Wednesday, April 30, 2008

april showers

I just sent the last of my guests for the month off at the airport halfway to the airport. It has been a whirlwind of activities, one after another and I must say I'm quite tired from playing host for the whole month. This month in particular have been quite special since I have more Malaysian guests, and they stay longer compared to the previous ones.

Entrance to Museum Ghibli, a quirky house of anime wonders!

Along the way I got to know a little more about Tokyo, and went to those places I knew were there but didn't hold that much interest to me previously. Like the Inokashira Park near the Kichijouji station. I was there last autumn enjoying Studio Ghibli, but didn't think that the park next to it would be such a delight to walk in. The timing was so right when Prof Komiya happened to be in Tokyo, so I invited Leon along to catch up with him. So Prof & his wife were showing us the Park, apparently where they had many dates together many many years ago! Unfortunately no pix here since I was busy enjoying the cool breeze and greens.

View from Mori Tower on a cloudy Summer day, Tokyo Tower in the distance

And then there was the Metropolitan Government Building which was a walking distance from the Shinjuku station. Apparently one of the must-see in this area, as it's considered one of the best look-outs in Tokyo other than Tokyo Tower. Apparently on clear days you can even see Mount Fuji. 2 summers ago, I had my own experience at Roppongi Hills Mori Tower where I still got a pretty good view of the city. It wasn't as tall as the Metropolitan Buildings or Tokyo Tower, but to me once is enough. How different can a view from the top be? Everything looks so small and tiny and you can only make out few of the more prominent buildings!

So anyways, since as I was on a social spree this month, I had to end it surrounded by friends too. Having little sleep the night before, and having to wake up earlier than usual to send off my last guest, I knew that if I went back to sleep I would just waste off the whole day (which coincidentally was a public holiday). So I did groceries and invited my uni friend for lunch. We caught up a bit over curry chicken and potato. Then came along Yuri, and we had a bit of heart to heart and she stayed back for dinner, so I made grilled salmon for her.

In between I managed to do a bit of house chores, laundry and ironing. Not a bad way to end the month - tiring but really productive. Now, if only I can carry this momentum over to the month of May as well!

Friday, April 25, 2008

wearing many hats

During a corporate rebranding exercise, the boss tried to streamline positions by reducing the number of different titles in the company. I was to be given the new post of Accounts Executive because he said it reflected my responsibilities better. But that got me thinking about all the responsibilities I have, and if there was a title that fit all of them:

Dealing with an asset management company, I'm involved with client relationship management and the occasional HTML coding.

Dealing with a golf course management client, I come up with designs and advise on process flow.

Dealing with an e-commerce store selling traditional Japanese crafts, I style up images and cook up brilliant promo material to entice people to buy them.

Dealing with an avant garde furniture seller, I help with translations and copy writing.

Dealing with a British bakery, I do endless testing and make sure they get sufficient training to update the site themselves.

Dealing with the top Japanese real estate agency, I make presentations and persuade them why they should switch from plain graphic to interactive video.

Dealing with a UN-affiliate involved with timber trade, I liaise between designers, developers and coders to come up with the best CMS.

Dealing from within the company itself, I contribute to overall improvement in work flow, processes and communications.

So what am I supposed to be called??

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

trying to beat each other

The landlord hosted a little sukiyaki party the previous night as a get-together for my guests from Malaysia (Leon & gf), and Danny, my Chinese house mate. He also invited his long-time friend, Sasaki-san who never failed to entertain us with his stories* and experiences. For those of you who have not eaten sukiyaki before, it involves dipping freshly cooked beef into raw egg, something unusual especially for those who don't fancy raw food.

Sasaki-san : When I was young, we were very poor. We couldn't afford to eat much, so our food was basic. We had to pour soy sauce over the rice, and crack open a raw egg over it. That was our meal.

Me : My parents had a similar experience too! But they had even less. All they ate was rice poured with soy sauce and fried garlic. No money for eggs even.

Danny : My parents were so poor they had to eat the bark of a tree (!)

Leon : My parents were so so poor they almost ate me! (!!!)

