Author: The Amateur

The Gentleman Magician

I love magic.  Let me start with that statement.


I remember reading a book of simple magic tricks for kids when I was young.  I never tried any of the tricks.  I love magic, however, and am the type of person who would rather be in awe and wonder than trying to work out every little trick that the magician used.  After all, I am there for entertainment.


I was watching a magic show on TV one day, and wondered if there were magic shows in Sydney.  I found out about a show that the Gentlemen of Deceit was doing then, and also this weekly show, The Gentleman Magician.


I watched it back in 2015, when it was still held in Royal Automobile Club of Australia, which is a beautiful venue.  There were drinks and delicious canapes before the show (I arrived quite early and got to taste 3-4 different ones).  When they announced that the show was about to begin, I raced to the front row because I wanted a close up look.


The setting was quite intimate, only 50-60 people at a time, I believe.  I do recommend coming in smaller groups so you could squeeze into front rows.


Each of us had a program on the seat, and you can quickly read descriptions of each act.  There were ten, if I remember correctly.  Some are short, some are quite long.  The best part of the act was actually the stories that accompanied the tricks.  They weren’t random tricks; as each trick was performed, a piece of story accompanied it, that allowed the trick to make sense, in a strange way.


Another reason I wanted to sit in the front row was because I wanted to be involved.  As a fan of magic, I wanted to be awed that little bit more by having the trick done directly to me–or a variation of it anyway.  I did have my wish granted, though.  He picked me for a card trick he did, and honestly, wondering how he did that with your involvement was another experience entirely.


As we were nearing the last trick, I was hoping it would last a little bit longer.  We loved the last trick, and I think it was a good call putting it to the last, as it probably was the equivalent of a mic drop.


I would never forget the look on one of the girls’ face after the trick was done.


If you’d like to know what it is about, you’ll have to see for yourself =)


The tickets are sold at $75 pp, and I think it’s absolutely worth it.  They have moved venue, apparently, to Sir Stamford at Circular Quay.  I have never been there, and one day, when I’ve forgotten most of the tricks he did, maybe I’ll go for a second time.


Day 0 and Day 1 – Yokohama

This will be a long post as it will include some pre-trip things.


We got the return flight for free because of Jetstar’s sale, which saved us quite a bit.  However, the caveat is that you have to go to and return from the same airport (Narita).  A lot of people go to Osaka and fly back from Tokyo so they don’t have to do a round trip with the shinkansen that will cost quite a bit.  The bullet train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo cost us 14,250 yen (reserved, ordinary car not green car).


Because of this caveat, we planned to do a 7-day trip towards Kyoto using the JR pass, then spend a while in Kansai region before returning to Tokyo.


If you don’t use the bullet train a lot, it’s probably not worth getting a JR pass.  The 7 day pass costs 29,110 yen and if you only travel locally, you definitely will not spend that much.  We know the cost of it so we made the comparison for the 7 day trip and it ends up being a bit more expensive than the JR pass so we got the pass.


We got the pass from Sachi Tours.  They sell the pass in fixed AUD price of 348 instead of depending on exchange rate so it’s recommended to buy from them, especially if the AUD to yen exchange rate is getting weaker and because there may be international transaction fee charged on top.  They have a $6 express postage fee per transaction so the more you buy the less the fee per person.


When you do use the bullet train, come to the train station a bit early so you can make the reservation even if you have a JR pass.  If you have the pass, the reservation can be done for free.  Otherwise, it costs an extra 500-1000 yen to reserve a seat and I would recommend doing this as it would save you from having to go to non-reserved car and rushing to find a seat.


If there is anything I forgot to mention and I remember later, I will include it in the next day’s blog post when I remember it so if you follow the series by day, you won’t have to go back and check if I made any updates.  But if it’s specifically related to a certain place, I’ll have to go back and amend it, but I will make a mention on whichever post I’m working on.


And so without further ado, let’s move onto the actual trip.


Day 0 – to Yokohama


Because of the cheap ticket, we had to transit too.  On the way there we transitted at Gold Coast and on the way back we transitted at Cairns.  I recommend getting a direct flight with a bigger airline.  The return trip, including meals and baggage allowance, cost us $530 each, and that is only because we share the baggage allowance cost (it costs a lot more if you get allowance on each ticket separately instead of getting a lot of allowance on one ticket only).  If you can get a direct flight, and can go to Osaka and return from Tokyo (thus saving you the 14,250 yen ticket) I think it will be worth paying upwards of $850 (my friend got a ticket with Qantas for around $800 I think).


Because of the transit, we arrived at 7pm.  The first thing we did was exchange the JR pass and get a Suica card.  You have to pay 500 yen deposit for the card, which you will get refunded when you return the unused ticket before you return home.  Any remaining balance will also be refunded (less 220 yen processing fee).  If the remaining balance is less than 220 yen then they will just give you the deposit back.  A good tip is to calculate how much you need to go to the airport and leave just enough on your IC card (including Suica, but there are others too, like Icoca).


