Tuesday, September 30, 2008

church on the hills

One of the few reasons I chose Sydney over Melbourne, other than the distance, was the opportunity to attend the Hillsongs Church. For years, friends in the worship and dance ministry have been going Down Under to attend Hillsongs' music conferences and for some reason, I did not join them even though I was actively serving with them that time.

This time, I made sure it would be on the itinerary since I would be flying all the way from Japan and wanted to make sure I maximised my trip! With Cindy's help, I managed to contact a former GTPJ'er who's since migrated to Australia with her family, and who was most willing to bring me there. I was surprised to hear that she was a member of that church, what a coincidence! Well, not surprising really, since Hillsongs is a pretty big church, and that area around it is known as the Bible Belt.

True to its location, Hills Campus really felt like being on a university campus. With modern buildings sprawled on acres of greenery, walking from the parking lot itself to any of the chapel or hall took some time. Even the main hall felt like being in an auditorium. I could immediately feel the energy as soon as I stepped in and saw all the happy faces that Sunday morning.

I had this conception that Hillsongs got so big and famous because of its songs. That's true to a certain extent, judging from their albums and concerts. However, as I joined the congregation in their 9am service, I learnt the other reason why people choose to come back week after week. I was only there 1 weekend, and it was a guest speaker then, but friends shared that it's the solid preaching of the Word that attracted them. I can understand when there are churches which focus unhealthily on prosperity gospel or fluffy interpretations of the Bible hoping to win a certain target audience.

Anyways, since I've been overdosed playing lots of Hillsongs back in GTPJ, I was curious naturally about their worship session. It was, well, very Hillsongs both lyrically and musically. My only disappointment was that it was too short, or maybe I was just expecting the worship leader to flow more in the Spirit. Later after the service did I find out that it was actually Reuben Morgan who led the worship! He certainly looked different from the album cover of his World Through Your Eyes CD. Darn, should've asked him for an autograph or something!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

simply awesome

Australia was simply beautiful! I could immediately feel the difference as soon as I got out of the airport. The weather was spring crisp, the wide expanse of greenery everywhere a sight for sore eyes, and the atmosphere famously laid-back Aussie. I had made the right choice in going Down Under for my break.

Just an idea hatched a couple of months ago, it was made in preparation for the unforeseen circumstances. The timing was such that it would coincide with the end of my 1 year here in Tokyo. Lots of things were happening over the last few weeks and planning a holiday at the same time made it even more stressful.

But more importantly, it was my first trip out of Asia. I've been to many countries in this continent already and I've always wanted to explore further. There was no way I could take longer holidays with the limited number of leaves I have, and thus, the best option seemed to be Australia. I was already excited as I saw the sun rise from the plane as we began to descend in Kingsford Smith International Airport.

Apparently, the day I arrived was the hottest spring day ever in the history of 40 years in Sydney. It went way up above 30 degrees Celcius. No wonder it was so hot! To think that I escaped the end of summer in Tokyo to experience even hotter weather on the other side of the Equator. How ironic.

Tze was waiting for me at the arrival hall. It had been years since we last met. I was really glad that he came, there's nothing like having someone wait for you when you arrive at a new and unfamiliar country. He still looked pretty much the same, I was expecting him to have put on weight since almost everyone Down Under is at least double or triple my size.

Our first stop was the Sydney Fish Market. The best way to enjoy seafood here is to eat out in the open air, together with the seagulls. If you think they were cutely annoying in Finding Nemo, they actually are in real life. Or at least here at the Fish Market where they have no qualms picking food from the table and making sure you have an interrupted meal with them lurking over the umbrellas and around the vicinity.

We got ourselves a seafood platter and some fresh oysters. It was quite a task trying to enjoy good food under the blistering heat excellent weather while fending off the seagulls. On top of that, the wind occasionally blew over half-used soy sauce sachets and discarded ketchup containers which simply added to the experience.

It had been awhile since I had a meal al fresco. As it was such a touristy spot, there were many foreigners there. In fact, I think I saw more Asians than Australians dining out. Many were enjoying the sun and seafood, sans seagulls. Since I had just endured a 10-hour flight with little opportunity to sleep, I was still a bit dazed. Nevertheless, I was trying to take in the atmosphere the best I could.

