Tuesday, July 29, 2008

complete in You

In one of the music CDs that Daniel had burnt for me when I went back home last Christmas, it contained an album from the Parachute Band. I wasn't very familiar with this group as a lot of the songs we sing in GTPJ were very Hillsongs and Passion-like.

Since I was getting bored with the collection I had (which was already more than 2 years old!) and being not very updated with current Christian & secular music, I decided to give it some airtime. I found most of the songs in the "Amazing" album to be not only lyrically meaningful and musically soothing, but personally very uplifting as well. Here is one that has been on manual loop for the past few days.

Here I am, Oh God
I bring this sacrifice
My open heart.
I offer up my life.

I look to You, Lord
Your love that never ends
Restores me again

So I lift my eyes to you, Lord
In Your strength will I break through, Lord
Touch me now, let your love fall down on me
And I will be complete in You.

Here I am, Oh God
I bring this sacrifice
My open heart.
I offer up my life.

I look to You, Lord.
Your love that never ends
Restores me again

So I lift my eyes to you Lord
And by faith, I will walk on, Lord
Then I'll see beyond my calvary one day,
And I will be complete in..

I look to You, Lord
Your love that never ends
Restores me again

So I lift my eyes to you Lord
In your strength will I break through Lord
Touch me now, let your love fall down on me
I know your love dispels all my fears.
Through the storm I will hold on Lord
And I pray I will hold on, Lord
Then I'll see beyond my calvary one day
And I will be complete in
I will be complete in
I will be complete in You

in malay, we would say "padan muka"

About a year ago, I wrote about a memorable interview process which I had to go through while I was looking for a job in Tokyo. I tried my best to be as diplomatic and politically correct as possible as my intention was not to spread slander, but to share with you all what I "endured".

I had some people advising me to let it go. Some even said I was overreacting. But a lot were very supportive and encouraged me to forget about this startup and try somewhere else. I wasn't very bothered about it after writing as it was just an avenue for expression.

Some of the IUJ students had a little reunion cum farewell party for one of our friends at The Hub (an English-style pub in Shibuya) and I met with one of my juniors who's still studying. This was last Friday, exactly 1 year after I wrote that article. The first thing that she mentioned was her internship office, which was the SAME company that tried to "cheat" me the last time.

Hoho, you will not believe this, but she shared the same opinions as me. In fact, on top of paltry internship allowances, a few other students also went through some dubious experiences when dealing with the President of that company. During her one-month tenure with them, she found out that the turnover rate was so high that they had to keep advertising for new staff. Things have gotten so bad that she herself decided to cut short her internship period to a mere month or so, half of what she was supposed to do.

She even reported this back to the lady in charge of career services and I hope that lady remembered what she said to me back then. In fact, I couldn't believe it myself as she seemed to discredit my own experience, implying I was lying. But I guess in her line of job, maybe she has no choice but to maintain rapport with companies and take their word over ours.

Now, it's not my practice to say things like "I told you so!" because what goes around (sometimes) comes around. And certainly I do not enjoy seeing someone suffer, especially in such economic situation. Not everyone is doing well these days, some are even booted out the same day and we all just have to be glad we have at least a job. To be frank, I'm not feeling any better that I'm hearing all these, it's not like I got compensated by it. But to feel a bit better, can I just say "I told you so"? :D

Sunday, July 27, 2008

up becoz of teh tarik

It's almost 4am and I'm awake typing this. Must be that teh tarik I had at the Malaysian restaurant. We were trying to satisfy our cravings for some good ol' nasi lemak. And while we were at it, we were also promoting to our friends this "pulled tea" which is a must-try at mamak stalls.

I'm really tired, really wanna sleep, but I can't. I was rolling around in bed. Might as well do something productive. Like blogging. Heh, who am I kidding. I'll be tempted to blog-surf then.

Maybe I should be reading the census records or the stages in Israel's journey in the book of Numbers counting sheep. Or do laundry. No, I can't, that will wake everyone in the house up. Reading will be good, I'm quite sure that will help. Oh wait, I'll try drinking warm milk.

