Sunday, April 30, 2006

ohanami at terao park - 22 april 2006

Please take note that future updates will be delayed :p Hence the late date of each title, heh.

We went for our 2nd ohanami at Terao Park, somewhere nearer to our campus. This was mainly attended by the postgrad students from the Niigata University and the International University of Japan.

The weather at this time was getting slightly better. In fact the skies were blue with little clouds in sight, making photo sessions an enjoyable experience. So much better than the ohanami session the previous week.

Niigata is widely known for its tulips, they grow in abundance here. In almost every park, sidewalk and Japanese gardens, you can find tulips of various colours and sizes. Japanese flowers in general seem to look so beautiful I mistook them for fake flowers. They hardly have erm, dents or scratches on them. Quite perfect, if I may say so.

Niigata has quite an interesting geographical location. Separating the city and the sea are some moutains. In fact, the nearest beach is probably a good 15 minutes walk from the west end of the university campus. Too bad, that beach area is not for recreational use. But the sunset pics in the Easter post was taken there.

Whenever I look at these pictures from my laptop, I still cannot believe that I'm in Japan, experiencing the ohanami which everyone talks about every spring. Back in Malaysia, I used to get emails with sakura pictures and wonder what the heck is so special about this cherry blossom flower.

But when I come here and see the sakura flowers for myself, and notice how delicate and fragile they are, I realise these are really such beautiful flowers. The ohanami is a much anticipated event in spring and Japanese take the opportunity to have picnics under the sakura trees.

They don't last very long once they bloom. Seeing the petals of the sakura flowers dropping from the trees is like looking at snow fall from the sky. Not that I've seen snow myself, but I imagine that's how it might be. It's quite an ethereal feeling which I can't quite describe. It's just something one has to experience for himself to know how it feels.

After almost a month here, I still cannot believe I'm actually in Japan doing the ohanami!

Friday, April 28, 2006

ohanami at toyano lagoon - 16 april 2006

Ahck! Walagata is down. Well, no longer providing free services, to be exact. Can't get my images back unless I pay. There goes all my blog pictures. But I managed to salvage the Japan pics from my laptop, and they're up again. Still looks messy though coz I didn't have time to edit the codes.

This post will be a short rough one as well, wanna put more pictures up. Taken about 2 Sundays ago, on a trip to the Toyano Lagoon with the Malaysian students of Niigata University.

As this is my first time being in a 4-season country, I was still not very used to the cold weather. This is one of the 2 coats I have with me. Thank God for nice ex-colleagues. Most of the stuff that I'm wearing are farewell gifts. They remind me of home.

Toyano Park, located next to the Big Swan which was one of the stadiums used for the last World Cup. Beautiful place. In fact, many places in Niigata are still untouched and their beauty preserved.

Japanese do the ohanami every spring. Picnics are a great way to just sit under the sakura tree and enjoy God's nature. Some say it's a good excuse to eat and drink sake. For me, these are great works of art.

Some play ball games with their family members. Some bring their pets along. I notice that pet dogs are really well taken care of here. Don't remember seeing pet cats here though. Maintenance is really high and you can see that they are pretty well-groomed.

The Malaysian undergrads doing the self-tug-o-war?

Pretty maidens in a row.

We did a stop over at a strawberry farm near the outskirts of Niigata city. During peak periods, you pay a certain amount to pluck and eat all the strawberries you can gather. Their strawberries are really delicious - no additional sugar necessary. Just pop them in your mouth and savour the pure joy of eating fruits in their original condition. Mm, make that semi-original...

And that was how I spent Easter.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

nihon no jitensha

Even though Japan as a developed country is so advanced, a lot of the people in Niigata still travel by bicycles. This is by no means a very good way to conserve energy and protect the environment, but I was quite surprised that the bicycles that they use are very ordinary ones. Nothing canggih manggih or techy about them. They actually remind me of those big old black ones that people used back in our grandparents’ days.

sea of bicycles

Last weekend, we took the train down to the Niigata city. Just like how Malaysians park their cars at the LRT station, the Japanese park their bicycles at the station. I wonder how they manage to find their bikes in the midst of all the similar looking ones. Most of them look so plain and simple there’s really nothing much to set one’s bike from the rest.

stroller aside

We even saw a baby stroller “parked” together with the bicycles. At first we thought someone dumped it there. What if it rained? What if it was taken away? The stroller was not locked like how most of the bikes were.

mummy with baby

Just as we were wondering aloud, a woman came from the station with her baby and promptly put her daughter into the stroller and pushed it away down the road. Imagine that, parking your stroller as if it was a car and leaving it in the open air. Only in Japan, eh?

nihongo no classmates

L-R : moi, Helena (South African), Henri (also South African), Farhana (Bangladeshi), Dr Noman (from Yemen), Daniel (of Paraguay), Konan (Ivory Coast) and Alden (fellow Malaysian).

