Thursday, August 31, 2006

selamat hari merdeka!

Ingin ku menyeru "Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!" sepertimana yang dilaungkan oleh Perdana Menteri Malaysia yang pertama 49 tahun dahulu. Agak pelik hendak berbelog dalam Bahasa Malaysia. Sudah lama tidak menulis dalam bahasa kebangsaan. Rasa-rasanya, sudah hampir 10 tahun!

Apa yang lagi pelik adalah perasaan cinta terhadap negara kelahiran saya. Mungkin bila berada jauh dari negara, perasaan rindu itu bertambah kuat. Sebelum ini, tidak pernah rasa hendak menyambut Hari Merdeka, tetapi malam semalam sibuk memikirkan macam mana boleh menunjukkan taat setia pada negara sendiri.

Kira-kira 2 bulan dahulu, mak ada kirimkan inti sambal bersama-sama dengan teh-teh herba Cina. Mungkin nanti kalau boleh dapatkan santan, hendak cuba masak nasi lemak! Sudah berbulan-bulan tidak menyapa sarapan pagi yang begitu sedap, betul-betul rindukan rasanya.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

3 weddings and 1 funeral

A mixed bag of news came in this week :

- CF friend who got married last year is now pregnant! :)

- ex-colleague who also got married last year is now filing for divorce :/

- close friend proposed to his girlfriend just over the weekend \0/

- another CF friend got an EU scholarship to do her Masters :0)

Well, since the good outweighed the bad, I should be thankful!

And today, like many recent Tuesdays, I had a little music practice with Ps Trish at Grace Chapel. If you were to hear us from outside, it doesn't sound much, but the fellowship and time of edification has been so good to me. Spiritual nourishment. Just what I needed.

Did I tell you I've had the wonderful pleasure of playing for one of their services last month? I know I've been a little rusty after many months of not being in tune. But I just wanna thank God for that opportunity to be able to use what He's blessed me with, whatever little talents or skills I have.

It was quite scary though since I was the only musician. No guitars or drums to hide my flaws, heh. And it was a on a baby grand too! What a privilege to be able to serve the King of Kings. :)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

akihabara, ueno, shinjuku, harajuku

How do I begin my Tokyo traipse tales? Should I do it chronologically, day by day account of my adventures or should I just pick out photos and tell you what I found interesting during my 1 week there? I think the latter would give you a better picture of what made my stay memorable.

I've heard all about the maid mania among Japanese otaku's and wanted to see if I can find a cafe where waitresses dress up in frilly costumes and greet you as their masters. Apprently, they greet their customers as "Sir" or "Miss" and even kneel down while taking orders. I suppose the majority of the otaku's come in for their fix of gratification while the rest of us check them out out of curiousity.

I didn't manage to find those much-talked about cafes, but I did bump into one of the waitresses who looked like a promoter standing just outside the Akihabara station. She was talking to a suited man when I found her, and thought she might only be interested in chatting up guys. So I was quite delighted she was very obliging when I asked for a photo with her.

After getting my Fujufilm 1GB xD card, I decided to check out Ueno, one of the few places in Tokyo where elements of the old Shitamachi can still be found. The only highlight of Ueno must've been the Ueno Koen. According to my Lonely Planet Japan guidebook, a large population of Tokyo's homeless fill up most of the available space in this park. They're characterised by their blue tents and shoes neatly lined up outside their, er, homes.

Other than the many galleries and museums that make the Ueno Koen a must-go, Ueno is also noted for the Ameya-yokocho Arcade. It's like our "pasar malam" where shopkeepers are not as abashed as their counterparts in the rest of Tokyo, ostentatiously promoting their wares and foodstuff.

I saw everything I needed to make myself some homely food. Pastes from familiar foods - laksa, sambal, curry, soto and some others from South East Asian nations. The rest of the ingredients almost made my mouth water as I tried to recall when was the last time I had my daily "nasi lemak" from the "makcik kantin" downstairs. Since they were all so pricey, I had to contend myself with some bihun and tom yam paste, all for Y600!

Almost every tourist guide I read tells me that if I only have a day to explore Tokyo, I should not skip Shinjuku. Everything modern and bustling can be found here, and if you're a shopping freak, you will love Shinjuku and what its shopping complexes offer. I checked out Takashimaya, an upmarket departmental store just a stone's throw from the very busy Shinjuku station.

The very little that I remembered from my Basic Econs class was that demand drives supply. Here in the land of the rising sun, the Japanese ladies' love for fashion and all things beautiful must've drove stores to dedicate up to 6 floors for women's clothing and accessories. And I thought the 3 floors in Mitsukoshi Niigata was amazing back then. Even the attire for matured ladies and pregnant mummies look so stylish.

