Wednesday, October 31, 2007

more reachable? less privacy is more like it!

I got a new toy today! :D

Guess which colour I chose? Hint : This is for company use only!

And I was just telling my colleague that now I feel like those very important people who carry more than 1 mobile phone with them!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

where can i get authentic nasi lemak in tokyo?

I was just commenting to my Singaporean colleague in Singapore* that I was craving for Malaysian food. Nasi lemak, which used to be a staple for breakfast at my previous workplace tops the list of food that I wish I could get here in Tokyo.

So he sent me some links. I don't know whether he thought he could satisfy my cravings this way, but I almost cried because I can only see the pictures, watch the video and listen to the podcast, but not have the real deal!

* Lest there be confusion over whether he's a Japanese based in Singapore or Singaporean colleague working here in Japan

Monday, October 29, 2007

a thanksgiving to God

I thought of writing this last weekend, to commemorate my 1 month here since I came back from Malaysia. Then I thought, sounds a bit weird, maybe I should write about my 1 month at work, but that should be on the 31st. But being in the middle of the week and having an important meeting with a major toy supplier might disrupt that plan altogether. So I thought, I'll just write it now since I'm in the mood to.

I've been having many thoughts about staying back in Japan after my graduation. There were so many issues to sort, things to consider and more reasons for me to go home instead. It would have just been so much easier to pack everything and send them all home. But because I had indefinite plans and no permanent place in Tokyo then, I had to sort out my boxes according to which I'd need immediately, which I might need but could always afford to give away in case I don't stay on in Japan, and which I don't really need but can always send home anytime after. Altogether I had 7 boxes and 2 luggage bags.

And then there was the housing thing which I mentioned before. Getting a nice accomodation in Tokyo is one of the biggest worry for a foreigner. Not necessarily because of the rent - if you choose to save on rent, you can always live further from the central metropolitan area and commute longer. But because of the multiple fees that go into renting a place of your own. A regular "package" could typically consist of 2 months deposit (maybe 0.5-1 refundable), 1-2 months key money (this is not refundable as it's considered a gift to the landlord) and commission to housing agent, which could add up to half a million yen in upfront payment.

Well, some landlords are nice and don't require so much, but a friend who graduated at the same time as me had to pay that much. He didn't have a guarantor (for new foreigners it would be difficult to get a Japanese who is willing to stand in for you) so he had to pay a company for insurance to be his guarantor instead. And then the apartment doesn't come with anything most of the time. So on top of that half a million yen, you will have to shell out more for furniture, electrical appliances, Internet and not forgetting the utilities as well.

For me, I don't even know whether I'll be staying here long term. If it was like say, 3 years, then maybe that would have been an investment. But for shorter term stays like 1 year and less, it's better to stay in a guest house. But the one I'm staying at, many of us have no doubt they rip foreigners off just because they're the most famous one around. Even though everything is included and you just pay monthly rental (plus a partially refundable deposit) it's still not worth it. But being a foreigner and with little choice, you just have to spend.

Of course these and many other things were a constant worry playing around in my head then. There were times when I just wish I could pack up and fly home - that would have caused all these to vanish immediately. No more scratching my head and getting frustrated at the complexity of my life at that point of time. And also, I was living on my savings and was trying to save as much as possible. Unfortunately some people I regarded as friends turned out to be otherwise. But, the amazing thing is, the people I hardly knew, turned out to be the most generous of all - like the French couple I was staying with.

Many of you who have been following my blog especially since I came to Japan would think life was a bed of roses. Lots of stories about the fun I had travelling and trying out new stuff in Japan. Well, yes, I did enjoy myself, and that was while I was a student on a scholarship, and in Niigata. Tokyo is quite a different world altogether. I have to admit, it's like I just came to Japan for the first time, that's how different it is. Niigata is considered by Japanese as the backwater, and it's like studying in UUM for those in Malaysia. Ulu and in the middle of nowhere.

