japan is calling me and India is calling me and Africa is calling me, I will return to the UK/Europe, at least for a little while, and cover myself and everything around me in rainbow flags.

ugly landscape, obviously
Korea was the second Asian country I visited, and by my third day there, I thought for every minute of every day that I was never going back.

I had just spent two months in Japan and had expected Korea to be the same, just you know, a little dirtier, a little less modern. This is how people who had been there explained it to me – confusing culturally, but high-tech, clean and generally awesome. It turned out, they had all only really been to Seoul. Which is a LOT like a Japanese city, but even nicer (more artsy, more green, cheaper, more cosmopolitan).

But for the rest of the country, I couldn't have been more wrong. I arrived to Busan by ferry from Japan and in the ferry terminal, where everything seemed ok. Then I arrived at my hostel in the middle of the cities fish market. There were people selling live crabs which they killed with a blow to the head, just 2 metres in front of a fancy department store. Girls were dressed incredibly frumpy, even compared to rural southern Japan. Guys kept staring at me at best, spitting at me usually and swearing at me at worst (especially when they were drunk, which was always). Restaurants and shops shouted at me when I tried to eat or buy something there – to this day, I haven't figured out what.

And the sights? I was comparing everything with Japan, all the time. The temples weren't pretty enough, the mountains not high enough, the food not fancy enough. Not even the vending machines were the same! Now, when I look at my pictures from Korea, I want to smack myself. Hard. It's a beautiful country with a unique culture and breathtaking countryside.
why on earth did I think this was not pretty enough?
On the other hand, there was much kindness. So much that as the egomanic, self-reliant German that I am, I was deeply confused. If a total stranger offers this much hospitality, surely he must have something else in mind! Hostel owners, other random people at hostels and also a girl I only met once before as she was dragged along by a friend to my dinner party in London: all of them invited me to stay with their families, eat with them, spend every minute of the day with them. If someone on a market in a developing country clings to my arm and tries to sell me something, I have no problem with it. But this pure kindness is something I'd never experienced. I didn't even see it was kindness until about a month after I left. I had no idea what it was, so I got scared and ran away to my room.
market in Busan, sans fish
After I've seen most other East and South East Asian countries, my time in Korea stands out as one of the best I've ever had, even in spite of the killer mosquitoes that ate me when I was in Seoul and being a grumpy loner wherever I stayed (people always gave me plenty of soju to change that).

I would like to say, I'm sorry Korea! I hope you can forgive me – and I hope to see you again soon!

I really, really, really want to go back and take it all in, with the attitude I should have had the first time I went – no two places are ever the same.  
what a horrible city!

No, with the word I am not trying to say that people in the cities are more attractive than in the countryside. But while many people travel to find they love the laid back, off-grid life that the countryside in many countries has to offer, I find myself falling in love with cities, and not always the pretty and easily lovable ones. My love affairs are with cities that are a little rough, a little run down, are sometimes even neglected in the guide books – but come with a lot of attitude and a certain charme that a cute blonde just won't ever have. I even managed to enjoy Manila, where every street could be a scene straight from Armageddon. Which cities fascinate you?

These are my four favourites:

London, UK

I'm not talking about the tourist London of the British Museum, Trafalgar Square and Madame Tussauds. Anyway, London is not a neglected city by any standard, but still one that people either love or hate. London was the first I fell in love with. London isn't a pretty place in general, but that's it's biggest charm on the other hand – here you'll find it all; the good, the bad, the posh, the chavy, the metered heating and the pampered dog. The only thing you won't find, apart from an affordable flat: boredom.

Osaka, Japan

I lived here for two months and hope to return for longer some day. Osaka was my first impression of Japan, and during the day, there is nothing pretty about it – outside the many high rise department stores and museums, it's grey on grey on grey. It's considered Japan's most dangerous and nasty city,  but by international standards, there's nothing gruff about it. At night, magically, it transforms into a whole different place where every 5 square meter room is turned into a bar and what you can't drink in Osaka at night, you can certainly eat. Add a very healthy alternative music scene in a country that has 48-membered mass produced girl bands and locals that are perfectly happy to be ordinarily Japanese, and I'm a happy girl.

Fès, Morocco

Fès gets trashed a lot by travel bloggers, all the time. They romanticise about the Sahara trip and the souks of Marrakesh, and then they get here and are scared by the maze that the old medina is, by the crumbling houses of the old Jewish quarter, by the fact that English is not getting you anywhere here. Guess what? That's exactly what I love about it. Welcome to Morocco – what you've seen in Marrakesh was just a tiny part of the city that has been turned into your dream of a thousand and one nights because they smelled the money tourists brought in on €20 Ryanair flights. Fès has the oldest still existent medieval town centre in the world, the oldest university, the oldest inhabitants of all Moroccan cities that will do anything to accommodate you – if you dare to see further than the guy trying to sell you a carpet.