IC card is very convenient because you can use it to pay at convenience stores, some buses, some vending machines, some coin lockers, etc.  Please note that I use the word “some” because it mostly applies to big cities, as we went to smaller towns and they only accept cash.  Convenience stores, however, always accept IC cards, I find.


Also, the train fare is discounted if you pay with IC card, although the discount is insignificant.  Example, the trip from Shinjuku station to Sasazuka station (where we stayed in Tokyo, but more on that later) costs 130 yen, but it costs 124 yen with IC card.


Because it was night time already and we were staying in Yokohama instead of Tokyo, we got on the Narita Express (NEX).  This is admittedly one of the most expensive way to get to and from Narita, as it cost approximately 4000 yen (I’m not sure because we used JR pass for this as it was quite pricey).  A cheaper alternative would be a Narita Liner, which costs about 2500 yen, or the Narita Access train, which cost us 1153 yen on the last day with IC card.


To exchange the JR pass, we went to the JR East Service Centre.  They will ask you to fill out a small form, and it turns out that that is the JR pass.  They print out the ticket showing the date it is valid to, and tape it onto the postcard-sized form that you have to fill out with your name, passport number, etc.  We also made the reservation for the NEX there and got a Suica card before we boarded the train.


Arriving at Yokohama, we went to Lawson to get some rice balls (onigiri) to eat.  There were several types of onigiri: with and without nori (seaweed sheet).  Even the ones with nori are divided into two types: where the nori is kept separate and where it’s already stuck onto the rice.  The ones where the nori is separate has crispy nori and is really, really good.  They all have English descriptions of what’s inside so you don’t need to be able to read Japanese to know what’s in it.


While I was eating my last onigiri, I realised there was a tab that you can pull to unwrap the plastic from outside, and if you slide the plastic packaging out gently, the rice ball will drop onto the nori perfectly.  I used to open the plastic packaging and then struggle with the rice and the nori, so now you know.  Don’t make the same mistake that I did.


In Yokohama, we stayed at the hotel Yokohama Camelot Japan.  The place itself is not far from the station, but the whole place stinks of cigarette smoke.  It allows the guests to smoke even in the bathroom, so for non-smokers like us it was a nightmare.  The room was also quite small, although it wasn’t expensive.  We paid about $210 AUD for 2 nights.


The staff at the reception speaks limited English, but enough to help you check in smoothly if you don’t speak Japanese.


The next day is Day 1.  We decided to go see Hakkeijima Sea Paradise because of Detective Conan, as it was mentioned somewhere that the inspiration for the aquarium that they went to sometimes is the Aqua Museum at Hakkeijima.  It can only be reached by the Seaside Line, which is NOT a JR line, so we had to pay extra.


There are attractions on the island as well, but we didn’t plan on getting on any so we only got the Aqua Resorts Pass plus the Aqua Theatre pass for 3200 yen.  You can also pay for the attractions individually.  The one that we saw was quite popular was the tower drop-like one.


It was next to a crepe stand, and we tried some crepes there.  The savoury ones were nice.  The sweet ones aren’t too bad.


When we got there, they also had a 3D maze thing, a structure like a jungle gym but even more complicated.  They also had some kind of missions game, but we didn’t have time to try any of those as we spent too long at the Aqua Museum.


The Umi Farm is nice if you’d like to try catching your own fish.  We only walked past to see what it was like.  The Dolphin Fantasy was so small!  Even on the map it was very small compared to everything else.  It was basically just a tunnel and a small room at the end.  We waited quite a bit to see the dolphin and left after.


The Fureai Lagoon is not bad if you want to try touching the marine creatures.  Unlike in Kaiyukan where there’s an indoor pool where the rays and sharks were just chilling, the ones in Hakkeijima can actually swim around and so you had to wait until they swim close enough to the edge so you can touch.  Otherwise they have a show (you need to check the timetable.  We got a copy from the Aqua Museum reception) where they show you some creatures like the seal, and allow you to come forward to touch it.


The Aqua Theater wasn’t bad, but it was so short (less than 15 minutes) and it was a documentary on JAMSTEC’s Shinkai’s expedition under the sea.  JAMSTEC’s is Japan’s organisation for marine research, and Shinkai is their newest submarine model, I think.  When we visited Miraikan in Tokyo I saw the model of Shinkai there (again, more on that later).


If you want to watch something in a dome theatre, I would recommend saving your money here and instead going to the one in Miraikan.  It only cost 300 yen for a 30 minute-ish show, and you can get an English audio guide so you can keep up with what’s being said on screen.  We watched the Man from 9 Dimensions (I think that was the title) and it was actually quite interesting.