I hope I'm not having insomnia. That will be scary. I love my sleep. Can't live without it. Dang that teh tarik. I should have known better than to drink that at night. Reminder to self : Teh tarik is a tea. Tea has tannin. And sometimes caffeine too. You're not in Malaysia anymore, supper doesn't work the same way in Japan. That's why Malaysians are getting fatter eating too much and Japanese are so slim.

In a less than an hour the sun will be up. Yes, this is the land of the rising sun, remember? Quick, drink up your milk and go to sleep!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

pity my poor feet

During my almost 2 years of break from the corporate world, I was very happy to swap my heels for flats and sneakers. The rough skin developed from walking in too much heels and poorly designed shoes gave me constant calluses and corns.

I was really happy that I had almost perfect skin for my feet during my stay in Niigata. The only times I had to wear heels were for presentations and interviews. Even those times, you would be thinking this grrl has never worn heels in her life before, just by looking at the way she walks!

I still remember a class trip down to Tokyo one spring day, the sky was a bright blue and the temperature just right and crisp. Very nice for walking. But even then, my expensive (to me, it was!) Hush Puppies mary-janes almost killed me as I tried to walk from the station to the Sony office. So bad that I had to take off my shoes and walk bare-footed. Since it was still a bit chilly, I had my socks on. They were black, so it didn't look that obvious, plus I tried to tip-toe when walking to give the illusion I was still in my shoes.

Even when I was working during fall and winter, my feet were still fine. In fact, I made sure I pampered them with Body Shop's Body Butter and wore socks everywhere. I absolutely adore the Mango and Shea Butter flavoured scented ones. They were a life-saver for my feet during those cold dry months.

However, now that summer is here, I have no choice but to go out in sandals and heels and expose my poor feet to the harsh elements. With all the walking I have to do, my feet are slowly becoming rough again. I'm slowly beginning to get used to wearing heels (a sign of this is being able to run in them!) but for covered shoes, I have to resort to using these.

Scholl has quite a wide range of gel pads for the feet. Each in various shapes and usages. It even has a glam collection for party shoes, and are made of glittered gel pads. They're pretty comfortable, but still abit too expensive for me. This were the first ones that I bought which, unfortunately, still didn't help me with my killer Hush Puppies. I could only walk for 10 minutes and had to put on a brave front trying not to think about the pain.

Then I found these selling in the 100yen shop near my house! They also come in various shapes, though the texture is not as good as Scholl's. For the price and made in Japan, I thought this was pretty good value-for-money. So I bought 2 types.

The ones for the soles worked somewhat like Handiplast. Peel off the necessary rectangles from the plastic backing and stick it under your feet. It does help especially with high heels but because of constant friction, sometimes it gets pushed down like a folded piece of used Handiplast. Since it feels like Handiplast and looks like Handiplast, maybe I should use a regular Handiplast instead!

The other one which worked a lot better for me was this ring-shaped cushion. I couldn't find one under Scholl so I got this one from the 100yen shop as well. For someone with an erm, unusual feet shape, I've never enjoyed wearing closed shoes. Like mary-janes and ballerina pumps. I wish I could walk around in those, so many in fashion now, but alas, I have to allow practicality to have priority over beauty.

I really wonder how the Japanese grrls do it. Heels and stilettos everywhere they walk. I used to be able to do that in KL. I could even run in my 3-inch heels. But I had a car then, so there wasn't much walking as I have to do now. And even if I did, I still had a pair of sandals or plain slippers in the car for when I'm driving.

Hmm, now where can I go for an affordable pedicure and feet massage here? Or I could do a D-I-Y with Body Shop's Peppermint Foot Care products...

Monday, July 21, 2008

monokuro boo

I must admit I'm not very much into soft toys. They look cute and feel cuddly, but somehow I just don't feel like going "kawaiiii!!" and hyperventilate everytime I see a Hello Kitty or Mashimaro. I'm sure I had some soft toys as a kid, but I don't remember growing up with lots of them.

I have friends who have glass cabinets stacked with teddy bears of all sizes and fur colour, or those who received huge cuddlies with bows as birthday presents. I even know a guy who melts at the sight of teddy bears and has a huge collection of them in a row at the foot of his bed. So maybe that's an extreme case, since most boys would proudly show off their plastic toy soldiers or a He-Man battery-operated lighted saber.

