Monday, June 30, 2008

slimmer than slim

I was just telling Eewei that there is no way I will be able to gain weight while I'm in Japan. Well, I did put on 6kg in my first half of the year shortly after arriving in Niigata, but I was living my dreams of being a student on full scholarship and had nothing much to worry except to improve on my Japanese skills. That also meant I travelled much and ate lots of good food too!

But after coming to Tokyo to work, without the luxury of a car and having to walk everywhere and carry everything on my own, coupled with the stress of a hectic job, I lost some of the weight I had happily gained 2 years before. Of course, no one here said anything. In fact I look just like any of the Japanese you see on the street.

Still, I remembered when I had gained that 6kg, some people said I looked good, and I myself thought I should maintain this weight. But alas, Japanese food is so tasteless oil-less, fat-free and non-greasy, there is no way I can gain back that weight. The other reason was also, I fed myself lots of self-concocted dishes that I had creatively learnt while living on my own. And since I hated to waste food, I had to finish up whatever experiments I tried on myself. However, I don't have the luxury of time to do that anymore.

Whereas, if I was living in say, a Western country like she is, then I don't even have to try hard to gain weight.

Me: Too bad I'm not in UK like you. Ppl here live on healthy food. And NO ONE calls me skinny here! So I don't feel bad about being skinny!

Eewei: Haha...well, no one calls me fat here! So I don't feel bad about being fleshy!

Me: Hahaha.. so we're meant to be where we are!

Eewei: Haha.. that's the first time I see it that way! But yeah! I feel so good about myself here, because I'm in the slim & petite category!

Me: HAHAH! You, slim & petite?

Eewei: Yeahhh.. never ever in Malaysia, man!

Me: Well, if you're slim & petite, what am I??

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

savoring durian in tokyo

This is gonna crack my Papa up - I actually ate durian!

For years, my Papa has been trying to bribe me to eat durian. Otherwise known as the King of Fruits, it's one tropical fruit that I never got to eating. My furthest memory of actually putting it in my mouth must have been more than 20 years ago. It's a very faint image of Papa opening the fruit in our little home in Sabak Bernam, Selangor and me eating together with the rest of the family.

But after that, I have totally no recollection of actually eating it. Until today, I can't quite say why I don't eat durian. So I was put on the spot when Watanabe-san's friend asked if I could host a durian party. Since I don't eat durians, much less know how to choose a good one and open it, I called Dino, a Malaysian Bidayuh friend to help me out.

I wanted to share the durian with them last weekend when Danny & I co-hosted a lunch party of Malay and Chinese dishes. But the shopkeeper at the Asia Super Store said it was not ripe yet, we had to wait for about 2 more days. So I made tapioca in coconut milk for dessert instead, and invited them over 2 days later for the much-awaited durian.

Sasaki-san was so excited that he brought his camera and wanted to capture the opening of the thorny fruit. Alas, his camera malfunctioned at the wrong time, so I offered to take some for him on mine instead.

Surprisingly, this durian didn't emit such a pungent smell, if not the whole neighbourhood would be complaining about us. Sasaki-san was clearly enjoying his durian, eating with his hand and commenting that it tasted like a combination of banana, pineapple and peach! Wow, that's quite an interesting description of what people would usually call the fruit that "stinks like hell, tastes like heaven".

Even Watanabe-san who wasn't so eager about it in the beginning was quietly enjoying the fruit, using a spoon to scoop the flesh off the seed. This was the first time for them to eat the fruit. Danny joined us, having had the fruit before in Shanghai, while my Spanish housemate's friend was "suffering" trying to finish half the fruit - his face was red and he begged me to help him finish his!

Since I was the host, I had no choice but to join them in eating the fruit. And also to show Papa that I finally ate durian. In Japan. The irony! It ain't so bad after all, and with this, I can say that I am Malaysian :D

P/s: By the way, this durian weighing 2.7kg cost about Y4000. For this price, the flesh should be made of gold instead.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

pure white

New look. Yes :)
(Still need to tweak it a little more)

Thought I should get something that reflects the theme of this blog - snowflakes.
In fact I've been thinking for YEARS to change the layout and do some funky stuff, but never got around to it till now. This is not what I wanted, by the way, but was just experimenting.

Just felt on a whim to make some changes as a way to reflect the changing circumstances in my life. Or rather, trying to trick myself into thinking that changing the layout of this blog would mean something tangible!

But seriously, I just realised that this blog is about 5 years old already! And I have not done anything to change the design of it. In fact, I don't even know why I chose the bright orange for the first design! Feeling too bright and cheery that time, must be.

Actually I have tooooo many things on my mind right now. Random thoughts like "tonight's durian party", "laying off of a colleague", "saying goodbye to MBA friends", "is she mad at me?", "being Japanised", "midnight SMSes", "hosting friends", "nearing my 1 year here" and "those 7 guys" were floating around in my head these few days. Will come around to posting some of these pretty soon.