Moving on, we watched the SeaPara show at the stadium at the top of the Museum.  The show was entirely in Japanese but you can understand what’s going on most of the time.  It wasn’t spectacular or very different from other similar shows in other aquariums, but still entertaining to watch anyway.


The Super Sardine Illusion, however, was very beautiful.  I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to make the sardines move as one.  This is highly recommended.


Most of the tanks at the Aqua Museum are small, but the one with sardines was big.  If you see pictures on Hakkeijima Sea Paradise showing a huge aquarium with tall glass panes, that’s the tank with the sardines.  No other tank was as big, not even close.  Still, it was nice to walk around and see the creatures and read their descriptions, especially the deep sea ones.


We had originally planned on playing the 3D maze and the missions one after visiting the museum but our feet hurt because we were walking and standing too much, and it was close to 6pm when we were done so we decided not to.


On the way back, we originally planned to have yakiniku (BBQ) but it was full so we didn’t.  We stopped at a local ramen shop called Ramen Sendai (it’s written in hiragana though).  You have to order the ramen you want with a vending machine-like thing, and then give the ticket to the waiter.  Please note that all menu items are only in Japanese, so it’s a good idea to know how some are written (like miso, shio, shoyu, etc).  There are pictures but not on all.  There was a Mandarin-speaking staff but no English-speaking staff.


The ramen was good!  The soup base was really thick and salty, but everything was so soft.  The pork loin was as soft as pork belly, the vegetables were soft, the noodle was soft.  It was so good, and didn’t cost too much.  Mine cost 850 yen and that was because it had extra 4 pieces of pork.  The amazing thing about this place is that all toppings cost an extra 100 yen.  In Ippudo, for example, if you add meat you will probably have to pay an extra $4-$5 dollar while an extra egg probably costs an extra $1-$2.


Anyway, we returned to the hotel after dinner and started packing, as we were leaving early the next day.  For anyone curious, we went back to Lawson for more onigiri for breakfast and lunch (talk about being cheap!).


If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments and I will try to get back to you soon.


The next post will be Day 2 – Hakone =) stay tuned!

18 Days in Japan -Reviews and Tips

I have decided to change the title of this site from reviews to Sydney places to reviews of places in general since I don’t want to create a new blog for my series of posts related to my recent trip to Japan.


I have just returned from a 18-day trip to Japan (which was amazing), and decided to write a series of blog posts (one for each day) detailing the cities we visited, places we stayed at, things we did and saw, and what we ate.  Some will be longer than the others, and unfortunately as I wasn’t the one taking pictures during the trip I don’t have any to share, so these posts will be picture-less.


I will also try to be as honest as I can.  I noticed that some things are not mentioned on websites and reviews and so we did not expect some things until the day and it caught us off guard.


For example, no one mentioned that JR pass is the size of a postcard and needs to be shown at the manned gate.  It’s a hassle to take it out of your bag every time you travel and we actually thought it would fit in our pocket.  Also, unless you plan to be nomadic as we were during the first week, it’s possibly cheaper to just buy tickets on the go.


Japan is still a very cash-based society, unlike Sydney where we are moving towards a cashless society, so be sure to always carry enough cash around.


Tips before you travel:

– do your research as much as you can first

– no need to bring shampoo, soap, conditioner and towels unless you need specific ones.  We stayed at hotels, ryokan, and airbnb and these are staples they all provide.  We brought our own and they were not used.  The airbnb ones however don’t provide toothbrushes and toothpaste so bring these along.  Some hotels provide hand and face wash but it’s better to bring your own anyway.

– as much as possible use the JR line not the subway line, unless you have to, because it’s considerably cheaper.  For example we stayed near the Daikokucho station in Osaka, but walked an extra 500m to Imamiya station to go to Universal Studios Japan because it was cheaper.


That’s all for the introductory post.  Next up is the Day 1 – Yokohama post.

Mission Escape Sydney

Hi again. It’s been a while.

Now, I love escape room games. My first experience was at Breakout Malaysia, and while the room looked old and the puzzles were mostly locks and keys, it was actually well-executed and sparked my passion for the game.

My second one wasn’t so good. Since then I’ve had a mix of good and bad ones (for the love of all that is holy, avoid the one on Bligh St. Not only are they lazy in themeing, they also don’t create their own puzzles).

I’ve tried Parapark, Escape Hunt, Labyrinth, the ones in Strike, Enigma, Break the Code, and of course, Mission. There are so many more I have yet to try that I am excited to try, but that would need to wait until I have some friends who would go with me.

And one day I might write in-depth reviews for the other escape room places, but this one is specifically for Mission.

I’ve heard good things about Mission, so when my friend came to visit from the States, we made plans to go there. We booked the Vampire Castle because they said it was the easiest one.