Since I couldn't make it for Harajuku on a Sunday where Tokyo teens come out and play dress up, I could still visit its Meiji-jingu, built in memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, during whose rule Japan opened itself to the outside world. The shrine was built using Japanese cypress and supposedly boasts Japan's tallest wooden torii gate.

The Japanese may not profess to being religious, but they visit shrines on important events such as New Year's Day and there are many of such places of worship dotted all across Japan. Most of these have a little hut selling charms to bring luck to lovers, success to businesses and good results to students aiming to do well in schools.

Since it was so hot and humid, I had to cut my stay at Harajuku short. But a little peek at Omotesando gave me an insight into this shopping street which was coined as "the closest Tokyo gets to Paris", with its selection of alfresco cafes and branded boutiques. Japanese youth also "lepak" la, not just Malaysians, and they dress in even ahem, fancier garments as compared to our "pemuda-pemudi". So there was no cause for panic, as demonstrated by our caring governtment back in the 90's. Heh.

pasar malam - night market
nasi lemak - coconut milk infused rice with condiments such as cucumber, peanuts, fried anchovies, boiled egg and spicy sauce
makcik kantin - canteen lady selling food
lepak - loiter
pemuda-pemudi - youth

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

care for orange-scented eggs, anyone?

I just had to do it. Pull the plug. Now my fridge's officially dead.

It was kinda dying on me for some time already. At first I thought it was the summer heat. The ice was melting off from the walls of the freezer. Then, the lower section was still doing fine.

The week after that, I noticed that the ice was also slowly thinning away. I played around with the temperature knob, not knowing what the kanji characters meant. There was only one which looked familiar, 中, and that was a no-brainer considering it was printed in between 2 other characters on each side.

But after much twiddling to see how each would affect my fridge, it still didn't work. By the end of the previous week, I knew it was hopeless. I had to throw out a lot of my food - ikan bilis, onions, chicken, ginger... There went my lunch. I had to resort to buying food from the nearest convenience store. Fried chicken for Y105 is quite ok hor.

Some of the other stuff which I could salvage were quickly transported to my friend's fridge - butter, mayo, wine vinegar (or something that reads like that), cheese, and my precious oyster sauce.

Lo and behold, when I came back from Tokyo on Sunday, the fridge not only kaput-ed but turned into a heater instead. The remaining stuff sorta got steamed inside. I only knew how bad it was when I got really hungry and had no choice but to cook one of the eggs for supper.

Guess wat? I just unintentionally invented orange-scented eggs. The citrusy aroma of the orange seeped into the eggs over the period of 1 week. The egg didn't taste like orange, but it did smell like one! Thank God I'm still alive.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Got back home from Tokyo about 8pm last night. It was a very tiring but excellent trip. It wasn't the type of break I was looking for since I did a lot of walking and figuring out the complex rail system which I've come to call the colourful mass of spaghetti which makes up the ultra efficient integrated public transport system in Tokyo.

I did a bit of everything in Tokyo. The old and venerable looking shrines and temples, beautiful serene parks, modern and futuristic looking buildings and window shopping around the branded boutiques sprawled in hip areas of the city. So one can actually experience the contrast that makes the Japanese capital so fascinating without going through the whole of Japan.

Will update more. Hv to go back to class now, lunch time's over. Yes we still have extra classes even though we've done our finals. Ja ne!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

traipsing around tokyo

Typing this in Tokyo. Since I'm using a friend's laptop, won't be able to update as much and post up pictures. But it's been pretty fun so far. Stepping out of the bus at the Ikebukuro station on Monday afternoon was like stepping into a different land altogether. You still see Asian people and unrecognisable kanji characters but the atmosphere was just different.

The hectic life of the city, billboards and colourful advertisements plastered across buildings. Japanese people in an assortment of clothing, ranging from the suit and tie salaryman, to the bleached hair teenager in miniskirt and tank top, and not forgetting American-wannabe Japanese in loose sleeveless and baggy pants. Everyone seemed to be hurrying somewhere with some sort of destination in mind.

Such a stark contract from the little place called Niigata where I came from just some 5 hours before. I could already imagine what the rest of Tokyo must be like.

I came here with no itinerary in mind, deciding just to catch up with friends and fit in the rest of the places as they come. So far I've been to Akihabara and Ueno on Tuesday. Planning to do Shinjuku, Shibuya and Harajuku today (if the weather permits), will be meeting up with a Malaysian senior at Roppongi and Jaime's Jap friend tomorrow near Ikebukuro and do Friday brunch with a fellow Malaysian who came to Japan on the same flight.

