Sunday, July 30, 2006

goodbye already?

Poy, together with Becca & Ben, received roses from Grace Chapel as part of their farewell gifts

Saying goodbye is never easy, not even if you have to go through it as often as I do. This morning we sent Poy off back to the Philippines. We had a farewell dinner for him at Emiko's the night before. It was really fun being with the guys from cell group. I always feel that I can be myself and not having to worry if I will be judged for being less than perfect.

Gene & Rey, the other 2 Filipino guys whose personalities have made the cell group a fun place to be

It was a good time of fellowship, even though everyone looked so gloomy at first. But when we started eating and tummies got filled, it was like a normal cell gathering. I cooked my special chicken (though I can't say if it's truly Malaysian coz I created this recipe in Japan!) and my all time favourite - potato salad. The Filipinos made meatballs and Emiko prepared okonomiyake.

Okonomiyake - a type of Japanese pancake where almost anything goes. Here, soba is cooked with prawn & vege batter, topped with egg, some oyster saucish sauce, oodles of mayo, dried fish and pickles

Soon, it was time for us to give our little speeches to Poy - special memories and words of encouragement. Even though I probably knew him the shortest, I still had to control myself from tearing up. Listening to the rest share their stories gave me an insight to the guy who left an impact in their lives. I wished time would just slow down then.

The banana chocolate cake Emiko made for Poy. Apparently, one of her best creations so far. Without a doubt, I must say!

Like the rest, I hope that our paths will cross soon. After all, Philippines is just next door to Malaysia. I pray for God's continued blessings and protection over your life as you start afresh in your home country. As for the rest of us, it's back to reality as we go back to classes and labs tomorrow. But this I can be assured of, even though physical distance separates us, it is God's love that binds and brings us together.

Miss you lots! sniff sniff...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

the one with the whirwind tour

Whew! Just got back from a whirwind tour of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto over the weekend. We had the Umi No Hi ("Sea Day") holiday on Monday, and decided quite spontaneously to go for a trip down south.

Going there with somewhat minimal expectations, the trip turned out to be really fruitful as we had glimpses of what these 3 cities have to offer, and I must say, I came back really impressed. Now Niigata looks drab in comparison hahahah!

Taking the bullet train down cut down travelling time by half, but made up half of our expenses. Nevertheless, taking the shinkansen is all about buying time.

I know, I havent even finished my Aizu Wakamatsu post, and now I have more things to write! :p Anyways, here's a shot I took of a grrl in kimono doing her nails in the train. It's quite common to see Jap grrls groom themselves (check their hair, put on make up, look at the mirror) in public places such as these.

Poor thing, she must've took a lot of effort painting her nails coz she fell asleep shortly after that. I hope she doesn't stumble upon my blog and find out about this!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

weekend rendezvous to aizu (1,2)

Upon reaching Aizu Wakamatsu in the neighbouring prefecture of Fukushima, we got tickets for the Classic Town Bus which would take us around the city for our tour.

First stop - Tenraku, one of Aizu's most famous confectionery shop selling rice cake products. We had a variety of konnyaku, omochi, and shingorou, chargrilled (?) and slathered with yummy sweet salty sauce.

Nx up : Tsurugajo Castle, built in 1591 and declared a national historical site in 1934. In 1868, during the Boshin Civil War, in which the imperial army fought the Tokugawa Shogunate regime, the castle was attacked by troops of the new government who were for the Meiji Restoration.

The rebuilt castle tower serves as a local history museum and observatory platform. Interesting bits include history of warrior culture, arts of the time, the Boshin Civil War and portraits of the last lord Matsudaira Katamori and the Byakkotai's. Tried on a regal looking kimono, but sadly don't look too much like a Japanese princess :p

We walked across the Roukabashi Takaishigaki collapsible bridge to the Fukushima Museum , which was opened in 1986. Pretty comprehensive with separate exhbition rooms depicting Folk Culture, Natural History, Archaelogy and History and Historical Art in Fukushima. With dimly light halls and state of the art display models, they even have museum staff stationed at each corner to look pretty to guard against vandalism. Even though we only had about 5 mins left to the nx bus, we quickly tried on some ancient looking kimono, I looked more like a maid compared to Farhana whose kimono looked quite Korean.

We went to the Oyakuen Garden, I imagine it would be more beautiful at spring or autumn. In fact, most of the places in Japan look beautiful with each change in season. In summer, however, they just look "normal". Spring, you have the cherry blossoms dotting the place with pink and fluff. Golden brown and reddish tints symbolises autumn and come winter, the whole place is covered with a blanket of snow.

Our last stop was the

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

living the aizu life

Wondering what I've been up to last weekend?

Friday, July 07, 2006


Even though our scholarship states that we have to do a 6-month intensive language course, the actual fact is we're only learning Japanese for about 5 months or so. We started classes in April, but will be having our last few lessons next month.

With that, we have a few farewells too. I will be leaving this place to start my Masters course in Urasa, a much smaller town than Niigata-shi. It's so small I should call it a village. But it's probably one of the few villages that the shinkansen (bullet train) stops at.

I've grown close to the guys at church, we've had lots of fun and I wonder whether I'll be able to find a similar kind of fellowship in Urasa. It was already so difficult for me to find a suitable church here at first, whatwith the JW fiasco in the beginning. It did make for a good story to share to folks at home though. :D

Poypoy, one of the Filipino guys from church will be going back to Mindanao 30th this month. Barely 2 days before that, Becca, the American pastor's daughter is scheduled to fly to the States to start her undergrad studies in medicine. Emiko, who's been with the Doulous around the world is preparing for her next phase in life in Korea where she will be working with OM.