We’re finishing our 2nd week of Japanese intensive language courses. What I’ve learnt so far is roughly equivalent to about 2 months’ worth of the lessons I took back in Malaysia. Here we have full day classes everyday whereas I only had to attend 2 hours per week then.

I’m really quite glad I invested the time and effort to go for those lessons. I can understand how overwhelming it is to learn so many new words and phrases everyday. But the human mind is amazing, it can absorb so much information when required to.

Having great classmates make the classes interesting. We have a healthy blend of the funny, serious, enthusiastic, poker-faced, studious and eager. Most important of all, everyone has a good sense of humour. It helps when we forget words or mix up certain phrases. For example, just the other morning, Helena, from South Africa, accidentally greeted one of our sensei with “Arigatou Gozaimasu” when she meant to say “Ohayoo Gozaimasu”!

Even though I am quite half-banana, I’m so glad I went for POL* for a few years in primary school. The very little words I still remember helps when it comes to reading kanji. I really need to get an electronic dictionary soon. Most of the Korean and Chinese students bring one around since it’s so light and useful.

One of the best things I like about this course is that we also have 2 sessions of Volunteer Class whereby we chat with Japanese students and try to improve on our language. The first class was conducted under some sakura trees on the campus grounds where we had our own little ohanami**.

I can’t wait to get better at this. It can be quite frustrating when I can’t express myself in proper sentences. It’s like having bits and pieces of words which are not stringed together – they don’t make much sense. Oh well, I have 5 more months to go.

* POL = Pupil’s Own Language classes for ethnic groups in National Type schools (eg : Chinese, Indian)

** ohanami = activity of enjoying the cherry blossoms, usually accompanied by food and drinks

Monday, April 17, 2006

without a float

Updates galore!

Yes, I've finally found the time to post up my journal here. If you notice, they get shorter as the days go by. You can tell that I'm getting busier by the day.

Adapting to the chilly weather and going around in a foreign land without knowing what the signboards mean. Getting the hang of living on my own and knowing what to buy and what not to spend money on.

It's not just about learning the Japanese language or earning a Masters degree at the end of the day, but it's more of a journey of self discovery and learning to trust in Him.

Before I left, I knew this was what I had to do. I had to throw myself into the deep end of the pool without the aid of a float just to see how I come out of it. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, and I will have to really depend on God for all my needs and wants.

Well, I'm still here writing this, and hopefully will be able to share more of my stories as the days go by. Please leave your comments because the next time I update may be weeks from now!

missing easter Sunday - 16 april 2006

This will be my first time missing Good Friday and Easter Sunday. For as long as I can remember, I would be in church for both services. This year, I begin to appreciate the significance of both events especially as I have been churchless since stepping foot in Japan.

Good Friday here was just another day. We had our usual intensive Japanese classes – writing, speaking, reading. I have been disconnected from the rest of the world without my handphone or daily newspaper. But thank God for technology. I received an e-card from June a few days back about Easter. Gerald sent a link to a flash presentation on the resurrection of Christ. For the first time, I'm really missing home.

Even when I was feeling miserable on the first night, it was not as bad as this. The fact that I don't have a Christian community to belong to, a church where I can attend and worship, and that I can't do anything about all these makes it even worse. I really hope that I can find a church soon, an English speaking one preferably.

It doesn't have to be big or fancy. It could be from a different denomination. Doesn't need to have all the amenities of a modern church. Or a charismatic preaching pastor.

It just feels weird not being in church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I want to be able to break bread and drink wine (or grape juice) with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. To ponder on the sacrifice that made life worth living. To thank Him for all the things that He did without me asking. Or even worth deserving.

I really need to try harder.

excursion to teradomari - 10 april 2006

Originally written on my first Sunday here. Feel strange for not being in church. Really need to get in touch with some nice Japanese christians here. The JW came knocking on my door just a few days after I reached here. Very nice people, but I have to decline.

Update 21 Apr : pics attached


On the way to Teradomari

The sun woke me up last Sunday morning. Though I must admit, I've positioned my “bed” in such a way that I face the window in case my alarm clock fails to work. The fact that my handphone could not be charged is quite frightening. I'm not sure if it's because of the different plug point or the type of current/voltage/watt in Japan. At home, I have that and 2 more clocks to wake me up for important appointments or when I know I've had a late night and might not be able to get up on time.

The seaside town of Teradomari

Anyways, waking up here is quite easy. My window is only covered by 2 pieces of lace curtains, so the sunlight streams through pretty well. Not long after 930am, Syakir came knocking on the door. He was here to pick us up for a trip to the seaside town of Teradomari. Knowing that we might be busy once classes start, I decided to go in spite of the great temptation to remain in bed.