The themeing is quite good. They do try to get the furniture and other stuffs to match the feel of the era and situation. Most of the puzzles are mechanical, as in, when you do something right, a lock is automatically opened instead of having to find a key or entering an answer into a padlock.

It was a bit simple though, with only a couple of puzzles. It’s good for beginners, and I would recommend Mission for first-timers, if only because they are good and more likely to make the first-timers like escape room games (as compared to the one in Bligh St maybe).

Next we tried Dr. M. The themeing here is even better, especially for the first room. We actually got a bit creeped out. But the next few rooms weren’t scary at all. Liked the second room (because there was an incident where a friend basically jumped and rolled). The iPad took a bit long to load though. And because a friend accidentally opened the wrong door at the Vampire Castle, when we actually opened the exit door at Dr. M I thought it wasn’t the right door and then I closed it again… stupid, I know. It turned out to be right though and we got out in the end (with an extra 5 minutes given by the generous game master).

Last one I tried was the Last Order. I wanted to try the Lost Mine but thought I would need 3-4 people at least so I decided to go with Last Order.

We were actually told by a staff that the Last Order is only a one room game, but it’s rich in storytelling. It was certainly different from your typical escape room game (especially since you started the game outside of the room, haha) but it was good different. It makes you feel like you’re in a movie or a game.

I wouldn’t recommend a big group in here because it’s very linear and most likely some will be bored out of their minds while the others try to break the code. I went with only one friend and I thought it was great. I would certainly recommend this room for anyone who likes roleplaying too.

Plus the bed is quite comfy too.

Burgerfuel – Newtown

Burgerfuel – Newtown

My very first post! Yay!

I thought of writing a review for a place that should be avoided, but I thought better of it and decided that for a first post, it should be somewhere good that I would suggest to people.

Back in 2010, I used to live in Chippendale.  My friend bought a Groupon voucher for Burgerfuel, and my sister, I, and two of our friends went to Burgerfuel in Newtown to utilise the vouchers (haha).

The menu is limited, and the chicken burgers don’t excite me at all, but I was very impressed with their generous-portioned and very reasonably-priced burgers.  To be fair, it was a diner-like joint, not a restaurant, but the most expensive item on their menu was less than $15, so colour me impressed.

On the other hand, Moo Burger, a burger joint not too far away, sold their burgers at $18 a portion. You can see why I have a special place in my heart for Burgerfuel.

After I moved, I don’t go to Newtown much, unless it’s to see my specialist, and even then that’s only once every three months or so.  I always make a point to drop by to Burgerfuel whenever I can, even if only to get takeaway burgers.

Also, since their burgers are huge, I always have them cut in half, so I can have half for lunch and half for dinner. That has got to be some of the cheapest meals you can get in Sydney.

The other item on their menu that I like is the kumara fries. I’m not exactly sure what they’re made of (sweet potato, perhaps?), but they’re great. And the aioli is nice too.

If you’re a VIB member (you only need to subscribe to their newsletter to be a VIB, so it’s a very easy process), they will send you promotional emails with limited edition burgers, special offers, and such.

I never had the chance to go get any limited edition burger before, but I managed to be around for the Harajuku Chicken burger, and it was sooooooo good. It had panko-crumbed chicken, fried soba noodles, and mayo dressing. I’m actually sad it’s not a permanent menu item.

Service is okay. Staff is generally friendly.  While I don’t expect fine dining level service, I find that they’re helpful and polite most of the time. The ones who write the promo emails also have a wicked sense of humour, and I find that I actually read every word on the emails, unlike most other promo emails.

Here’s a link to their website and facebook page so you can browse their menu if you’ve never been. They also accept online orders so you can beat the queue.

If you have been, which burger is your favourite?

Quick reviews: there are, of course, other burger places that are reasonably priced and generously-portioned. As a lover of burger, I try to visit different burger places, and I will review them in depth if/when I can.

Mr Gee’s burger is actually very tasty, although it’s hard to reach by public transport and the line could possibly make a grown man cry.  We actually drove there on Burger Day, but decided to go somewhere else due to the line.

Bonarche Burger is where we ended up at on Burger Day. It’s near the corner of Parramatta Rd and Norton St, and while it’s $15-$18 in price, the burgers are huge and well worth the price.

Burger Project is also reasonably priced, but some people complain that the bun is too much like Maccas’ bun, and I have to agree. It makes me feel like I’m eating an oversized, overpriced, Maccas’ cheeseburger.

I just bought a voucher for wagyu beef burger from Baker Bros, and will update this once I’ve had it.  I will also review Mary’s or Chur if I ever get around to trying them.

One Tea Grill has ramen and rice burgers, both of which I absolutely adore. The baoger, not so much.

I think that’s it for now. Thanks for reading! And let me know if there’s anything specific you want to see on this blog =)