* This particular one stood out because he was trying to explain the humour of it in Japanese, but we finally got it when we saw this video clip of upcoming Bulgarian Idol-wannabe who sang the now-famous song "Ken Lee".

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the bitter pill

When I first started doing this, I wasn't expecting to go so far. In fact, I just wanted to see whether I can last for 1 week. I had a bit of withdrawal symptoms but it was still okay. I was almost tempted to return to what I used to do. But a little prompt from above, and some response gave me motivation to stay on at this.

Now I'm in my 3rd week and I guess I'm hanging on. It wasn't really like what I was expecting. In fact, the memories came back and it was really painful for me. The person I wanted to talk to about this probably didn't care enough to ask if I was okay. But I focussed on something greater, so that I can try to move on.

Many times I wanted to give up, it seemed like a futile effort. Probably nothing would come out at the end of it. What I realised was during at this period, I was notably less distracted. Which meant that the things that I had been pushing to the back of my mind before had a chance to rear its ugly head. Those things which I have tried to forget because I didn't want to think about them anymore.

Maybe it wasn't a good way to deal with them, I had to actually allow them to run its course to be processed completely. But it's bitter, and I know it's of my own doing. It's like taking a bitter pill. Even after swallowing, you can still feel its aftertaste lingering in your throat. No matter how much water you drink, it's still there. But after some time, in due time, it will go away. I hope that is how it will be.

Friday, April 18, 2008

what's with the sakura craze?

I was invited to a hanami party* the weekend after I came back from my snowboarding trip. The weekend when I was away enjoying the last bits of snow was supposedly the best time to enjoy sakura in Tokyo. All the famous parks in the metropolitan were packed with people. It gets so krazy that people actually have to book their spots few days in advance.

What they do is put up cardboards with their name or organisation and the date and time that they would be sitting under that cherry tree. If this was in Malaysia, that sign would be gone the next minute, replaced by another sign. Or maybe replaced many times over until someone actually sits down there! But this is Japan, once you put your sign there, people respect it and have to look for another spot to have their picnic.

But I had to turn that invitation down becoz a Malaysian friend had just flown in to Haneda from an assignment in Izumo prefecture further down the Honshu island. As excited as I was over welcoming spring, I wasn't that keen on the booze accompanying it. Besides, I had already done a little hanami with my colleagues at the river near our office. The river banks were just flowing with sakura, its petals dotting the almost stagnant water.

These pictures were, however, taken at the canal area in Ichigaya after I met up with my Japanese tutor. It was such a beautiful Saturday morning that I decided instead of taking the train back, I would just follow the canal and walk back to my place which was 2 stops away. There was a small park beside the station, there were still some people enjoying their last hanami. Very Japanese of them to clean up the place after that, throwing rubbish in the right bins - burnables, unburnables and recyclables.

After about 20 minutes, I passed the next station, Iidabashi and crossed the bridge over to the other side to have a different view. As I admired the view from the bridge, it came to my realisation that in the distance was the very restaurant that I had celebrated my birthday, the Canal Cafe! Back then, the trees were still bare and seemed so lifeless. Just a month after, they sprang to life with all these pink blossoms.

The walk to the Canal Cafe was a bit further than it looked. I had a good chat with my then future Japanese tutor about having private lessons. I thought since I was living here I might as well improve on my language skills, and what better way than to push myself than to go for the JLPT 2** exams. I tried to find schools nearby but most of them offered classes during the weekdays. With my unusual working hours, I couldn't commit to regular classes. With my knack for being gung-ho in the initial stages, that meant my own initiative to study on my own had sorta sizzled out too!

Yes, it's a little expensive having a private tutor, but at least I get ALL the attention ALL of the time and having to pay that money to study some things which I've already studied back in uni should be more than motivation to study really hard! The least I get out of this is being able to read more than just simple signs and having basic daily conversation, I want to be able to read faster, respond faster and feel less frustrated about my inability to lead a normal life here!