So when I came to Tokyo, I had to get adapted to the bright lights, flashing neon, constant whirl of activity, rush and push everywhere, bustling crowds and packed spaces. I missed having a car and the ability to just go anywhere anytime. I missed the open spaces of the rice fields surrounding our campus. I missed seeing the mountains and breathing fresh air every morning. I missed the little community I called home for the past year. It was just so different in the metropolitan. I felt so tiny, and for the first time in my life, never felt so poor as I did then. I saw many things I wish I could buy and enjoy but know that they were not just too expensive, but not worth the money anyways.

So the trip home was a breather, a much welcomed one. I had plenty of good rest, plenty of time with God, plenty of time to think. Truth be told, even though I was trapped in the madness of Tokyo, at least I was forced to really talk to God admist that craziness. Because I had limited funds, I didn't allow myself to go out so much or hung out with friends. I literally had no one, and nothing. So it was in a sense, easier to have to depend on God for everything. Despite the initial plan to be away from that madness at home, I had many people calling to meet up with me. Again, I didn't tell everyone as I intended to spend as much time with my family as possible. I did, this time and am glad that I also managed to cook for them too.

However, because of the constant whirl of activity and everyone wanting to catch up and get a piece of me, I was distracted. From what I had come back for. I did manage to do a lot of meditating and journaling in the beginning but as news spread that I was in town, I had to say no to many invitations. During the last 2 days I was booked from breakfast to supper. I am not complaining about having many friends who care about me, missed me and want to see me again. On the contrary! The whole thing was just so ironic! :)

As I boarded the plane after 10 days at home, I was still unsure of whether it was the right choice. I wondered if this would be an expensive mistake and everything would have been in vain. Even when the plane was already moving, I had a last minute call from Ps Adam whom I wanted to meet up but couldn't. There was just too much to catch up in that precious little 10 minutes, as I tried to squeeze as much words as possible, all the time with the air stewardess warning me about using my handphone while it was about to take off!

I arrived Tokyo that evening feeling weary. Feeling that I had come back to the madness with no sure destination. With no certainty that I was supposed to be here. But as the days went by, I got occupied with work with its crazy hours and feeling my way around, it didn't feel so bad. Not merely because adapting to a new place takes time, but because I'm more sure that perhaps this is where I will be for at least a bit more. I can't say for how long, but Bro Ong advised me to take stock every quarter and evaluate on the situation. Speaking of which, I was glad too for the appointment I made with him. The one Eewei described as an ah pek with big nose and glasses. But Bro Ong is another story for another day.

But I guess after the long story above, I just want to thank God for all that He has brought me through. I may have an idea how I ended up here, and why God allowed me to go through certain things. But what I am looking now is from here where do I go? I'm beginning to accept that certain things cannot be explained in the now, and I will just have to trust in His guiding light. But what I can say for sure is because of the "suffering" I went through last month, I am better at appreciating His goodness and grace this month.

If I can't understand the why's of the past, at least I've gained certain things. Because I've stayed in so many different places back then, I'm quite familiar with certain spots within Tokyo. Because I've lived out of my suitcase for that period, I've learned to live with what is necessary and appreciate the little blessings that come my way. Because I was in trouble, I know who my true friends are. Because I tasted bitterness, God's goodness has never tasted sweeter.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

pwetty papers

I found a paper and stationery shop near where I stay. It's in fact opposite the co-op where I do my groceries. I only bumped into it recently when I was bored of working at home and realised that they only opened from 10am-6pm. No wonder when I do my groceries I've never noticed it before!

I was naturally pleasantly delighted. Since I've just moved in and started to get to know Tokyo, and everything's expensive, this little shop was like a dream. They were trying to get rid of old stock and were selling some items at a discount. So the stuff that I usually use back home, like wrapping paper, special recycled paper, those with nice texture, coloured papers, cards and notebooks, origami paper and stamping pads - they were all sold here!

Since I stepped out of the house with the intention of just taking a walk, I hadn't brought my purse with me. And I had just seen a stack of Christmas cards going for cheap! These were from Hallmark and were sold at 10 pieces for only Y1000! So I told myself I'd have to come back the next day.

