Monday, June 26, 2006

of 100mbps and cute kitties

This is bad. I knew when I got internet connection in my room, I'd be hooked. Just like how I was back in MMU. Having 24-hour connection has been a blessing in many ways, I no longer have to lug my brick of a laptop to the campus in the wee hours of the night just to check my mails and call home.

I can even leave it on while I go to school and not have to worry about missing any messages. I can stream music while I do my work, and one of the bestest thing is I can download erm, stuff with this wonderful speed of 100Mbps. Yes, please go ahead and drool and envy the amazing VDSL technology we have here in Japan. Gosh, I feel so spoilt I'm gonna miss all these when I go back to Malaysia.

Anyways, I must share this bit of thing I learnt about the Nihonjin. One of my neighbours have been keeping a stray cat for some time now. I think the landlord doesn't allow pets, so sometimes my neighbour has to let the cat run out in case the landlord sees it.

Recently the she-cat (I know there must be a proper jargon for this, but for some reason, my ability to think in English has been affected by the intensive studying in Japanese) gave birth to 3 kittens. Said neighbour has no choice but to put a cardboard box just outside our apartments for her pet and the little babies. She leaves some food for them using some styrofoam tray, so this family of 4 have been surviving quite well.

So well that the kitties are looking really fine. My guess is that they are no more than a month old but they are quite big sized already. This week, they have been wandering near the entrance of the apartment. I didn't realise they were so near the gate until I heard some commotion outside my window this afternoon.

I'm staying at the 2nd floor (the Japs call our 1st floor their 2nd floor, therefore ground floor is their 1st floor, & so on) 1st room so I have a good view of the students passing by our area. So I went to the window to see what was happening, and to my surprise, I saw Japanese students oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the little kitties.

So many stopped by to admire the cats and take pictures with their mobile phones. Not just the grrls, but even macho looking guys too. They look like they've never seen kittens before in their lives. The whole afternoon I hear nothing but "Eeeee! Kawaiiii ne!!!" in typical high-pitched Jap voices.

I bet they've never seen chicks before. Wait till they find out that the chicken burger they eat in Mos Burger was once a cute little furry yellow creature who looked just as kawaii as the kittens.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Was watching a Jap guy teach his Korean friend Shogi, Japanese chess. Played by 2 players, the objective of this board game is to capture the opponent's King. Shogi is played on a 9x9 board, each side having 20 pieces each - 1 King, 2 Gold generals, 2 Silver generals, 2 Knights, 2 Lances, 1 Rook, 1 Bishop & 9 Pawns.

Much of the moves is similar to what we all know as the western chess, except for some interesting differences. For example : some of the pieces get promoted to stronger pieces once they reach the opponent's side of the board. Their new ranks are written at the back of the pieces, so the piece is flipped to reflect the change. Promotion, however, is optional, provided that the piece still can make a legal move in case it is not promoted.

Another one is that captured pieces become part of the capturer's force. They can be dropped back onto the board, in an empty square. Pieces are always dropped unpromoted. Meaning, if a promoted piece is captured, it reverts back to its unpromoted rank.

This makes shogi an exciting board game to play. If you're familiar with western chess, it's relatively easy to learn up japanese chess, whose moves are a little varied. Once you are able to recognise the Japanese characters for each piece, you're on your way to enjoying this immensely popular Japanese board game. I even managed to play another type of game with the same board, but only using Pawns. It's called hasami, or scissors. ;)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

homestay programme

We signed up for the Hippo Family Club* programme sometime last month and did not think much about it after that. Homework and projects occupied our time. So when Awamura Sensei messaged us about the briefing, we got excited and started discussing about what we would do with our foster family.

I met my host family, the Ishizuka's last Saturday together with the rest of the foreign students who were also in the programme. The Ishizuka's (石塚)speak very little English and seemed quite shy at first. I later found out that this was the first time their family was joining the homestay programme. But we soon warmed up to each other on the way to their home.

Because we were going to have a Welcome Party that evening, each family had to go home to prepare a meal or two each. After shopping for ingredients, I was promptly brought to their cosy house, where I would be staying for the weekend. They live in a suburban residential area, and apparently, the house cost Yen20million!

And there you have, my pasta salad. I meant to make them on my own someday when I get sick of my current recipes, but since my お母さんfound out that I loved Italian food, I somehow ended up making it for the party that evening. I must admit that most of the food I cook here are first times. A lot of them are self invented recipes, haha!

It must be quite good, even though it was my first attempt, coz あおいちゃん, the daughter loved it! But it is also quite mensiasuikan that I cook better Italian dishes than Malaysia food :p But anyways, after we were done with cooking, off we went to Tenjuen for the party. Passed by the Big Swan, one of the venues for the 2002 World Cup, on the way there.

Each group of family and their foster child had to come up to the front to introduce themselves. The Koreans, making the majority of the group, went up first. This was followed by students from other countries - South Africa, Malaysia, Yemen, Paraguay, Indonesia, Austria, Ivory Coast and Bangladesh. Then it was time for ばんごはん- dinner time!

Then it was time for some entertainment. Each group had to come up with a cultural presentation from their country. The Koreans, being the biggest group had the advantage of discussing with each other, and came up with a nice choir band. Since it was so impromptu, the Malaysians teamed up with the sole Indonesian and sang "Rasa Sayang"!

After an introduction to a traditional Japanese (probably Niigata) dance and some performances by the Japanese children of the various languages they learnt through the Hippo club, it was time to go home. I was looking forward to that because it had been a long day. While chatting with the family, I took the opportunity to gave them a little token of appreciation - a batik souvenir for the parents and a set of batu seremban for the kids.