So anyways, having all these thoughts running in my head while I was walking helped make the journey shorter. In no time, I was already at the restaurant. It actually looked lovely from outside, now that the open air seats were shaded by the cherry blossoms near the canal bank. The line outside was still as long as I last remembered, but there were more people rowing boats this time.

I'm glad I decided to take that walk back home.

* Hanami literally means flower watching. In this context, it means admiring the cherry blossom at its peak, in welcoming spring, but it's basically an excuse to drink!
** JLPT - Japanese Language Proficiency Test, 4 being the lowest, 1 being highest level

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

some moments are meant to be just that

It was almost magical, that night. It was as if the moonlight shone just on our faces, as if time stood still for us as we stood there saying goodbye.

He made the reservations, my choice of dishes was top-notch, he said. In an exotic rustic setting, we took our time to finish the food.

We chatted about how we came to Japan, how past decisions brought us to where we were. Polite pleasantries, smiles, some laughters.

But it was not meant to be.


Friday, April 11, 2008

snowboarding at naeba

Who would have thought that I'd "graduate" from skiing to snowboarding while I'm still in Japan?! That's what I did 2 weekends ago, and ended up having a very sore body all over.

I've always been fascinated with this very cool looking sport since I hit the slopes last year. My first lesson last winter was with my uni mates who were already a natural at skiing, and I was really grateful for their patience and tips. If not for them, I wouldn't have had the courage to try the advance slopes at all.

But the more I saw my other friends taking up their snowboards and looking so kakkoi* on them, the more the skiing looked boring in comparison. So when the email from Tokyo Gaijins (TG) came, I called up as many people I could find to follow me. However, only Zad managed to make it, and he didn't regret it one bit!

TG organizes weekly activities for foreigners in Japan (and Japanese who are interested in making friends with foreigners), and skiing/snowboarding trips were the highlight every weekend at various ski resorts this winter. But since ours was the last trip of the season, the hotel we stayed at even offered free equipment and outfit rental. But the bonus for me was the free snowboarding lessons. Not including lunches, the whole package for the weekend was only Y20,000.

The TG organiser and instructor for our group was Ricky, an avid sports lover from the Philippines. I think he has the right business model and must be enjoying a dream job as the sole organiser in TG since he's into outdoors and adventure. He was also quite a strict snowboarding teacher. From teaching us how to put on our gear properly to doing the basics right, all that only happened within the first 2 hours.

I had on a regular snowboard** (as opposed to a goofy one) and felt a bit uncomfortable since my right foot was the stronger one. Still, since I had already walked all the way to the slopes and didn't want to waste anymore time and energy in getting the snowboard changed, I decided to bear with it. The Indian guys were fast learners, so they went up on the ski lift earlier. I was just about to get myself used to the snowboard and practicing my brakes when Ricky said it was my turn to go up.

He's one krazy instructor, but if not for him, I might have stayed at the bottom of the slope for the next few hours. I had to learn how to get off the lift with one foot strapped to the board and balance myself off it. From up the beginner slope, he thought me how to do the traverse, frontside turn and toeside rotation (I think!). Pretty useful stuff, kept me busy until the end of the day. However, I made many many falls. It didn't hurt one bit when I fell, but the next morning I felt like my bones were all broken.

Because of that, some of us beginners decided to take it slowly the 2nd day. We went around enjoying the crisp air and beautiful snow instead of going straight to the slopes. Such a change from bustling Tokyo - the serenity and scenery. What balm for the eyes and soul. Wish I could do this every weeekend.

So the whole morning we just went around taking pictures and feeling really reluctant to carry the equipment to the ski area again. But that was also the other reason why I was beginning to prefer snowboard to ski - there is only 1 equipment to carry! I remember the clumsiness of carrying the ski sticks and ski poles and not forgetting the heavy Robocop-like boots that restricted ankle movements.

The snow was so bright that when I did the self-timer, I couldn't see the display. But on 2nd try, managed to get it just right.

Zad gave up snowboarding and returned to skiing, some decided to just walk around while I decided to continue on with my practices. The pro's were all up in the mountains, enjoying the last bit of snow. Surprisingly, it snowed that weekend, so we had fresh snow. That really makes a difference, especially when you fall!

