Monday, December 25, 2006

how can i not thank Him

Blogging from Gene's computer. Had already planned my train schedules for these few days and to catch the fastest connecting train, woke up early Sunday morning and dragged Goh to the station with me. Since I only had 3 hours of sleep the night before, I thought I could take a nap at Gene's before going for the evening service.

But Saiful caught up with me from the gym and came over, and we went out traipsing around Ikarashi. Ended up shopping a bit and had lunch at Paku Sushi. Church service was short but eventful. They combined some sketch with Christmas songs and message. We had yummilicious pizza and great fellowship, and an attempt at singing "Better Is One Day" and "Noel" simultaneously, that was fun.

After service, I was supposed to join the international students at their Christmas party but prolonged my delayed nap instead and went late. Around midnight, the Filipinos invited me to join them for Noche Buena, a simple meal to usher in Christmas. We thanked God for the birth of His son and the gift of salvation. Done over white wine and cheese, it felt good to be in a prayerful attitude with fellow brothers in Christ.

Then I remembered I had promised Alexis the Chilean-Japanese that I'd meet him for supper. As usual, his place was packed to the brim with all the things that he had managed to salvage but I noticed that he had cleared it up a bit since the last time I met him. His Korean friend, Shiggi, was there for the holidays and we caught up over spaghetti and home-made kimchi.

The next day, I had lunch at the NiigataDaigaku shokudo with Au, my Vietnamese friend who also came down from IUJ. I showed her where I used to study and all the conveniences of living in Niigata. It was good being back, this was where my "home" used to be, and in this weather I am reminded of my initial days in Japan. Cold and miserable but filled with much good memories.

As I look forward to my trip down Korea, I thank God for His provisions thus far, and much sustenance throughout my stay here in Japan. The long train ride from Urasa gave me some time to ponder about this phase in my life journey. I still wonder from time to time if I prayed the right prayer, and if my purpose here is being fulfilled. There really is so much more to discover. I can't wait.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

sayonara 2006

This will probably be my last post before I bid goodbye to 2006. Some recent events in no particular order :

I got hit by this stomach flu virus which was going around Japan recently. I wanted to blame it on the cafeteria food because some people have been complaining about feeling quesy after eating it. Then I thought it could have been the stress and lack of proper sleep over the last project. Because of this I threw up everything I ate and had to cancel my trip down the south to Hiroshima & Nagasaki. And I was the one who organised and even booked the hotels!

Hiroshima & Nagasaki
Since I had already done the northern island during summer, I thought I should escape the bitter cold by venturing south instead. But alas, I had to stay in my room for at least 2 whole days and hv porridge cooked by darling friends. The great plan was to use the Ju Hachi Kippu to travel all the way south on a really small budget and be able to spend on food and souvenirs.

This ticket is recommended by those on a shoestring budget but want to cover as many places as possible, but only if you're game for unluxurious train travel and intermittent changes at various stations along the way. There goes my quest to cover the southern part, so will have to make some changes for next year's break.

Christmas in Japan
At first I thought I'd end up having a dreary Christmas over here. Even though on the outside the Japs seem to be celebrating whatwith all the decors and commercialism, but it's just that. Parties and presents. No religious significance attached, and therefore, it wouldn't be meaningful for the average Japanese. It's not even a holiday here.

Even while I was down with the virus, I made myself get better so that I could join the Christmas party some Filipino friends were throwing at one of the dorm lounges. We had great food, games, some singing and gift exchange. It was interesting to see how they celebrate Christmas, and I got myself a bottle of red wine from the exchange. Just what I need for winter!

The last weekend, I was at the Urasa church for their Christmas celebrations. Some of the students were still around, I even managed to get Bryan to join me. We were all pleasantly delighted by the lavishness of the celebrations given the size of the church. The only thing that I could've done better was my playing of the Christmas songs. I really need to get my fingers in shape again!