Hanoi, Vietnam

While in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon you might believe you're in Bangkok or Singapore, this place is not too far from the Chinese border and brings with it a lot of it's own history and culture. While some streets of the Old Quarter are Backpacker Central, it is by no means overrun by tourists. If you are looking for a place where the proverbial east meets west at the moment, this is the place to go – you'll see fruit and veg vendors with traditional hats walking along the streets, dancing the unique Hanoian ballet with a thousand crazy motorcycle drivers and teenagers with iPhones, and a lot of chicken and cats roaming the streets. It's a city that's run by young people and everybody seems to be working 24/7, yet there is a refreshing lack of malls, supermarkets and other chain stores. Let me not even mention the fact that £10 here will buy you a night in a wonderful 3 Star hotel.

What is your favourite city, even though it might not have been love at first sight?

View down the alley from my Valpo refuge

I am writing this from my room in a beautiful soon-to-be student home which currently acts as a refuge for nomads and backpackers passing through the wonderful city of Valparaiso, which you might best imagine as a mixture of Barcelona, Marseille and Lisbon. We have a roof terrace that overlooks the tumble and jumble of this hilly city, its harbour and the pacific coast. It's perfect and makes me want to quote you a hundred Pablo Neruda quotes he wrote in this very city, but I have been warned not too get too pretentious.

The last weeks have been rough, and even more, the last week since I've come to Chile, as due to the first real rain in the Atacama desert for 20 years and the end of the school holidays in Chile, the north in the country was in a crazy state because everyone who wanted to go or came from to Bolivia, Peru and San Pedro de Atacama tried to get south at the same time, resulting in all buses and hostels, even upscale hotels, being booked for a week solid. In the end, I swallowed the bitter pill and paid £220 for a flight to Santiago.

Santiago I didn't like much... very clean, efficient, boring... even though I was stying in the so-called bohemian Bellavista, it seemed fake. You know, just because you get drunk every night in a house that's covered in graffitti, you are not suddenly an artist.

Valparaiso is a different beast. It's only got three supermarkets worthy of that name, one mall, one department store, but as everybody lives on the hills, people tend to do most of their shopping in tiny little shops and local markets.

Everyday, there are little artisan and craft markets all over town, everybody seems to do something creative for a living and wine is $2 a bottle... I've decided to settle down here for a bit after a crazy 6 countries in six weeks and relax, learn and write some stuff I have meant to do for a long time.

There aren't any special touristy things to do in Valpo, unless you count the harbour full of expensive touristy things (Chile is on par with European prices!), but it's a wonderful place to just be. I didn't imagine me ever saying this, but after all this travel, just doing nothing, cooking some pasta, having tea and reading a book is all I am craving right now.

I've spent the last two days in the Miraflores district of Lima, doing essentially nothing. It's so upscale I dare not compare it to any other places but maybe some posh German and Swiss cities. I had overpriced fancy raw food, drank lots of sugary Inca Kola to compensate the healthyness, and generally walked around Miraflores, feeling like this is not the place for me to be – too clean, too safe, too boring. Even the street art is not real, but obviously commissioned art. The guide book promised an amazing art scene and what I got was a teenage goth hangout and a handful of galleries selling llama paintings. I went to the Pacific coast which is just 4 blocks down from the guest house and guess what – they put a painfully groomed park with perfectly cut grass, sculptures and concrete on the beach! It's all beautiful, yes, but oh so fucking boring. It feels like a Latin version of Munich. So, I'm leaving for Pisco today, hoping to see some „real“ parts of Lima and Peru in between.

Maybe I'm asking too much of myself. Over the past two weeks, I have taken a total of eight flights, spanning over 20.000 km and three continents. For ten nights, I didn't get more than 5 hours sleep each night. I feel exhausted and honestly, I don't really know what I'm doing here. I was excited to meet a whole new bunch of travellers, not of the Beer Lao downing, sunburnt SE Asia traveller type but those who have been all over Latin America and give me the much needed first hand advice pretty much all guide books and websites are lacking.

What I got instead was a bunch of Germans from the same rural part that I am from on their first ever trip outside Europe with helpful advice such as „You have to negotiate the taxi fare“ (wow, you are so experienced, thanks for the great help!).
In general, the guest house I'm staying at has discouraged me a lot. It's got high ratings and if this is the best you can get in this country, I don't want to see the rest. To be fair, the location and facilities are pretty good, but that's it. First I had to wait 2 hours for my airport pick up, then upon arrival was told by the guy at reception „Travelling alone sucks, and women cannot do it here!“ (this was not due to language difficulties, he was American). The next day the doorbell broke and I spent half an hour waiting outside (when I was very happy that this is a VERY safe neighbourhood). As before, not a word of apology from the staff, which left me in a situation of embarrassment and made ME apologize due to the British-Japanese conditioning I have been exposed to („I am so sorry you had to pick me up from the airport for only $20!“ and „Please accept my apologies for wanting to enter the house where I have paid for a room at 5pm!“). Asking what's the best way to get a cab here (I've been cautioned against just hailing one), they told me „Just get into any you can find“. Meh.
(Oh, and just as I am writing this, one guy came up to my room to ask me where the laundry was that they did 2 days ago... well I took it down myself as they couldn't be bothered to take it down. But hey, he said sorry!)

I desperately want to settle down somewhere for a week or two, but because of my inner German that screams „But you have to stick to your plans!“ in my mind, that might not happen until I reach Santiago de Chile in a week and a half or so. Do you think I can tell the inner German to fuck off?

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