For lunch that day we took the gondola up to one of the peaks. There was a German-style cabin which served reasonably good food. But the view was just superb. If I was not a beginner I would have brought my snowboard up here (it was advance slopes!) and scream all the way down. I couldn't have enough of the view as it was just so pleasantly calming. Especially when you know you can't get this back in Tokyo. Anytime!

But alas, all most good things must come to an end. When it was finally time to go, I quickly took off my snowboard and went up a further gondola, took some more pictures and came back for a quick hot bath before heading back to Tokyo that evening itself. For all the aches and pains, it was a fitting end to this winter. Just makes you wish you could make this trip every weekend!

*Kakkoi - attractive; good-looking; stylish
** Regular snowboards are for left-footers, while goofy snowboards are for right-footers. However some say you can interchange and "train" your foot in either way.

Monday, April 07, 2008

whole heart

Sometime last week, I came back to find a little parcel sitting on the staircase waiting for me to pick up. I didn't recognise the handwriting on the despatch note, but suspected who it might be from. To my (not so surprised, as I remember my mum mentioning it before) delight, it contained some goodies from home. My mum had asked a friend of hers to send it to me on the way back to Kyoto.

One of it was a CD of "Adoration : We Celebrate You", the name and title I did not recognise. Maybe because I've not been keeping myself up-to-date with the latest Christian songs anymore! As with music CD's given to me, I'm quite hesitant to be overly excited unless I have specifically mentioned that I wanted it, but I decided to give it a try nevertheless. After all, it was compiled in collaboration with the folks at ODB, whose works I (try to) read every morning.

I was delightfully surprised at the quality of the songs in it, in fact my instant favourite was the last song in the list. It is both lyrically and musically rich and a joy to listen to. The title "Whole Heart" was most apt and I've been giving it the most play time compared to the rest.

Whole Heart,
words and music by Shannon J. Wexelberg

Give me a whole heart
To fully love you
Give me an undivided heart
Totally free

I ask You to heal my broken places
Lingering wound Your love replaces
Bind every part
Give me a whole heart

Give me a whole heart
To fully trust You
Give me an undivided heart
Completely at peace

Come in and restore what has been taken
The depths of my soul that have been shaken
Bind every part
Give me a whole heart

O Lord, help me to see
Your abundant love for me
Help me to rise
So I can soar on eagle's wings

O Lord, help me to go
Where I've never gone before
Help me to fly
As You breathe life to me once more

Give me a whole heart
To fully love You
Give me an undivided heart
Totally free

I ask You to heal my broken places
Lingering wound Your love replaces
Come in and restore what has been taken
Depths of my soul that have been shaken

Bind every part
Bind every part
Bind every part
Give me a whole heart

Sunday, April 06, 2008

colourful pills

I'm supposed to have posted about my previous weekend enjoying the last bit of winter, but since there's quite a bit of pictures there, thought I'd put this up first. I got this from my Papa who while cleaning up his cabinet, stumbled upon some family photos and decided to scan this and send it to me. This was taken in 1982, just before he departed for Holland for a training course sent by the Drainage and Irrigation Department.

In front were the family members, and behind standing were his colleagues who came to send him off. My mum was to join him soon after that, and they had their "2nd honeymoon" there while they toured abit around Europe during that 3 month period. During that time, they sent my brother to our paternal grandparents' while I lived with my mum's parents.

I'm not sure if it was during this time, but I remember mistakenly swallowing my granpa's athmatic pills, thinking they were colourful M&M candies. I had to be sent to the hospital where they tried to purge them out. Can't quite remember the details, but one image vividly stood out, that was of the nurses trying to keep me still while I struggled to free myself from them. Maybe until today I don't quite like candies so much, especially those colourful ones :p

Guess which kid in the picture almost died of "M&M candy overdose"?!

(But you know what, I don't even remember actually taking those pills, but my granma caught me holding the white plastic packet containing my granpa's medicine...)