Unfortunately, when I came back, the cards had a different pricing already. It was sold per piece at a discount. I think they realised there was more value to it than what they thought initially. But anyways, I picked a few which looked really good, and felt really pleased coz now I had good cards to send back home. The year before, I was stuck in Niigata and they didn't have such a good selection, most were either with Santa Claus or some Japanised version of a Christmas card.

Just a few days ago, I went back there again. I didn't want to buy so much at one go so that I'll always have something to look forward to. This time I spent most of my time near the entrance where they were selling Hallmark writing stationery. I've never seen so many choices of cute Japanese writing paper, postcards, envelopes and cards before!

So one of the ones that I bought was this postcard set with stickers where you can DIY according to the instructions included. It ain't that difficult actually, but it was quite fun figuring out which sticker had to be stuck first. In the end I get this 3D effect which is quite cool, considering it wasn't normal sticker, but those like Japanese textured ones.

When I first saw that I had to buy 12 of any to entitle myself to the discount, I thought no way, maybe I'll just get 6, and even that was quite a lot. People hardly write letters or postcards anymore. These might just go to waste. But after trying out and seeing how pretty these stuff really were, I'm now thinking of going back there to get more! I still have a few days more before I shift to Edogawabashi.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

the housemates i have

When staying in a guesthouse together with about 9 others, you are bound to have to share the kitchen and dining table together with the rest at some point or another. The one that I'm staying at, well, most of them cook, some of them buy off food from the convenience store. So there are times where I will be sharing cooking/eating space with them.

I've realised there were many times when the person who's already sitting at the table leaves without wiping off the crumbs that his/her mouth didn't quite catch. Or the person who cooked just never bothered to wash the pot but leaves the remaining food in there with the spatula and all. So when the next person comes to the kitchen, wanting to either cook his/her food or sit down at the table while I am there, he/she will see the mess and leftover. And think I did it.

Example : During my 1st week here, I tried to cook my 1st meal. The grrl before me had just finished eating and was washing her utensils. As she tried to do so, she complained that the previous person had clogged up the sink and did not bother to throw away the leftover into the rubbish bin. So in her upset mode, she took a knife and started digging out the food which was the source of the problem to allow the water to run.

I was already eating when she was doing this, and did not bother to see what treasure she had dug up since I did not want it to spoil my appetite. After mumbling to herself (and probably to me) about how dirty some people where, she left and went back to her room.

So while I was happily savouring my 1st meal, some other grrls from my floor came and wanted to cook as well. They took one look at the sink and the first question they asked me was if someone had puked in the kitchen sink. Maybe out of politeness, but I'm not surprised if they thought I had something to do with it!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

3 meetings? bring it on :p

I survived 3 meetings today, 3 clients at 3 different places. What a day it has been - my poor feet had to suffer so much!

The first was probably one of our worst clients because they had so many demands and changes, and still blamed us for the delay. I had to make a long list of changes to be done to their site, and it doesn't seem likely that we'll be able to launch their site by the end of this week. The only good thing was at the end, they gave us a bag of muffins as a token of appreciation.

The second was a pleasant change compared to the earlier one as the client was quite amicable. I had a brilliant idea which the boss liked and concurred, and we brought it up to the client who seemed to be really excited at it. He said he would definitely bring it up to the management and we had quite a bit of fun expanding on our idea and hopefully, they buy it.

The last one was a potential client which needed some help in branding and image. The first 15 minutes was a blur to me, especially after such a long day of walking and being out. However, once we started discussing about what we cold potentially do for them, my brains started whirring and I managed to speak up and give some constructive ideas for them.

Despite the long day, I felt rather pleased at myself as I took a slow walk from the station back home. I thank God again for the opportunity to be here. It's days like these that make all the efforts worth it. Even if I'm dead tired and all I want is a good body massage and a visit to the hot springs!

Monday, October 22, 2007

wasn't that bad

I survived my 1st meeting with one of our clients this morning! I've had email contacts with them since my 1st week here, and I could only imagine how they looked. They sounded quite nice in emails, and true enough they were the same real life. The Manager, as most real managers, looked busy but stayed enough to make sure most of the important things were settled. He left halfway through the meeting and left his staff to deal with us.