Little breakaway
This weekend starts the beginning of my own break, even with more than half the student population all gone for theirs. I return to Niigata to meet up with my darling friends from Grace Chapel, as there will be a Christmas service this Sunday evening. I managed to talk to Akiko yesterday and she said she might throw a party for us at her home. Yum!

After 2 days, I'll be down in Tokyo, staying at Harold's friend's apartment near Roppongi. If not for his kindness, I'd be bunking in one of the youth hostels dotting the old town of Asakusa. Hope to meet up with Nobu whom I haven't seen since I came to Japan!

My flight to Korea's on the 27th. Really looking forward to spending the New Year's there, away from all this madness. Will be meeting Cindy in Jeju island, hopefully all goes well. Japan is the furthest I've been to so far, Korea will top that for sure. Must arm myself with some basic Korean while on the plane, get my Yen changed at the airport and along the way act like a Japanese tourist.

In any case, I apologise for the lack updates of late, and for those I haven't been able to catch up much over msn/ym/skype. I thank God for each and everyone one of you, for your concern and love, you have no idea how much those calls and emails mean to me. Despite the highs and lows, this has been a pretty good year. Filled with unexpected blessings and abundance.

My cup runneth over. :)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

the beginning of the winter break

Life after the finals is the opposite of what it was before. During much of the term, I had little sleep and a whole lot to do. Now that everything (well, almost) is over, and I have cancelled my trip down to Hiroshima & Nagasaki, I feel like I have the whole day to myself and nothing to do.

It feels really weird, not to have that much to do after 2 months of crazy homework+assignments+projects+papers+tests and surviving on 4 hours of sleep on most days. I thought that was crazy, that postgraduate studies is even more exhausting than working life. Most of my peers came to the same conclusion as well.

Since it's winter break and most of the students are away in other parts of the country or traipsing around the world, I take my time in waking up. And end up having breakfast when it's supposed to be lunch time, and eat my lunch when everyone else is cooking their dinner. It's unhealthy I know, and I'm supposed to decide on a thesis topic before the year ends, but so far I've been doing nothing much.

Maybe I feel like I need to pamper myself after all the hard work. Speaking of hard work, I just went to see my Japanese sensei yesterday to get my results. I was given a preview of my position by my senior who's also in the same class, but I didn't dare expect too much as everyone was complaining about how hard the final paper was.

I was so happy that I'm on the 9th position, just after JC, this American guy who's so good he's supposed to be in the Advanced class. No matter that I didn't get the best grade, nor that my scores looked kinda average seen first glance. But the fact that all my hard work finally paid off was good enough a reward for me.

I actually put in more hours into Japanese compared to any the other subjects just because I have to work doubly hard compared to the rest who are much better than me. Much of the 4-hour-sleep-per-day was attributed to this. It's really quite ironic considering Japanese, even with daily classes only get 1 credit per term, and doesn't really count towards the whole.

My sensei gave me some constructive criticisms and comments when he showed me my paper. I was good at guessing kanji meanings but poor at the reading. Not surprising since I barely finished learning the kanji list meant for Intermediate level (and still passed the qualifying test! PTL) and Japanese kanji has its own quirks! Yes, a kanji is read differently on its own, and another way when it's combined with other kanji's.

Perhaps because of that, I got a little motivated and decided to get myself a Bilingual Bible. I had earlier wanted to get one for myself so that I could brush up on the language and also (hopefully) memorise verses in Japanese. I was just mentioning to the pastor's wife the other day about it. She kinda misunderstood and had actually ordered one for me through a local Christian catalogue.

I saw it on the reception table last Sunday and asked if she was selling it. Turned out, she thought I had placed an order through her, and so she purchased it on my behalf. So to cut the story abit shorter, I bought the Bible and went home with something that I've (quite) always wanted but didn't know how to get. And this is my first verse : 主は私の羊飼い。私は、乏しいことがありません。 It's from Psalm 23:1 :)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

first snow 初雪

Thought I'd share some pictures of my first snow here. I know, I'm such a big grrl already and I haven't seen snow fall before! But still, it was so magical, the first few times, that is.