The only toys I remembered having were 2 Barbie dolls given as Christmas presents from my aunt who at that time didn't have a daughter of her own. In fact, I always looked forward to receiving presents from her as she seemed to know what kind of grrly gifts to get for her nieces. By the time I entered my pre-teen years, she had already given birth to one of my youngest cousin daughter who would then be showered with grrly gifts.

And by then, the friends I had were into birthdays and giving presents. That somehow sparked the love of gift-giving in me as well. I slowly began to appreciate soft toys and learnt how to choose appropriate ones as presents. I guess the other side of me questions the practicality of soft toys as gifts since they just sit there and collect dust. But it's always a joy to see someone gasp in delight as they unwrap the box and discover a toy that is to their liking.

Since I came to Tokyo, I've had to re-start my own collection of soft toys. Someone did ask me why I didn't bring them from home, but I see no point in doing that. I have a new life here, so my collection will start afresh as well. Besides, this gives others a reason to give me one since my room seem to be void of cuddly soft toys. :D

Actually, the point of this post is to write about Monokuro Boo, a made-in-Japan soft toy which is my latest addition to my collection. Unlike most of the ones which are given as gifts or souvenirs, someone won this for me in the UFO Catcher. For those unfamiliar with this term, the UFO Catcher, found in amusement parks/stores, is also called the "claw vending machine" where you put in some coins and try to push a toy into the hole below using a pair of gigantic plastic claw in 3 tries. Some allow you to grab the toy, but the claws are ridiculously weak, and usually people practice a few times and develop a technique to get the toy they want.

These UFO Catchers are everywhere in Japan, and seem to be a big hit with teens and even young adults. I actually wanted a smaller fluffy looking bear, but they were arranged in such a way that it was almost impossible to grab at them. So my friend aimed for Monokuro Boo instead. It wasn't my first choice since I didn't even know what Monokuro Boo was! At first glance, it was huge, black and square. Later did I realise it was supposed to be a piggy. A black piggy, shaped into a cube!

Yes, it is that huge. So huge I can't quite hug it like a bolster, and so black I don't know if it should be a soft toy, and so square I'm almost tempted to sit on it! Oh well, I'm not complaining, it is quite a unique soft toy and certainly is different from the usual furry little bears. Apparently it also carries a wide range of merchandise, just like other Japanese anime characters - they're quite cute eh? So much for trying not to be Japanised!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

100% cure for migraine

My Singaporean colleague has the smartest ideas sometimes. He's always thinking from a big-picture perspective when it comes to work and his replies on work-related emails come forth as wise and yet not condescending.

Due to the distance, most of our discussions are done through Skype. I had a bit of problem getting what he had to say that day because of my pounding headache, and I blamed it on the summer heat. So I just casually mentioned it to him since I didn't want to use it as an excuse to divert from the work ahead of us. To my surprise he decided to share with me this cure.

He says: i got instant remedy for migraines.... works 100% of the time

I say: knock my head on the wall

He says: why would u want to do that?... we don't want to damage any wall do we?

He says: the solution is simple

I say: and that is?

He says: slowly tilt your head all the way back

He says: now tilt your head slowly forward...

He says: all the way down till your chin touches your neck

He says: take your index finger and mark that point where your chin touches your neck

He says: now with both hands, using your index fingers and thumbs, clasp your all the way round your neck at that point where your chin touches your neck

I say: and strangle myself

He says: now slowly look up walk to your favourite butcher... and ask him to chop off whatever is above your hands

I say: here no butcher

He says: 100% cure

He says: then find a samurai

I say: oi

He says: I'm certain it is a 100% cure

He says: I've never met a headless person who complained of migraines before

I say: :P

He says: there's only 1 problem with the solution

He says: it is quite difficult to find your way back home after the remedy

I say: hahaah

He says: also you will have trouble wearing ear rings

I say: -_-'

I did say he has the smartest ideas sometimes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

facebook ain't that bad after all

Facebook was pretty exciting at first, and I must admit I was hooked to it, spending hours replying to messages on My Wall, sending out Growing Flowers and Hatching Eggs, checking out new Pokes and adding Places I've Been To, and saying yes to applications that came my way.