At the pier, there were people having their own little party in their private boats. I was almost tempted to dip my toes into the water just to feel the sea water below me. But I reminded myself that I would head out to the beach one day. And not only would I allow my toes to play in the water, but I would do something I had never done before. Which would involve more than swimming in the sea and drinking a whole lot of sea water!

To avoid being baked in the sun, we decided to continue on to the city. We took a walk at Chinatown and Paddy's Markets. There was a fresh produce market at Paddy's which amazed me with the variety of vege and fruits that were sold. I envied the Asians here. They do not have a problem cooking the dishes they are familiar with.

What's more, the price was so much cheaper than what I pay for in Tokyo. For AUD2.80 they get a kilo of tomatoes, I get 6 tomatoes. For AUD1.80, they get a big bunch of long beans, I get a measly 20 sticks! No wonder the Aussies are so well fed.

Before I turned green with envy, we decided to continue on to the Central Business District. Since it was a weekend, a lot of people were out and about. I was looking at the traditional buildings that had been carefully preserved when I caught an interesting sight at the Bank of Australasia. I hope this applied to their working principles and not merely as an amusing decoration at the entrance!

As the weather cooled down, we walked towards Hyde Park. It had a mixture of tropical and temperate fauna. Seeing people enjoying the greenery reminded me of Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. However, there was something else which attracted another type of crowd here on weekends. The backdrop of a St Mary's Cathedral and a lovely fountain in the middle proved to be irresistible to wedding entourages.

One of the couples that we saw had quite a big group of best men and maids of honour with them. They looked Lebanese and must be quite well-to-do if they had to provide their entourage with matching suits and dresses.

What's more, they were chauffeured in antique cars such as the Rolls Royce. One of the limo even had a bar in it. Complete with wine glasses and a mini juke box. Their bouncers drivers were nearby taking a breather and making sure the cars were in tip-top condition and ready to whisk the group to the next destination.

Then we walked on to Circular Quay where I got even more excited. Surely this must be the most touristy part of Sydney. Tourism posters of Sydney all over the world have at least these 2 icons - the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The sun was beginning to set and the sky was awashed in soft lavender and pale blue.

I had originally wanted to attend a hi-tea with a live opera as part of my attempt to fill my performing arts quota, but unfortunately the only day of the week they had this was also my flight to Brisbane. But being here itself was just awesome. When I planned for this trip, I did not have a specific list of places I wanted to visit. There was just a lot of ideas thrown in as to what I wanted to experience. After all, spontaneity makes it a whole lot fun.

Even though it was only my first day in Sydney, I could tell that it was going to be a good holiday. Thoughts of work still crept in, as if trying to tell me that I did not deserve this break. But as I gazed at the waterfront and its surrounding, I thanked God that I had finally made it to Australia. It may not sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but this trip itself had a lot of significance tied to it. And having seen so much of Sydney city just in 1 day was more than I expected.

Monday, September 22, 2008

10 hours of flight was worth it

So I've survived my 1 year in Tokyo and decided to treat myself to a little break OUT of Tokyo.

The weather's excellent, the sun's out and the sky is a beautiful blue. Everyone's out to play and enjoy the outdoors.

And I'm here to join them :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

now, live

In response to Butterfly's plight, one of my dear readers has sent in this quote from Kahlil Gibran :

"Braving obstacles and hardships is nobler than retreat to tranquility.
The butterfly that hovers around the lamp until it dies
is more admirable than the mole that lives in the dark tunnel."

Plus a comic strip from one of my favourite characters, Calvin & Hobbes :

And to cap it off, the following para, for good measure :

Don't go live in dark and murky holes, ya. Or get yourself caught in a jar. Learn to trust, and yet trust not in faith itself; rather, trust in Him. You can rest assured that the trust you place in Him will never be found unreasonable. Now, live.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

manners in the subway

In their effort to promote "manners" in the train, the Metro has been displaying large posters in yellow at their subway stations. When I first saw them, I thought it was just a one-off ad and didn't give much thought to it. Nevertheless, the photog in me captured it just because I found it entertaining. Then they started to have different ones after every few weeks and I've been "collecting" them when I have my camera with me.