Compared to emails, more things were brought up at the meeting. More than 1 week worth of emails I suppose. I'm quite happy with that, even though that meant I end up having to follow up on them. That means they're trying to make the most out of our time there, and ensure that whatever that cannot be communicated through emails get conveyed properly.

I was about done with getting our tech guys to handle the issues they brought up until my boss called me up and updated me about what to do for tomorrow's meetings. All 3 of them! 1 hour just before I officially stop working :p How exciting. And I also realised that all of these clients come from different industries - finance, food, real estate and software.

On the phone, my boss was encouraging me to come up with ideas to sell to the clients. He has all these fantastic things that he wants to be able to do for the client, and he shares them with me. It's amazing how easy it rubs off on me, and I start dreaming about those ideas as well. Even while talking, my head was forming flash animations and the possibilities that we can go with the client.

So even though it's been quite a tough journey so far, and it's a steep learning curve, but I'm learning lots.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

dying to scratch

I'm not sure if it's just me, but I think the change in season has something to do with it. I remember when I first came to Japan last year, I felt the itch growing between spring and summer. And now, when the temperature's going down, my scalp's itching again. Naturally I start scratching and bits of skin fall off. Is it dandruff itself or because I scratched it?

So irritating to have bits of snowflakes on the hair and having to suppress the urge not to scratch. I understand when I used to have longer hair it was because my scalp wasn't healthy enough. But I've just cut off half the length of my hair and even done treatment which cost me a Prada bag a lot, and I still have scalp problem.

Could it be the stress then? Or maybe working from home and having to be stuck in the room the whole day while looking at the four walls of the tiny room has increased the otherwise normal levels of stress? I feel like tearing my scalp off, it's that annoying. Funny, I haven't seen any shampoo for dandruff here in Japan. Or maybe I'm blinded by the many brands they have for damaged hair, coloured hair and permed hair.

Monday, October 15, 2007

selamat hari raya aidilfitri!

Was at the Malaysian Embassy on Saturday for the Raya celebrations. I thought I was late becoz Zad said prayers at 8am and makan at 9am. I was a bit lost at first so ended up reaching there about 930. Saw a few guys hanging out near the entrance and some ladies waiting at the foyer. I thought the whole thing had ended and that I was too late to join in the celebrations.

While I was asking the ladies about Niigata students, out of the lower floor came the guys. A few, a few more, many more, soon they all began to fill up the whole foyer. So many Malaysians! This must be the biggest gathering of Malaysians I've ever been in. Later I found out as many as 700 of my compatriots from all over Japan had gathered at the embassy that morning. More so this year because it was over the weekend.

Made some friends while we were eating nasi briani with lemang, peanut sauce, rendang chicken and daal. Somehow, the many individuals I met apparently knew each other for about a year back already. What a small world. Some had already been there for almost 10 years and I can only imagine how good their Japanese must be. This group was further invited to the residences of the embassy's staff for more makan.

About 20 minutes walk away from the embassy is an apartment block designated for the employees, with a proud signage at the front stating the residences of the Kedutaan Malaysia. 3 of the apartments were having open houses, and we chose the top-most since Iqbal remembered the guy's name. We excitedly made our way to Encik Zakri's abode.

We were greeted by his family and friends who were already there eating. More food awaited us. The sight of laksa made me heady for awhile there, and while the others went for more rendang, I helped myself to a large bowl of the spicy noodle dish. How could I have forgotten to eat laksa during my last trip home??

While trying out the food provided by the generous host, we were also taking in the luxury of his home. Here in Tokyo, expats were given such big apartments to live in. I'm not sure whether it's because his is the top floor, but he has a balcony which sorta circles his apartment from end to end. So his guests were not only in the living room, dining area, but many more were found enjoying the autumn breeze at the balcony!

It was quite amazing that the kids had already adapted themselves to this foreign land and speaking the language so fluently. Some are sent to international school, and with 3 languages intact in their impressionable brains at this age, that even if they returned to Malaysia, it wouldn't be difficult for them to pick up Japanese should they decide to come back here.