Not too long after I got bored as I realised what a waste of time it was! But I still went in once in awhile to check for messages and to say hi to the hundreds of friends I have there. It really is a great tool for keeping in touch, but frankly to really nurture a friendship or any relationship for that matter, I would consider this a poor substitute. Having said that, I still found it much better than Friendster in many ways.

One of it is you can find out how you're related to each other and that makes you realise how small the world really is, as cliche as that sounds. Like 2 of my Malaysian friends here in Japan actually were classmates with 2 of my friends back in uni. Or how my undergrad friend has a connection to my ex-classmate in Kelantan who has since moved to Hong Kong. Or who's become a couple, who has just recently gotten married, and who's single again. Yup, that's how open this thing is, for good or bad.

After being inactive for over a month, I decided to pop in to check for new messages. I was utterly surprised to find a friend request from Sadig, a long-lost friend from my CF days in MMU. I will always remember him as my guardian angel when we had that game where the angel is supposed to bless you with gifts and encouraging words, but keep his/her identity a secret until the day where everyone reveals who they are.

The first gift I received from him was a pastel green bookmark with some Chinese characters on the front and a penned message from him on the reverse. I thought that was a dead giveaway since I roughly knew who were Chinese-educated or who were banana's*! The other gift that I still keep (ya I think I'm a sucker for anything nostalgic, or like my dad says I collect rubbish :p) after all these years is a quirky mug made from a see-through material which held deep blue liquid about half-full with a couple of little plastic boats in it. The boats float and tumble along nicely when the mug is shaken. So sweet, this must surely be from a Mandarin-speaking grrl, or so I thought.

So I was really surprised when this almost-6-feet tall friend from Sudan told me he was my guardian angel! We had a good laugh about it all when I told him about whom my suspects were. That tale, coupled with the fact that we had very few foreigners on our campus that time, made him stand out quite a bit.

And it delighted me that he still remembered my nickname back then when he replied to my message on Facebook. I've almost forgotten about it since it was only used mainly in our circle of friends and that sorta became my trademark for a while. He even used some Malay words in his message, I suppose he must have picked up the language quite a fair bit, or he's still around in Malaysia.

With another friend reunited, it looks like there still is hope - I guess I will not abandon Facebook just yet!

P/S: If only I knew my Chinese back then, then I would have known that the bookmark had the words "Happy Birthday" on it!

* banana - a common Manglish term whereby being yellow on the outside and white inside that refers to a Chinese who is Western-educated and most likely do not speak Chinese

Sunday, July 13, 2008

surreal may be the only word apt enough

As we had our last meal together, I asked Alvin what he thought of the church here. I had brought him to GAP, the church that I've been visiting quite regularly. Just 1 week before he came to Japan, he had just returned from a missions trip in Indonesia. He was recalling his experiences which not only humbled him but reminded him how much more they had even though they lived with very basic necessities.

Serving on a missions trip in one of the poorest region in a 3rd world country and then coming almost straight after to one of the richest metropolitan in the world was very surreal according to him. Certainly very contrasting experiences in almost every sense. As we talked a bit more about his adventures, I couldn't help but be reminded of my own some years back not too long ago.

And then after church today, as we said goodbye to Ps Song, who is an ABK* visiting Japan on his annual schedule, he was asking me how I ended up in Japan. Since mine was a story that could span a few hours, I gave him the brief version and through a strange misunderstanding that he somehow misheard from someone else, I also told him about my passion in the fields of music and missions.

And indeed, it is so much easier to serve in a developing country than to try to share to those who think they have done it on their own and have all their needs fulfilled. I still remember the hunger in the eyes of the villagers in the hilltribes in Muslim-dominated Mindanao and the eagerness of the street children who tried to sell us roses in downtown Ho Chi Minh. I've lived and played with them, and with the very little that they have, their hearts are bigger than some of the richest I've dined with in Tokyo.