But ya, white is nice. Clean. Fresh. New beginnings.
Good for now.

Monday, June 16, 2008






Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"mamachari", the aunty bike they call it!

So I thought, I really should get myself a bicycle. I've missed the convenience of having a car since I came to Tokyo. With the exception of going to work or somewhere routine, I've always had to check the train schedule before going somewhere in order to make sure I reach there on time, but more importantly, that I get the right transfer on the right train line.

I've been toying with this idea for sometime, but only seriously went about looking for one when my Spanish housemate got hers. Plus, the weather was getting warmer, time for the outdoors and no reason to laze around anymore! So I checked up Craigslist, an online classifieds of sorts ranging from jobs to household items to some of the more kinkier non-tangible services. It has a simple layout designed to direct you to what you're looking for. A no-frills services which has connection all over the world. Bicycles must be quite a big category for it to have its own link.

I sent an email to a few people whose bike looked decently affordable. The only response I received was from a certain Megan, whom I met up a week ago so that I could assess the goods. She sounded friendly enough and I was pleased to know that it was pretty new, being 5 months and in good condition. She told me that I was the first to respond to her email, and was giving me priority over the many others who also asked for the bike. Almost immediately I told her I would take it!

Before I met up last weekend to collect the bike, I had to make sure I knew how to ride it back home. This being my first time cycling in metropolitan Tokyo, I didn't wanna get lost. Not that I'm worried since I think my Japanese proficiency is a little better than when I first came to Japan. (Updated) Japanese roads mostly do not have names on them! But it was going to be a long ride and I wanna enjoy it rather than feeling flustered about finding my way around. I first looked up Google Maps Japan, a very useful application. (Please click on the following maps for the original screenshot view)

So it was a good tool IF you are travelling by train! It gives you the possible routes to your desired destination, together with the total time taken for each train, walking time and the fare for each section of the commute. Pretty comprehensive if you're looking for train options. I could actually follow this route, go all the way along the Yamanote tracks and still reach home. But it would be a loooooong way home. Plus I would probably have to fend myself against the cars.

From Ebisu station where I met up with Megan. Look at the map, it lists down all the convenience stores in the vicinity with cute little icons. The blue arrows shows 1-way streets while I think the numbers represent the block number in each ward. Just type in your starting point (in valid address & postcode) and the corresponding destination and it will point out the train routes.

But then I remembered Danny told me about this site called Mapfan which was even better as it tells you the directions. You can choose from car on an expressway, car on a normal road, bicycle on a certain speed and even walking on a normal pace. Each will return the relevant route, distance and estimated time taken. The best part about this is, they will list down the route via directions (turn left, right curve, intersection, etc) so you don't need the map itself actually. This can be really useful if you don't want to carry a big map around and refer to it everytime you make a turn. But they have an option to view the map on your mobile, but there's a fee if I'm not mistaken.

It looks pretty much like Google maps, maybe not as prettily drawn but since you don't need the details on the map as much as the directions, then this is just perfect. Notice on the top left - my journey was 8.6km, 52minutes, 0Yen. That wasn't so bad, I thought to myself Friday night as I pored over a bigger hardcopy map and outlined the route just in case.

The whole journey itself took me close to 2 hours since I kept looking at the map to make sure I didn't miss a junction (there are so many small lanes in Tokyo!) and I came across some helpful Japanese people & policemen who helped confirmed that I was on the right track. I also took some pictures along the way. So it was more of a leisurely ride to explore the inner Tokyo area rather than an attempt to see if I could reach home in the shortest time possible.

Feeling really happy that I got myself such a great deal and that I'm no longer restricted to train schedules and such, I decided to cycle over to Akasaka for dinner with friends after that. It really reminded me of the time in Niigata when I "upgraded" from buses and trains to bicycle, and then to car. Each upgrade was a sense of liberation and freedom to go wherever I wanted, at a time of my choice. Cycling really is a much better way to travel especially on good weather days like these, and you enjoy sights that you would usually miss or places that you wouldn't normally step foot on (or in this case, cycled over). Altogether I cycled 4 hours and earned myself butts of steel!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

top-notch service anywhere indeed!

About a month ago, I had my first visit to the hair salon in Tokyo with the intention of straightening my hair. The normal price was quoted at close to Yen10,000, and did not include shampoo, cut, treatment and other misc charges. I had initially asked for natural straight as I did not want to look like I clamped my hair with an iron and have it looking all flat and lifeless.

It came out pretty well, I must say. My hairstylist, Ken Sato taught me how to take care of my hair so that it would always look かっこいい(kakkoii)*. It was straight alright, but it had some volume and body to it as well. Plus, he was the creative director. Having a haircut with him would usually cost about Yen7,000 but I got some discount because my colleague used to work with him before.