Surrounded by Malaysians speaking Malay and Manglish, it felt like home again. Even though we could see the skyline of west Tokyo from where we were (I almost called it a penthouse relative to the cramp spaces I am used to!), everything inside was decidedly Malaysian. From the furniture to the cutleries, from the traditional costumes to the hospitality, from the smile of the hosts to the ease in which we talked among ourselves.

I'm sure for many of us, this Raya was more meaningful because of friends like these, things we hold dear to us which remind us of home while we are away from Malaysia. I'm not surprised if this scene was one of the many around the world as Malaysian Muslims gather to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

sunsilk hairapy

This is one of the latest ads for Sunsilk's hair care products. It just goes to show that we are never happy with our hair. My friend who had beautiful long straight hair hated the boringness and permed it instead. While I, blessed with natural waves and curls, decided to straighten mine in order to tame it.

to move or not to move (again)

I'm in the middle of my 2nd week at work, and things have been going on quite well, I must say. Work is still challenging, and the boss is picking on my brains. But at least, I'm being productive and I like what I'm doing. So no complains there. The only thing is getting used to the working hours and working from home thingy.

I just visited this place an acquaintance told me about yesterday. He lived there for about a year before moving out because he just got married. He was really pushing the place to me, so much so I'm beginning to suspect he gets commission for it. But it really is a nicer place than where I am staying now.

The guest house here has too many people and they all go in and out so much because it's only for short-term stay. I've heard of stories and I myself have heard of *ahem* things going on, and needless to say, it's better to move out. True that this place is really convenient because of its location and there's many places to eat within walking distance, I even tried out the Tokyo Gymnasium the other day and they have a swimming pool, and it's on the Yamanote line.

The place I saw last night is a house owned by a shy but helpful retired Japanese guy who rents out his place only to foreigners. He only wants to speak English, and he's even renovated his place to accommodate us; like the Y2,000,000 to lower his ground floor so that tall angmoh's don't have to hit their head! The room that I will be renting (should I take it up) is more than twice of this current place, is cheaper and has its own toilet, sink, fridge and TV.

It's so comfy that I got a warm feeling when I first stepped into the room because it's the biggest room in the house and my friend says I can be the queen of the house! But queen or not, this place is about slightly further compared to my current place, to the office. It's not on the Yamanote loop, but more central Tokyo and suburb at the same time.

Plus since the landlord is living in the house, he makes sure everything is clean and in order. Meaning the bathroom will always be clean, the laundry is free and toiletries will be refilled. Whereas, this guest house is dodgy, dirty and potentially dangerous. I have to share the bathroom with like 10 other people, some don't bother to wipe the table after eating, and the dryer doesn't even dry properly even though I've put in Y300. And he also kindly offered to shift my things over with his truck.

When I first told my colleague about my checking out Edogawabashi, he told me there's nothing there. Which is true, coz it's suburb. But later we found out that one of the tenants is his friend. And he changed his stand and encouraged me to go for it! Apparently his friend is a really nice guy and is superb in Japanese and I would enjoy staying there. For a moment there, it sounded like he was promoting the guy, and not the house. -_-

I still have a few days to think about this, since I have to stay in this guest house for at least 1 month, and give notice at least 3 weeks should I decide to move out. Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

i survived my 1st week!

I take back what I wrote on Thursday. Whatever lovely images I had about working just disappeared when my boss called me late Friday afternoon and requested for a meeting! He wanted to hand over some projects because he was flying to Australia the next day for a week-long vacation. -_-

My only consolation was that he ordered pizza with one of my favourite toppings.

The meeting lasted almost till midnight. But only because I had to catch the last train back. This better be the only time I have to do this!

So the long weekend was a much needed break. After 1 week of work, I get to have a 3-day weekend! Some plans got cancelled, some new ones popped up unexpectedly. But a good breather in all.

I've started cooking a bit as well. Found the nearby coop grocery with enough choices to sustain me. Even the walk around the neighbourhood was quite pleasant. It reminded me of my 6-mth stay back in Niigata. However, this residential area has some offices built within it, some looked like fashion boutiques with un-Japanese architecture and display windows.

I even saw a quaint little sign with a cross, signifying a church. Most likely a Japanese one, since there weren't any other language on the notice boards.