Before going to bed, I had the most relaxing bath ever. Even though their house was modern, but the way they bathe was relatively traditional - a shower to clean the body, followed by an immersion in the heated bathtub. I so want to take Japanese bathroom technology back to Malaysia!

Breakfast was also quite Japanese - a bowl of rice with grilled salmon, an assortment of pickles (which includes うめぼし,umeboshi - Japanese sour plum), miso soup with mussels (I think!), seaweed, tomatoes, and mayo salad made with the previous night's extra pasta.

We joined another family for a visit to the Northern Cultural Museum. Even though it was not as sophisticated as the Minatopia, the oldness (if there is such a word) and originality of it was really quite charming.

Ironically, the Museum has a modern restaurant which serves hip Western food at a premium price. My lunch was ham and salad for appetizer and carbonara spaghetti! Nice setting and decidedly English, but I think the spaghetti needs to be cooked a little more longer.

The strawberry and vanilla swirl gelato icecream was a nice way to cap off the trip, especially with the balmy cloudy weather that afternoon. It was a nice little visit to the museum, especially for the kids. I got myself a fan in the form of the daughter from the other family coz she also wanted to come send me off home. She was almost in tears when her mother didn't allow at first. :(

But in the end, I got myself 2 foster families sending me back. I sent an email from my phone to thank the Ishizuka's for their hospitality. They were quite elated at getting a hiragana message from me, and told me あおいちゃん cried after I left. Sighs... :)

*a Japanese homestay programme aimed at encouraging cultural exchange between a Japanese family and a foreign student

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

random shots of niigata


ごめんね for the lack of new posts. So much has happened! Need to update and post up tonnes pictures. It can get quite tiring having to upload images, captioning them, and also create stories for my blog. Especially when one is trigger happy and finds much opportunities to snap away in this foreign land. Heh.

Posting up some of those random shots I took while I find time to write proper posts ya. Since the area I'm staying at is akin to PJ's SS17 for the UIA students, there are lots of apartments for students. They have neat looking rooms, or studios as my friend WeiMun aptly calls them, but unfortunately, their attempt to give the apartments an English flavour sometimes end up disastrously.

That is my いんかん or seal which I got from the university's International Support Centre. Japanese use the inkan for all official documents just like how we sign our signature for verification or as proof of identity. When we first arrived in Japan, there was quite a bit of problem because we didn't have an inkan with us. To register for our room, bank account, post office account, etc, we needed the inkan. Thank goodness, some accepted the romaji form of our name.

For those who are familiar with Japanese food, they're all into presentation and display. But I'm not saying they're not delicious though! Like these array of fake food I saw in one of the restaurants in Niigata city, they look good enough to be eaten. I guess it's quite normal to display plastic versions of their food coz even in our uni's cafeteria, they have them as well.

And while I was up in this building, I took the opportunity to go up to the top most floor just to have a view of the city. The place where I live is considered suburban coz there are farms just within walking distance. But about a half an hour's drive away is the city of Niigata, quite a bustling place I must say. Not as ulu as I first thought it to be. They have Isetan and Mistukoshi as well. Beautiful grrly things, but definitely too expensive for me to buy any!

Speaking of which, departmental stores have like 3 floors just for the ladies, as opposed to one each for the ladies, gents, children, and etcetera. I noticed that fashion is a big industry here. Especially for the women. In fact, in Niigata there is an underground shopping plaza called Rosa running across the main area of Furumachi, and they sell nothing but women's clothings and accessories! Shopping haven, eh? Too bad, no money lah. :p

Friday, June 09, 2006

minatopia - 31 may 2006

Our 2nd class trip was to the Niigata City History Museum, also known as Minatopia. Below is an excerpt from the “essay” I had to write as part of the subject requirement. Writing such compositions bring me back to my primary school days where “My Pet”, or “My Holiday”, and such are common topics for writing exercises.





Before entering the museum, our tour guide, Washio-san gave us a brief history of Niigata and the functions of the various buildings in the compound. We were standing in front of the former Daishi Bank, Sumiyoshi-cho branch.

For a seemingly suburban prefecture, the Minatopia boasts an impressive array of display and interactive system to enhance the visitor’s experience.

A miniature model of the Bandai Bridge which spans over the Shinano River, the longest river in Japan. Rivers, and other water elements such as marshes and beaches have long played important roles in the growth and development of Niigata.

Built in 1869, this building is the only surviving Customs House in the 5 ports opened at this time. Designated as a National Important Cultural Property.

The main building was designed based on the original specifications of the second Niigata City Hall, erected in 1911. It is said that Western-inspired buildings built during this period was seen as an attempt to emulate the West and elevate the Japanese in the eyes of the Western world.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

class in the outdoors

Short post. Typing this from my classroom. Got our WLAN password not too long ago, and had to lug this brick-heavy of a laptop to the uni so that I could get online.

Oh, did I tell you that in one of our classes last month, we looked so tired and bored that our sensei took us out?

It was a refreshing change to be outdoors coz it was getting hotter and more humid. Since it was the first period, the air was still fresh, crisp.

We did our listening comprehension exercises under the erm gazebo like thingy. During winter this place looked so dead. Come spring the flowers bloomed and gave life to the campus. But now, they have all wilted and only the leaves remain.

Koketsu sensei is one of our favourite teachers. She's such a loveable motherly figure and so easy to talk to. It's great that she tries to make the class interesting and vary her lessons from time to time. We've even watched Akira Kurosawa's "Dreams" in class too.

Oh well, have to go now. Ta, will update more when I can :)