My life is so full of goodbyes. Because of my father's job with the government, we have had to uproot the family and settle down in a different state every few years. I used to hate it because of all the farewells and starting all over again. But on hindsight, I'm glad I went through all that. Because of all the different cultures I had to accustom myself to, I'm able to better relate to people and appreciate the colourful facets of each culture.

Goodbyes are inevitable in life. I thought with each goodbye, I'd get more immune. But to make myself invulnerable, I'd have to harden my heart and pretend it wasn't so painful. Mmm, I think I'd rather just live life as it is, with all the pains and joys.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

of fireflies and cha han

First up - a birthday shoutout to Nick who's celebrating his 30th birthday in Mongolia. His MSN mesg reads - Life begins at 30! May God's grace and love fill your days throughout the rest of this year, and have a blast in Ulaanbaator ya :)

It's getting a li'l busier here. More homework, assignments, reports and presentations. But in between, I try to find the time to enjoy life here in Niigata. Like last Sunday we went on an impromptu trip to Maki, 30 minutes drive from Ikarashi to catch hotaru (fireflies).

We heard it was off peak season, but I thought we should still give it a try. Even though the winds were blowing fiercely, I managed to convince them to just go for a road trip, if nothing comes out of it in the end. Heh.

As we were driving there after church, we started getting excited and talked about where to have our dinner. Hiro-san called some friends and managed to get some info about a particularly good ramen restaurant in the area.

After parking at an onsen resort, we alighted and walked towards the hills where the fireflies were supposed to be seen. It was about 8pm and still very windy, we were half expecting to see the blinking insects. Seeing some people standing near the bridge kinda raised our hopes a little.

Boy, were we delighted to find not more than 10 fireflies flying about in the dark. True enough, it was off peak, but our efforts were rewarded when we saw the last few of the fireflies blinking away sporadically in the river banks.

As the fireflies diminished into the night, we went off for dinner. But alas, the restaurant that we wanted to go to closed early. So we went around searching for an alternative. Being a small town, Maki did not have much to offer, especially at that hour. We finally decided on the next available restaurant along the road because we were quite hungry already.

To my joy, it was a little Japanese shop serving Chinese food. Even the pictures in the menu looked tantalising. I was a little suspicious at first, but later found out that the Japanese loved certain Chinese dishes, and "cha han" (fried rice) is apparently a firm favourite!

This was definitely better than any of the upscale Western restaurants I've been to in Niigata, and most likely because it was unpretentious and cosy. You didn't have to dress up to come here and you can chat with the waitress while she takes your order. I'd definitely recommend this place, if only I knew how to get here in the first place!

We all agreed that even though the trip didn't turn out as expected, it was a blessing in disguise. The fireflies could have disappeared by now even as I write this, and the restaurant that we initially wanted to go might have paled in comparison with the one we ate at. It was definitely a little treat for us on a Sunday evening. Sometimes we get more than we ask for when we do not expect anything in return.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

culture workshop - 25 jun 2006

I signed up for a cultural workshop organised by the Niigata International Friendship Center last weekend. With 7 aspects of the Japanese culture on offer, I thought what better way to have a glimpse of them than to go for this workshop.

The karate class was my first, we were given a mini lesson on what karate was, and some introduction into kihon (basic motion), kata (forms or patterns) and kumite (sparring). Since I took up a bit of taekwondo back uni, I was able to appreciate karate better. There was an instance where the instructor asked us to empty our mind of any thoughts. Knowing how spiritually risky that would be, I refrained from doing so, but instead prayed for wisdom.

Next was the tea ceremony. I've heard so much about the Japanese tea ceremony and was glad I understood some of the rites surrounding it. For example, it's usually held to commemorate a special ocassion, and the room will be decorated with Japanese calligraphy and and arrangement of ikebana. I learnt also to torture my legs sit properly while appreciating the porcelain ware that is used for the tea.

After seeing some of the participants strutting around in their yukata (summer kimono), I decided I too want to enjoy the rest of the workshop in my own kimono too. I was delighted to find that I could even take back my yukata. Wearing the yukata itself ain't that difficult, but tying the obi (sash) can be quite a feat since it's thick. We were asked to do it ourselves with some help from the instructor, I hope I can still remember how to wear my own kimono later!

I went upstairs for the next workshop - chigiri-e, the art of making a collage out of torn paper. Washi, Japanese handmade paper is used for this craft, which resembles a painting from a far. Each shape is carefully traced and torn, and then pasted to create the collage. This art is unique since the handmade paper used is far more expensive and durable than machine made paper, and requires high skill to make. So mnuch so that the Japanese handmade paper craftsmen are designated as the nation's human treasure.

My last workshop was calligraphy. Wished I had more time to also go for ikebana and soba making but I had church service that evening. I only managed to do the kanji for yume (dream), painted them on 2 postcards to bring back as souvenirs. Although we were introduced to calligraphy in class, I learnt abit more on how to perfect my strokes. I wonder if me being a lefthander has some bearing to how the strokes come out.

Overall, it was an educational workshop, am beginning to get a taste of the different facets of the Japanese culture and the concepts behind some rituals. Moreover, I only paid Y500 for everything. Yasui ne!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

summer's a coming

July already? Can't believe I'm entering into my 4th month here in Japan. Time really flies when one is enjoying himself studying, eh?

It's getting a little warm up here, and I was told it's not even summer yet. Gosh. Very much similar to Malaysian weather, but still the heat is so that the skin dries up easily even though its hot and humid. Maybe becoz we're nearer to the sun.

Last week I saw some students lying outside the cafeteria near a verandah like area. It was hot but the place was shaded. This week, 2 guys lay semi naked offering their bodies to the sun god. They're either aiming for a half tan or trying to see whether they can bake their brains in that kind of heat!

Can't wait to see what these people will do next. I learn new things about the Nihonjin every week :D