My Bulgarian neighbour even said we can walk to Harajuku and Shinjuku. Yes, I'm that central. That's why the rent is relatively more expensive here. It's just minutes away by the Yamanote line to the more hip/happening/hot places in Tokyo. We also have satellite TV (Read : CNN, MTV, etc). Say goodbye to boring/silly Japanese shows. :p

Thursday, October 04, 2007

it's thursday already!

Friday is almost here! Yup, I'm almost done with my 1st week at work. It's been quite good actually, despite the fact that I finish so late. We've been going back at 8 or 9pm on average. But that's because we start late too. The boss says it's because most clients call up around 6-ish and maybe it's to avoid the rush hour too.

I'm still trying to grasp how things work in the company. I've been in a few meetings already and feel quite useful that my ideas are being implemented. Whereas in the past company it was quite routine and it's not uncommon for the boss to steal your idea and claim it as hers!

Anyways, I get to work from home tomorrow! Going to try and see if I have the discipline to do just work within the time given and have something delivered by the weekend. And next week, I want to try with working in an earlier time frame and see whether I prefer starting work like most people or come in around 11-ish. Coming in late feels like luxury for a night-owl like me but going back late feels like you've got little time left to yourself at the end of the day.

Oh, by the way I just got my passport back today. And the visa change states that I am an "Engineer"! So far working here has been good, mainly due to my boss and colleagues. I was right when I told you guys that a pure Japanese company wouldn't work for me.

The view from my room window. The guest house borders to some offices built near the residential area. On the left is one of these, taken at 12 midnight! I bet it's a Japanese company.

And also, I just shifted in to my temporary accommodation yesterday. It's a Sakura House guest house, which means I have my own room but share the kitchen, toilet and shower with other residents in the house. It feels like a dorm and you get to meet people from everywhere coz they cater only to foreigners who are looking for short-term stays. BUT I am still looking for a better place with more privacy - please pray along with me especially if you're planning to come to Tokyo!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

what's there to love?

I think I can get used to living in Tokyo. What is there not to love?

The commuting enables you to jostle with urbanites during rush hour and see who can get the prime spot (read : proper seat/stand next to entrance) in the train. There is actually a way to do this - once you're familiar with which escalator/stair/train no/train line you take.

The walking from home to station, and then station to work allows you to keep fit and maintain firm calves and tight bums. That's why you don't see fat Japanese on the street. Everyone is either skinny or slim, except for the sumo wrestler, but he's hardly to be seen anyways.

The rush hour at stations and intersections give you the opportunity to spot metrosexual guys with trimmed eyebrows up close. Some of them shame me by how neat they do this, even those burly looking or macholy-dressed ones. I'm not surprised if they put on light makeup coz they go to lengths to do their hair already.

The long ride on the train provides you free make-up lessons from the many young teens who frequent Harajuku dressed in their favourite anime costume or the trendy working lady with her handbag full of cosmetic and accessories. Fake eyelashes, mascara and mirror are standard items!

If you're not into dressing up, you can finish a book within days, or weeks, depending on the duration of your ride and the thickness/complexity/no. of words of your book. I just found The Da Vinci Code in this temp office and loaned it to read since there's so much hype about it. It's been intriguing so far, to say the least.

Yes, there's certainly much to love about Tokyo.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

i survived my 1st day working in tokyo!

I survived my first day at work! The boss said we moved into the new place because I came into the team... Hmmm.

Anyways, it's a temporary place before we start working in the brand new office at Nakameguro in December. The current office still has about 3 months of lease left from the previous company, so there are still some furniture and equipment in the place. Heck, there are even pantry stuff like coffee maker, oven, microwave and even 2 and half bags of rice. I can cook rice for lunch! ;p

Not everyone was asked to work here, as they have been working from home previously. I've just met the Swedish designer, and he's been pretty helpful so far. I hope to learn more neat tricks on Photoshop from him.

The boss has already briefed me about ongoing projects and upcoming responsibilities last week! Looks like I'll have my hands full even the 1st week itself. Well, so far so good, so I'm not complaining :) Thank you Lord for a good 1st day!