Much to choose from - freshly cooked seafood

We were a convoy of Malaysian students, both undergrads and postgrads. Teradomari was chosen because it was sort of a halfway point between Niigata Uni and IUJ. We were introduced to our seniors from IUJ – Siew Siew, Marina (and her husband Aidil), and Bad (who came with his wife, Aida and 4 year old son, Ariff).

Behind us, the mountain cliffs and the Sea of Japan

Huge crabs for sale

We drove south-west using Main Road 402 which runs along the coast. We went through many tunnels as the road was built into the mountain cliffs. Just meters below was the sea. The waves were so strong that they had to make wave breakers in some areas. Apparently, this area is good for surfing. We saw 2 Jap grrls fully suited up in their gear going into the sea at the chilly temperature of 8 deg Celcius.

Hotate (some kind of mussels?) cooked with butter sauce

In the town area, there is a row of shops selling the freshest and largest variety of seafood I've ever seen. Some sell processed seafood while there are a few shops which operate like our wet markets with packaged raw cut meat, but so much cleaner. There were also some meat samples for us to try – chopped prawn pieces, squids, and fish eggs in various sauces and dips. Some of the stuff that I'll never see in our Malaysian market – Octopus brains, whale blubber, shark meat and whole maguro fishes.

Check out the white octopus brains

welcome bazaar - 8 april 2006

Written on the 9th April, this describes probably the most anticipated event of the year for those staying outside the campus. Will post up pictures when I can.

Update 21 Apr : pics attached


This is our 5th night here in Niigata. My overdue menses came 2 weeks late. Coupled with the stress of settling down in a foreign environment, the maddening cold weather, learning new things all the time and the lack of sleep from the previous weeks, my body finally gave way. Not only am I bleeding, but I think I'm having a mild case of diarrhea, slight fever and some cold.

Syakir taught me not to put on the heater at such a high temperature even though I feel terribly cold from the weather outside. From his own experience, he almost fell sick when he first arrived as well. But he learnt to control the temperature within and without the room by setting the aircond to about 25deg Celcius, switching on an additional heater in the kitchen area and letting the hot water run in the shower before bathing.

On my own, I've learnt to “recycle” my limited clothes in any way I can. We are all given a key to the laundry room to wash and dry our clothes. Each of these facilities cost ¥100 each. Hope I'll have time to do the laundry tomorrow, and some room cleaning.

Just before going into the Welcome Bazaar - lots of 2nd hand electrical items and furniture

The best thing that has happened this week must've been the Welcome Bazaar organized by the International Volunteer Club students. I managed to buy 2nd hand items for such cheap prices. I bought a hair dryer, mini heater and a small table for ¥200 each. Other than that, I also got myself a clothes hanger, rubbish bins, laundry basket and some bowls, and all of these cost me less than RM50 in total!

We were one of the first few to be admitted into the hall

Stereo radio going for a song

They are pretty systematic. You'll have to wait outside the hall by 9am to get your queue number. The doors will be opened from 1pm onwards for 10 minutes for each group of 12 people. Since the Malaysian senpai's had a bad experience with some people who cut queue last year, they decided to reach there by 7am this time around. It was raining and the wind didn't help.

Heaters for sale, I got mine for only ¥200!

I got my rice cooker from a neighbour who was buying a new one

But we were rewarded when we got to be the 1st dozen to choose our goods. After 2pm, the hall was opened for everyone to snap up the rest of the items. The only thing I regretted not buying was the microwave oven, and maybe the kotatsu. Where else can you get electrical items in pretty good condition for about 1/10th their original price?

It was a bit faulty, but this laptop managed to be sold at the end of the day

Will write more. Need the sleep. The Malaysian students have organized a get-together in Teradomari, some place by the sea where they're gonna have makan-makan and just chill out with each other. I hope to be better to enjoy it.

first post from nihon - 5 april 2006

Wrote this on my 2nd night in Niigata. Will post up pictures later, once I figure out how to live without Photoshop!

Update 21 Apr : pics attached


It's getting a little better. I thought I was going to die sleeping. It was so cold I shivered and could only pray that God kept me alive throughout the night. All I wanted was my own bed, comforter, and the familiar surroundings of home.

As I lay there curled up in a foetal position in the dark cold night (the temperature outside was about 110 C that time), I wondered if this was the sort of weather that the Japanese had to live with, and how I would be able to live through the rest of my time over here. Imagine if it was this cold in spring, how much colder it would be during winter especially when it's snowing heavily.

Syakir, one of our first Malaysian friends who met us at the International Student Centre did tell us that the aircond in the room could be used as a heater as well. But he didn't tell us how to switch the heater on! I only found out about all these the next morning. Thank God I didn’t end up as a popsicle. God sustained me.