While catching up with a friend who's also working here, he told me about this grrl he met in a bar who recently bought an additional flat screen monitor. And where did she put it? Not in her bedroom, not in the dining area, not in her guest room. She lives in a 2-storey house alone, and have 3 dogs and 2 lizards as pets. She's probably 20+, I have not met her, but since she probably has too much money to spend, she installed the new monitor in her bathroom. To play games in case she got bored before taking a shower!

I can't help but feel disgusted with such vanity and extravagance when there are so much more worthier things to be spent on elsewhere in the world. I echo Alvin's thoughts about how easier it is to be a missionary in South East Asia. They're so willing to welcome you with open arms and hear what you have to say. They even sacrifice the only chicken that they own, which they could easily sell in the market to buy rice. And that's probably the only thing they eat for the rest of the week, sprinkled with salt for seasoning. Knowing how precious that chicken was, I found it difficult to swallow it down and could only pray that God blessed them with more.

After 2+ years of being out of active missions (well, technically I am considered one since the field is where God has put you, no matter be it out of your country or in the workplace/school or in your circle of friends) and rubbing shoulders with those who are more involved, I'm itching to get my hands dirty again.

*ABK = American Born Korean

Friday, July 11, 2008

spoonful of home

Having a friend from Malaysia visit is like tasting the goodness of a home-cooked meal in one spoon. You look forward to it because you know how good it tastes, and you haven't had a meal like that in ages. But you only get 1 spoonful, and you better savour it as best as you can. You take it in slowly and wish the taste could linger on, and you imagine that one spoonful can fill your hunger.

Just like this delicious plate of char kuew teow, the last time I had it was last summer when I brought my parents around Tokyo. This was the best Malaysian restaurant I literally stumbled upon, it's found in upper-class Ginza. That's probably the equivalent of Knightsbridge in London or Fifth Avenue in New York, so a plate of it cost about Y1,260*. But just like that spoonful of home-cooked food, no matter how little or how expensive you still take it in coz the only way you're gonna get the real deal is to fly back home.

*Y1,260+ can buy you 10 plates of freshly cooked char kuew teow complete with Chinese sausage, fried oysters and juicy bean sprouts, all served on a piece of fragrant banana leaf (even after the increase in fuel!)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

the krazier parts of tokyo

And today I played host again. :D

Alvin, who's working with NTT obviously has had some opportunities to come to Japan. The last time the offer was given to him, he had to turn it down because of ministry commitments. So after my staying here for more than 2 years, he's finally here. What joy!

GAP Church already had a picnic & aquarium visit yesterday, and after that I was spending some time with Hyun over dinner & shopping so I was pretty tired after yesterday. But since today would be the only chance I'd get to bring Alvin around, I woke up earlier than usual and brought him to the kraziest parts of Tokyo.

Morning was spent at Harajuku. It's slightly different this time around compared to when I brought Chikbu few months back. In April, it was still quite cool being mid-spring so walking around was pleasant and cosplay characters were out almost in full force. Live bands performed all along the pedestrian path outside of Yoyogi Park, and we took our time enjoying the teenyboppy part of Tokyo.

Now though being early summer was hot & more humid than in Malaysia, so those who came out to play and perform were slightly lesser. Less percussion drummers at the fountain, less music at the rims of the park, less Gothic & Lolita dressers at the bridge near the station, less dogs taken out for walks. But the flea market is still there. In fact, it seemed that the theme this time was ethnic, there were scores of stalls selling anything from African cajon drums to Ayurveda ointments, from Thai beach dresses to Australian didgeridoos.

Afternoon was spent at Ochanomizu, which is supposedly a heaven for guitar lovers. In fact, Alvin said that his trip was accomplished just by visiting the guitar shops here. He was looking for an Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II. I managed to learn a bit more about electric & bass guitars and am wondering if I should get myself a classical to refresh my skills rusty knowledge of whatever chords and strums I had learned before!

After church, Bryan & I tried to bring him to the red-light district more interesting parts of Shinjuku. It must be the summer heat, not many erm, male escorts were to be seen. Apparently, they stand near the Kabuki-cho area at the inner intersections, all dressed smartly with dyed hair styled up, offering their services to ladies passing by. But nevertheless, he enjoyed the lights and sights of krazy Tokyo. In his own words, Tokyo is "mind-boggling"!

revisiting harajuku (spring 08)

I didn't manage to get a picture of those James Dean and Elvis Presley-look-alikes, but I thought this vintage car might have belonged to one of them. This pastel baby even had pink dice-shaped car locks in each of its doors.