It started last Saturday, if I'm not mistaken. Everyone was just tired preparing for the finals. I had just gotten back with my friends after a fun day shopping for good winter clothes and some hot steaming bowl of ramen.

On our way back, it rained and since everyone was talking about snow, we also thought that was snow. But it was too pale and "dilute" to look like snow. Later in the night as we got busy with our presentation rehearsals and whatnots, the flakes came afalling down.

So beautiful! I couldn't take much pictures in the dark, but the place looked really lovely the next morning. A layer of snow had covered the campus and everyone was out either taking pictures or trying to whitewash each other.

Friday, December 01, 2006

welcome december

The Japanese were all telling us that it would snow this weekend. I know it's already December but I didn't want it to happen so soon. But they also said that it was considered late already. So I decided to check out the weather forecast, and it says it's gonna snow tomorrow and the day after!

To prep myself for the impending doom winter bliss, I bought myself these window stickers at the 100Yen store. They're restickable and look so delightful in red and gold dust. So other than the white fluff falling from the sky, I also have something else to look at.

Oh, and I also have to go get snow tires, shovel, window brush and maybe a car cover. They've already started the sprinklers on the sides of the road. I cannot imagine when this whole place will be submerged in snow. They say when you drive at night, it will seem like daytime coz the lights from your car will be reflected off the walls of snow!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

koide class trip

One of our well-respected professors brought us out for a field trip last week. For all his accomplishments and qualifications, he still cares for his students. I was consulting him on my thesis topic when he found out that I was on the IM Council*. He was lamenting on the fact that our batch of Ebiz students weren't as tight as the previous batches.

So he gathered some volunteers from the class and organised 2 class trips this semester. But at the same time, we needed to go out and explore the area for our final project. We were going to collaborate with the Niigata Prefecture in creating websites to promote travel and tourism. In return for our hard work and assistance, the prefecture sponsored our trip and lunch boxes.

After being briefed by the officer at the Koide tourist information centre, we were taken to the Okutadami Dam, apparently the largest man-made lake in Japan. It was such a good weather, even in the cold. Previously we were just classmates who were pressed for time as we had assignments and cases back to back.

But the trip allowed us to mingle and get to know each other better. Sadly it was held this late. We were 2 weeks from our finals, and from next semester each of us would branch out into our respective concentrations and have separate elective subjects. So we tried to prolong the trip coz we enjoyed each other's company so much.

Instead of finishing at 2pm after the dam, we took up Prof Jay's offer to visit The Meguro House, the house of the village headman who supposedly owned the first car and telephone in the prefecture. Initially we didn't want to enter coz we were already feeling quite cold, but we managed to get group discounts after some negotiation. For those who were still new to Japan, it was quite an eye-opener stepping into a preserved village house, with most of its infrastructure and landscape intact.

That was probably my last trip for the semester. Did I mention that I bought my tickets to Korea already? Will be flying there after Christmas and spend the New Year's with Cindy. With 1 out of every 3 Koreans being a Christian, and the largest church in Seoul, it would definitely have a different atmosphere compared to its neighbours. Looking forward to ending the year in a reflective mood.

*IM Council = student board for the Graduate School of International Management

Sunday, November 19, 2006

iuj's open day

When they first announced that we were going to have the IUJ Open Day after our midterms, I was not really looking forward to it. But as preparations went under way, the hype built up. We thought about what food to cook (something which was typically Malaysian and easy to cook at the same time), and what kind of performances we could present (since most of us had no former cultural training of any sort!).

We teamed up with Indonesia and Singapore as there were only 3 Malaysians in our batch. Given the limited time to cook (since there were also other country groups putting up their stalls), we managed to come up with Soto chicken soup, Opor chicken curry, prawn crackers and red bean soup.