That is only one of the many experiences of God’s assurance that He will take care of me. And this is only the 2nd day.

The other guy came with me to Niigata was still double-minded over whether he should remain in Japan. Alden and I hit it off from the time we first talked on the phone. We were on the phone 2 hours sharing our worries and exchanging notes with each other. As much as I wanted to do this myself, it was still quite assuring that someone else was going through the same thing as I was.

As soon as we reached Narita, we immediately became sponges, absorbing every bit of information and trying to grasp the language as best as we could. JASSO officials met us at the airport and gave us our arrival allowance and our tickets to get to our respective universities. Since our uni was not in Tokyo as most were, we had to board a train from Narita to Tokyo and continue on by shinkansen to Niigata.

I managed to make friends with Paul from Papua New Guinea (who was pleasantly surprised to learn I used to have a penpal from Port Moresby), Farahana from Bangladesh (this young petite lady who was going to pursue her Masters and PhD in dentistry in the same uni, but on the city campus) and Shukri, a fellow Malaysian (who just got married 3 days ago, did his degree in Niigata Uni and was able to tell us horror stories of the many Malaysians who failed the Japanese intensive course).

Hai Feng (I'm just guessing this is the Romanized version of his name from his Chinese characters) met Farahana, Alden and I at the station. On the way to the bus stop, we met some Bangladeshi guys from Niigata Uni. They too were there to meet us, but due to a misunderstanding, they thought they were only meeting 1 person. Since there were 7 of us altogether, Farahana followed her fellow countrymen in their car while Alden and I took the bus with Hai Feng.

We later found out that he was a native Chinese from Harbin. I felt so un-Chinese because not only was my Chinese language half past six, his dialect also was very unfamiliar to us. So even though the 3 of us were Chinese looking, we were like “chicken and duck talk, trying to understand what the other was saying. Well, better than him being a Nihon-jin with our barely-basic Nihon-go!

We went straight to the International Student Centre to register ourselves. There, we were told that our stipend was decreased beginning from April itself. After the long and tiring journey, it was not something we wanted to hear. There goes my weekend trips and shopping for good Japanese cosmetics, heh!

Since our accommodation was arranged prior to our arrival, we had to meet the landlord (or the landlord’s daughter in this case) to get our keys. The room was bigger than expected. We've all heard about how some people have to live in “boxes” in Tokyo, so I was prepared for the worst. Thank God our apartment came equipped with a kitchen and bathroom. The total space is roughly the size of my parents’ master bedroom.

The landlady took us to her house to sign the contract. After hearing that we hadn't eaten since 4am (when we were served breakfast on the plane), they gave us some food to eat. At 3pm, after all the walking and getting used to a foreign environment, food was really Godsend. We've practically used up all our energy in the legs and brains. It was just some Japanese snacks and a cup of instant noodles but what delicious food they were!

Since our room came sparse and unfurnished, we had to go shopping. She was kind enough to drive us around while we get the necessary stuff. Thank God for the arrival allowance. I used that to buy futon, pillow, 2 comforters, cooking pan, instant noodles, bread, butter that comes out from a tube when squeezed, facial tissues, toilet tissues and a bottle of mineral water for the night.

Since she had some errands to run, she dropped us off at our apartment (ours is called Takadaisho). Alden & I walked to the 100-yen shop (Nanjamura) on our own to get more stuff. We decided to share some things because it didn't make sense to spend so much when we were only going to be here for 6 months and IUJ's rooms are furnished.

On the way back, we met Syakir and another Malaysian, Kee, who just arrived from Tokyo after finishing her diploma studies. Thank God Syakir had a car, he brought us to Toku-toku, one of his favourite udon restaurant in the area. Servings were appropriately huge, we needed more food to stave off the cold. Japanese cars are so much cheaper than if they were bought in Malaysian. No wonder some of them can save enough to buy one and send it back home.

Will write more when I can.

Monday, April 10, 2006

greetings from the land of the rising sun

konnichiwa babes ^ hunks,

apologies for the typo, not used to japanese keyboard. the characters are quite different from what im used to.

anyways, thought of dropping a note to let you guys know how things have been. i would really like to write more. in fact, ive been keeping a sorta journal in my own laptop. but because im at a seniors room accessing the internet using his laptop, i have to make do with this.

we had to do our alien registration card so that we can do everything else like our bank account, postal account, phone line, handphone and other important things. guess its just like an IC for foreigners.

for the meantime, i will just link you to aldens blog. hes the other malaysian who came to niigata uni with me. in fact, the pictures that i have in my imagestation are courtesy of him. i will need to get my own camera later. hoping to get a pretty good model soon.

will update more when i can. muakx!