So anyways, I went back feeling a little poorer but happy that I got myself a new hair. Since it cost me so much, it had to look good, and last quite some time too. But unfortunately, because the treatment wasn't as strong as I expected, my natural curls started to show at the roots. So my colleague recommended that I ask the hairstylist to have a look at it. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they would "repair" it at no cost!

Talking about Japanese service, they're really top-notch anywhere. Compare what happened at my 2nd visit, even though it was free and this re-do itself would have cost at least another Yen10,000. I'll try to translate this as close to its English equivalent as much as possible:

Ken : I'm so sorry about this. We'll try to fix this for you today.
Me : Okay! (smiles, but delirious inside)
Ken runs his fingers through my hair, assessing the next step.
Ken : Let's get your hair washed first. Step this way please.
Ken swivels my chair and shows the way to the washing area.
Washing Grrl (WG) : Please have a seat here. I'll be washing your hair today.
WG lowers the chair and puts a face cloth over my face, to ensure that my face is "protected", then proceeds to wash my hair.
WG : Is the water temperature fine with you?
Me : It's fine.
WG scrubs gently, massages a little.
WG : Now I will put on the conditioner for you.
Me : OK!
After hair is washed and done, WG squeezes the water off my hair.
WG : I will dry your hair.
WG takes off the face cloth and carefully dries my hair with a clean towel, tucking it in properly before straightening the chair back.
WG : Thank you for being patient. This way please, back to your chair.

And I'm ushered back to the main salon area where Ken comes back to attend to me. And the remaining hours was between him and a few other hairstylist who took turns to do the whole treatment again, minus the very expensive haircut of course. This time I even got a little massage at the end, think they noticed I was getting a stiff back after sitting there for a few hours. But throughout it all, they were so polite and kept saying things like "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting", "Please wait a little more for the treatment" & "Please follow me".

In Malaysia, the above would have just been :

Hairstylist : What? Your hair curly already ar? You want to do again or not?
Me : Erm, ya, is that possible?
Hairstylist : Sure, of course can. Must pay a bit la.
Me : Huh? Er... (thinks again about going through the whole process AND having to pay for it).

And even if they did offer to re-do the whole thing, or for a normal visit to the hair salon, I would probably get something like this :

Hairstylist : Come, wash hair.
Hairstylist quickly walks off to the washing area and waits for client. Then proceeds to shampoo the hair and taking the opportunity to sink in her nails into client's scalp. Saying nothing much, proceeds to put conditioner and finishes the whole process while drops of water and some foam falls off client's hair to the face. Client has to wipe the residue off herself.
Hairstylist : Ok, finish!
Hairstylist then just walks back to the main salon area and waits for client. Then proceeds to do whatever the client requested.

Of course, some of the more upscale salons or those you've been regularly going to will treat you better, talk to you and make light conversation with you while they do their thing. But I must test this out myself when I go back to Malaysia and see if there are those rare salons that treat you like the Japanese ones do.

So even though I pay quite a lot for my hair, I'm getting excellent service. The Japanese customers are a pampered lot. They know what quality is and are willing to pay for it. But I pity those who work in the service industry. Bending over the back to satisfy a customer must be stressful!

* kakkoii - attractive, good-looking, stylish

Sunday, June 01, 2008

afternoon naps on a rainy day

Just got home after having dinner & drinks at my ex-housemate's new pad. Adam finally invited us over to his new apartment, and I must say it looked pretty good. Or maybe because he actually cleaned up the place, and he has new Ikea-ish furniture.

After having some good take-away Indian curry with naan and rice, we were just chilling out over vodka and oolong tea. It's a good thing I had a nap in the afternoon earlier. Something I haven't done for a long time. In fact, since I started working, I have been pretty disciplined in not having afternoon naps.

Having grown up with naps, it's something I MUST have. Just like Milo (yes, I have at least 1 cup a day!). So it was something I missed coz even back in my previous company in Malaysia, we took little naps just after lunch. Power naps, they say. Such a refreshing thing coz you know how filling Malaysian dishes can be. Especially on Fridays.

Of course I continued this habit very much when I came to do my postgraduate. With gaps in between classes, what better way to fill them than to take short naps. If not for naps, I would have started daydreaming and looking out the window at the snow, or the faraway mountains.

Anyways, today was one of the very rare times I actually took a nap. Coz I'm trying to instill a habit of NOT napping so that I can make do without them. But since I woke up early for my Japanese class and didn't go back until late afternoon after my appointment with the hairdresser, and it was raining, what better excuse to snuggle under the blankets and rejuvenate myself a little. Yup, another one of those Saturdays where I get some "me-time".

So because I had this nap, I was able to stay up this late. Walking back at this hour was quite refreshing too. But I still can't believe that it was so cold outside, probably less than 15 degrees. Spring unfortunately didn't feel like spring. It came late, and summer would be just around the corner, and just before that is the transitional rainy season.

But ya, there's just something about staying up at this hour, after walking back on a breezy spring night, listening to Michael Buble and having a hot shower just before sleeping. Maybe this is what mellowing feels like!