We also did the poco-poco dance, with much help and guidance from our Indonesian counterparts. It was quite fun practicing with them as I had never done anything so cultural before. Most of the people I know do not have this kind of education before, especially if they live in the cities. So much so that I wonder if I'm losing my heritage. But then again, there is no opportunity/need to do anything cultural of this sort so only those who have a genuine interest would pursue them.

During the 2nd part of the song, we managed to cajole the audience to join us in the dance. It was quite a simple 4-direction dance with variations in each round and could be mastered within a day. The Indonesians even got an invitation to perform this dance in some of the local schools.

As I began to myself in the activities surrounding the Open Day, I started to appreciate the diversity of the student body that we have here. As many as 80% are international students from various countries, mostly from Asia.

It was just a pity that I did not have much time to go around the stalls and try the many delicious delicacy that were on offer. Our neighbours, the Mongols had obviously cooked up really good fried stuff, as seen from the reviews from others. Curry from the Bangladesh and Thai tomyam soup were also clear favourites, since it was pretty chilly outside. Most of us had to wear double layer coz silk can be quite "cold"!

It really was a colourful affair, with flags of different nations hung across the gym, babes in vibrant costumes and guys looking dashing in their smart suits. Even the variety of performances was an eye-opener - sizzling Latin American dance, Spanish candle dance from the Filipinos, slapstick comedy by our Thai neighbours, mini drama by the host country, kungfu-like performance by the Chinese, Charlie Chaplin impersonation from the Europeans, solo song by Bangladesh, among many others.

Very tiring at the end of it, but really fruitful and immensely enjoyable. I even got compliments on my baju kebaya and shawl ensemble :) The irony is that I was wearing it for the first time in Japan!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

first snow sighting

It snowed this morning!

Was at church when we heard rumblings from outside. Some said it was an earthquake, some said it was snowing.

I didn't believe it at first coz when church ended, it was raining. Maybe it was just the thunder.

When I came back, I saw bits of snow outside our dorms. Very little, but whoa! It has begun snowing already! And exactly 1 week ago, it was such a bright sunny day.

To psyche myself up for winter, I told myself this would probably be my only winter so I'd better enjoy it while I can. Gonna learn skiing and snowboarding. And make snowmen!

See, it ain't that bad. I'm looking forward to the winter holidays already. Wheeee!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

autumn colours

Autumn is coming to an end. I check the weather forecasts more often than before, just so that I know when it's gonna be sunny and take advantage of it while I still can. Sun's setting earlier nowadays and like today, while I was out doing some grocery shopping at about 4:30pm, it was so dark it felt like it was 8 in the evening already.

Just a few weeks ago, we went out to Yuzawa, a popular resort town with spectacular mountains and natural beauty. We wanted to take a boat ride at the lake because it looked so calm and peaceful. And I bet the pictures taken from the lake would be awesome too.

But it started to rain and we had to walk back from the lakeside trail back to the parking lot. So we decided to have lunch near the Echigo Yuzawa station instead. Since it was still a good day, we decided to go for a little onsen. The other nicer looking hotsprings were undergoing some maintenance at that time, and this one was quite affordable. But it turned out to be a manmade sento and the water wasn't as hot as it was supposed to be.

It was a little disappointing, but at least I got a soak in the hot bath. I really need to bring back the hot bath technology back to Malaysia! Most Japanese homes have these temperature controls to maintain the hot water in the bathtub. Getting into the bath is a routine after a shower and rinse. Put in some aromatherapeutic bath salts and imagine what wonders it can do for your stress-ridden body!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

not so bad after all

During the course of the week, many things happened. For good, and for bad. Like my car, for example, it was supposed to be fixed and ready to be collected last Monday. But the lady from Shell station called Yuichi and informed her that they couldn't repair the car. Apparently, it must've been quite bad because she suggested that we take it back to the manufacturer.

Since I'm living in the middle of nowhere, doing that was next to impossible. Whatmore, for an old car such as mine! So I updated my senior, and asked her for her opinion since I bought the car from her. She suggested that we take it to her mechanic to have a look first.