Dogs (and even cats for that matter) are well-bred in Japan. No such thing as strays on the streets wandering unattended. They're really well-groomed and probably live a better life than some of us! However, because some apartments do not allow tenants to keep pets, those who do probably have landed property and are therefore considered wealthier.

Graffiti at the column that supports the bridge that leads from the Yoyogi Park to the Yoyogi National Stadium.

A percussion band performing (for free) near the fountain. Some passerbys were seen dancing to the beat, and even taking turns with the original team members to beat the drums . For the 1 hour or so that we were there, the music didn't stop, but they simply took turns rather naturally so there was no stopping. Just continuous rhythmic beats for our entertainment.

Another good-looking puppy. During winter & spring, pets are seen strutting around with custom-made clothes. But some owners go even further by making them wear full suits of ridiculous looking outfits as if they are dolls.

Japanese live bands really put in the effort and money to perform in public. These instruments are not cheap, and are even considered high-end in their brands. They lug the drums, guitars, keyboards, amps, posters and even stage props to put on a show here. Some even have self-made CD's and unique costumes which are worn by their fans whenever they perform. On good days, you can spend the better part enjoying the music put up by them and they're pretty good too. For free!

Another thing that I can not quite understand - also putting in time and effort and money to dress up like your favourite Anime characters. Two main styles that I'm familiar with - Lolita (sweet frilly dresses with laces in hues of pink and white) and Gothic (dark makeup with thick streaks of eyeliner and layers of mascara). There are others which I can't quite describe since I'm not an anime/Cosplay fan. They flock to Harajuku on Sundays a can be quite unfriendly if you want to take pictures with them but don't quite mind if you take of them from afar.

Even foreigners with a penchant for things Japanese find a release for self-expression. From what I see, they usually come in pairs and dress up like their Japanese counterpart. Except that their coloured hair is natural and they're much taller without having to wear 3-inch heels that sometimes give them a strange gait. Like they're going to topple over anytime.

But ya, these are some of the sights you'll find in Harajuku on a good spring afternoon. I've already done my momiji in autumn and a humid walk this summer. I wonder what winter holds for Yoyogi Park.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

what is mine on earth

In our almost-daily Gtalk chats, ministry is one of the many topics that we share about. In fact, it's one of the more recurring as we try to figure out the plan God has for our lives being abroad and away from home.

Having gone through similar experiences has not only brought us closer together but allowed us to help each other grow spiritually though we're many time-zones apart. Even though we may have been brought up in quite contrasting homes and lifestyles, recent events have convinced me to believe that God's hand is certainly in the unfolding of each of them.

While talking about being called to the mission field, I remember with fondness the adventures that I had while serving on short-term trips in Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar. Each involved different ministries and types of people, but all of them opened my eyes to the plight of the poor. They may be poor financially but they were certainly not in want spiritually.

EW was telling me that it would be hard for her to give up having pretty clothes and material comforts if she chose to go down that path. That brought me back to the time when I had first arrived in Tokyo. Having no permanent lodgings and still unsure if I wanted to remain in Japan, I only had few necessities to live on and was practically living out of my suitcase.

But I thank God for that period of time, as that meant I was capable of living on the bare minimum since He's my Jehovah Jireh. Even in the Philippines up in the Mindanao mountains, we had no direct access to water to shower, and were cleaning ourselves with wet wipes for 3 days. Talking about that made me realise how much more I have now. My room is furnished with little luxuries, most already provided for by the landlord, of which I'm truly grateful.

But if there were to be an earthquake here in Tokyo, or if some disaster were to struck earth one day, I would not be weeping for my earthly possessions. Or well, maybe except for my precious little journal! But still, all these would be nothing when we're called home to be with the Lord.

Indeed, the next day when I did my ODB reading, the verses that I read struck me as apt:

17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

*Pictures taken with my then newly bought Fujifilm digicam when I first arrived in Niigata in April 2006. Those were the only cutlery I owned.