As for the weekend, my Japanese prof from MMU has kindly offered to host me at his place. He has even lined up some places to visit so that I can see Yokosuka, Yokohama and maybe Asakusa. Am looking forward to catching up with him and his wife. Think that would be a nice way to cap off this Tokyo trip.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

it's the end already?

The culmination of everything I've gone through seemed to have ended this week with a series of various activities.

Sunday - Japanese presentation at Next21, one of the tallest buildings in Niigata city. It went pretty well, I must say. Much thanks to my supportive friends who showed up and asked me questions that I gave them beforehand, heh. Even though I planted my own questions, I didn't expect the audience to laugh at my answers. Oh well, at least I entertained them.

Monday - joined the people at Grace Chapel for a picnic at the beach in Uchino. It was mainly the guys from my cellgroup (Emiko, Gene, Rey, Hiro, Nobu) and Akiko who cooked excellent Sri Lankan curry. After the stress of preparing for the speech, the outing at the beach was a well deserved rest. We ended up lying on the beach gazing at stars while we tried to come up with poems about the sea in Japanese.

Tuesday - Niigata Matsuri. Joined the throngs of people in doing the Jinku dance over the Bandai bridge. There's always some sort of festival or reason to celebrate at any one of the prefectures in Japan. During summer, it's common to see Japanese wear the yukata, summer kimono. It's less elaborate than the traditional kimono which has multiple layers and more intricate designs on gorgeous material. I got some help wearing the yukata and later joined everyone in practicing this simple traditional Niigata dance.

Wednesday & Thursday - Class trip around the Niigata prefecture. We were quite disappointed that it was only the Luckywood silver cutlery factory (official supplier for the Nobel Prize Ceremony dinner), Kashiwazaki Nuclear Power Plant, Yukidaruma Zaidan where we learnt about snow energy, and the artistic looking Nagaoka History Museum.

Some of the previous batches got to go to Hiroshima on the 6th atomic bomb memorial day. Apparently budgets were tight and we could only afford to have educational trips around the prefecture. But I personally liked the stay at the Inakaya inn, which was formerly a school in this hilly area. The dinner was so elaborate it felt like we were having a buffet spread (The pic below is of the breakfast tho). I must've gained another kg from all that stuffing. Speaking of which, I've gained about 5kg since coming to Japan!

Friday - Final exams. It's strange how they arranged our schedule in such a way that we have a class trip just before the finals. Maybe they don't want us to feel stressed out before the paper. Either that or my senseis have a wicked sense of humour. I could've done better, but after the trip I was just too tired to really study. But all in all, I'm just glad it's over. Still, can't believe we've already done 5 months of Japanese. So fast already?

That's probably the reason why I'm still up at 3:40am typing this. The sky will start getting bright in about half an hour's time. Hmm, I'm quite tempted to walk to the beach to watch the sun rise...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

dorian, tats wat they call 'em here

One of my blog reader was wondering the price of durian in Japan. I just remember that I did take a shot of this while passing by a fruit & vege shop in Osaka 2 weekends ago.

Yes, durians are dearer than watermelons. Lemme see if I can find an even more expensive fruit than the durian here. Then I'll post it up for you to see ya.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Have a Japanese speech tomorrow morning at a public hall. Members of the public are invited to watch us make fools of ourselves give a presentation on a topic of our choice, following which they can comment and ask questions in Japanese.

I can't say I'm looking forward to giving a speech in Japanese, whatmore standing up on the stage and let the spotlight melt my makeup away while I attempt to understand what I myself am saying!

Anyways, here is an excerpt of my speech. You may be able to understand it better than I do coz I had some help translating what I wanted to convey. Oh well, all the best to me. Maybe I'll start speaking in tongues and hope they come across as Japanese. Ganbatte!

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

suika, that's wat they call 'em here

Did I tell you that vegetables and fruits are freakin' expensive in Japan? For example, I bought 6 apples for about Y598 (RM19) the other day. A regular size (something like the size of a football) watermelon costs around Y1,000 at the local supermarket. That's equivalent to about RM32. I forgot, how much do they cost back in Malaysia??

When Alden shared this slice of watermelon with me (which was given by his host family), I felt like I was eating gold. Had to savour each morsel carefully and not waste even the seeds :p

So when I saw a smaller one at the groceries for only Y210, I just had to buy it. Nevermind that I could've had a meal for the price, watermelon is a must during summer!