So on Thursday, when both of us were done with our mid-terms, we went back to the Shell station to collect my car. As I drove it to the mechanic down the road, I was praying that nothing would happen. I did not wish to die in an inflamed car in the middle of nowhere. Not while I'm living my dreams still so young and still have lots to achieve!

And it turned out that the mechanic was the one who originally sold the car to my senior's senior! So he would have been more familiar with it. He said we were lucky coz it could've been so much worse, the whole engine could've caught fire too. After accessing the damages, he told us that the battery installed was not of the right serial number.

Since it was the start of a long weekend, he told us to come back on Monday. He called over the weekend and told me the costs. Replacing the battery and cables/wires plus tax, altogether it came up to about Y13,000. Not too bad! I'm just so glad it could be fixed, and it wasn't terribly expensive either. Our other option was to discard the car, but doing that in Japan would cost Y30,000!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

what did your mama tell you?

You know that thing about your parents' advice being relevant at just the right time? Well, I was catching up with mama & papa yesterday after my last call to them. Mama was quite concerned about winter coming and me not being able to withstand the cold. She was also giving me advice on car maintenance and making sure I got the mechanic's number just in case something happened.

Well, today on our way to do groceries at Jusco, the car suddenly died. Right at the entrance to the parking lot where cars were driving in from the main road. As soon as we got out of the car, we saw smoke coming out of the bonnet. We were shocked to find out that the battery and the connecting cable was on fire!

Thank God I had 3 bodyguards guys with me. They helped push the car to the side while I called Yuichi-san for help. We were trying to figure out what went wrong and Yuichi was suggesting perhaps we should call the mechanic. Apparently getting their service would cost Y6,000 already.

So we thought of getting it to the nearest petrol station just to get a rough estimate of the repairs. The petrol-lady accessed the damage and said the previous person who handled the battery must've manually connected the cables wrongly, thus causing it to short-circuit and catch fire. Gosh! The car could've blown up, with the 4 of us in it!

Since the repairs and replacement would onli cost about Y6000+, we decided to just leave the car there and collect it when it was done. But I had to come back with some papers (I think they need to prove I did not steal the car!) before they could start repairing, and since it was a weekend, their supplier was on holiday. So I'd have to come back with the papers so they can replace my burnt battery and cables, and return again when they're done.

And guess what? By the time I came back, half the campus already knew what happened to me. Some even got the facts twisted and thought I got into an accident! The wonders of WOM.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

practically irresistable!

Did I mention that we have millions alot of case studies to read for this term? Well, we do. And there's like a neverending stream of them. At least 2 a week and they're done in groups. So group meetings take up a lot of our time and by the time you're done with one, you have to dash off to another one.

So much so that you get confused which person is in which group and which subject it's for. Yes, we have groups for all our subjects (except for Japanese, thank goodness!) so you learn to work with people you don't like get to practice your intercommunication skills.

But, I digress. I was trying to catch up on one of the cases for our Marketing Comm class and decided to surf the company's website for more info. Case in particular was of P&G's Scope Advertising Copy. I must say they have pretty much gotten their PR and user experience down pat.

Tips for fresh breath, quiz on irresistability IQ, latest ads, online poll, FAQs, subscription to their online magazine and the mandatory product lineup. Since I was stuck at the case question, I gave the quiz a go. And this is what I got!

yummy icecream

Sunny days are getting rarer as weather forecasts predict sporadic showers and cloudy weather. Is this what they call autumn? I don't really feel much difference from spring except that leaves are turning yellow and falling. Spring was when buds came out and transformed skeleton-looking trees into trunks with green on them.

One fine day sometime early this month, I took the opportunity to go out with some of my classmates. It was only the 2nd week into the semester but we could already feel the weight of the workload, but I thought it was gonna be now or never. So I drove them to Yummy, a favourite haunt with locals for good homemade icecream.

Since we were already out, I decided to explore the area. Even though I've been to Urasa a few times before this, I haven't been able to see what this little town had to offer. We dropped by a winery and tasted some of their white and red wine. That must've made them a little happier coz Kedar immediately bought a bottle to try.

We then walked from the vineyard to a nearby park to take somemore pictures. I still couldnt imagine this whole place being submerged in snow. For one, I've never been to a 4-season country before. I've seen snow when I first came to Urasa, but that was dirty snow melting away in May. As I thought about the prospect of being here during the long winter, I realised it was getting a little chilly so we decided to call it a day and head back to campus.

Friday, October 20, 2006

those things that you have to fill up

As long as I can remember, filling out forms in Malaysia has never been a problem for me. Academic forms, office-related forms, scholarship forms, income tax forms and even online forms.

But when I started applying for overseas scholarships, things became a little complicated. What's a first name and last name anyways? Add in family name, middle name, given name and initial (single or double) and it becomes even mindblog... I mean mindboggling.

Is last name the same as family name? Coz first name is usually family name (苗字) in Japan. I have 3 words to my name, but according to the American system, one has to go to middle name. But if I do that, my name gets screwed up coz 2 collectively are my given names.

I bet over the years while filling up foreign forms, I have had various versions of my name. In Malaysia, it's just one LONG space for your FULL name. I guess you'd say we've mastered the art of making things easy when you have so many races living in the country.

The other thing is native language. I'm Chinese by descent but no doubt Mandarin is probably my worst language considering my proficiency of the Japanese language at the moment. I'm also Malaysian by nationality and I can speak as well as a native Malay but I'd have to say my command of English is the best so far.

So is native language the one you were brought up to speak? Or the one which is defined by your ethnic origins? Or could it be the one that you speak so well that you are mistaken for a native speaker?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

elected into the council

I'm still alive from last weekend's mental torture Accts & Finance class. In a way, I'm glad we got that over with. We're almost done with this particular subject, the only thing left is our group assignment. Sounds straightforward enough - read an assigned company's annual report and describe main business, financial performance, potential intengibles, and those things that I usually don't bother reading other important corporate facts.

We had our GSO (Graduate Students' Organisation) election yesterday during lunch time. I initially thought of running for that, but after considering that I might end up working with certain obnoxious individuals it would take up too much of my time, I decided not to. The whole setup sounded glam enough for so many people to nominate themselves in.

At the same time, I was also contemplating on contesting for the IM (International Management) council. This was more academically inclined since this body dealt mainly with subjects, scheduling, seminars and all things scholastic. Only 2 positions from the MBA school and Ebiz school each were opened for candidacy.

I almost gave up thinking about it when I was struggling to understand in the midst of the Acct class. I didn't even meet the deadline actually. But an email from the former president at the very last minute spurred me to submit my name.

Lo and behold, there were only 2 of us from Ebiz. Even though we could've won by default, but they maintained that if and only if we obtained more than 50% of the votes, would we win the posts. I gave a roughly sketched short speech, not promising anything, but urging my voters (*cough) to work alongside with me to make their student life a fantabulous one.

I wouldn't have minded if I didn't win, but since I'm up in the Council (woohoo!), I guess I shall have to make do with better time management and hope not to die before the end of this year itself! Ganbarou yo!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

snapshots from hokkaido 4

It's exhausting to have one subject crammed into one weekend. I wonder what's wrong with these people - 10 days' worth of Foundations of Accounting and Finance into 2 days and you don't get a day off after that. And to top it all off, we have our final exam tomorrow itself!

Yes, while I do agree that it may sound like a good idea to just get it over with, but I think most of us were struggling to stay awake towards the end of today's session. It's only the 2nd week and they want to kill us already! I don't remember working life being this bad.

Anyways, to soothe the tired eyes, I thought these pictures taken at Noboribetsu helped a little. I managed to do a short stop over at this sleepy hollow which is otherwise known for its hotsprings and gorgeous valleys, while on the way to Hakodate at the southern tip of Hokkaido.

In any case, I think I'll get some eyepads and an early night. Must look fresh for my fans class tomorrow.