The first poster came out in May this year and caught commuters' attention due to its eye-catching yet simple illustration. The fact that it was actually happening in the trains everyday made it the more amusing. If I stay in the train long enough, I bet I'll be able to learn a makeup tip or two from these grrls.

(Caption : Please refrain from putting on make-up in the train)

The second poster in June was not as funny as the earlier one because most Japanese are polite enough to not talk on the phone while in the train. But more mind-boggling is the fact that they are more tolerant towards people who talk to each other on the train as opposed to people who talk on the phone.

(Caption : Please set your mobile phone to silent mode and refrain from making calls)

I guess the one in July was directed towards youngsters who are generous enough to share the music they're listening to with the rest of the commuters on the train. Even though they're so magnanimous, they should also be careful that the music blasting out of their headphones do not destroy their eardrums.

(Caption : Please be careful of noise leaking from your headphones in the train)

Come August, the Japanese flock to the beach for their favourite summertime activity. Be it showing off their skinny bodies, well-tanned skin, latest bikini or water-proof make up, summer is the only time they're able to do all these. For the guys, perhaps swimming can only be done in summer, unfortunately. So much so that they try to practice it anywhere they can so they won't forget how to swim.

(Caption : Please do not rush into the train as it is dangerous)

Summertime is also the best time to climb mountains, of which the most famous is Mt Fuji. It can still get pretty freezing cold even during summer, but at least there's no snow like during the other months. For September, the illustration of a tired sweaty climber with his gears and belongings was highlighted.

(Caption : Please be considerate of others when holding bulky belongings)

Trivia : There is a recurring element in all the posters above. What is it?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

a tale of a butterfly

Once upon a time there lived a grrl named Butterfly (not her real name, but if you have to imagine, a fluttering butterfly bears a close resemblance). She had been living and working in the Bokyo metropolitan for almost a year now. It was the year 2008 and the economy was not doing very well. It was not as bad as the year 1998 when the great recession hit many countries, but certainly not as good as the previous year. Even though it was not doing well, she still managed to survive.

Butterfly was an industrious worker with many talents. So much so that sometimes she had to dumb down her intelligence and slow down her working speed in order not to do too much. She enjoyed the challenges of her work and the rapport that she had with her colleagues. In fact, the whole working environment was almost like a dream come true for her. She raved about it to all and sundry, family and friends, in the Bokyo metropolitan and back home where life was much slower. Indeed, she couldn't believe such a job existed in a metropolitan such as Bokyo.

Since Butterfly was only a contract worker, her visa coincided with her tenure at work. She reminded the Head of her workplace that it needed to be renewed. However, the Head requested for the lawyers to do the paperwork, and that Butterfly pay for half of the fees (For such a service in a metropolitan in the year 2008, it could amount up to Y50,000). Poor Butterfly, she was only a contract worker with a meagre salary and minimum benefits. She was already trying to save all she can to survive in a metropolitan such as Bokyo by eating at home and watching downloaded movies.

Since she also had to send money back home to her parents who had high hopes on her, she decided to renew her visa on her own. Butterfly managed to get the necessary papers and documentation so that she could go to the Immigration Department by herself. The Head had tried to persuade her from doing so, saying it would take too much time and hassle. However, being strong-headed and quite determined, Butterfly insisted on doing it herself.

One hot summer day, Butterfly took the train downtown and arrived quite early in the morning at the Immigration Department to get her number. She was excited as the line was quite short. However, her happiness quickly turned to disappointment when the Person At The Immigration Department informed her she had the wrong form. On top of that, the information about her workplace was outdated. Butterfly was dumbfounded as the forms came from the lawyers.

Imagine, having to pay the lawyers for a wrong form, and outdated information. She was sorely disappointed. Downstairs to the ground floor she went, where she got the right form from another Person At The Immigration Department. Much time was wasted in filling up the form again. She rushed back upstairs to try to get a new number. Alas, she was greeted with a longer line this time. All she could do was shake her head with disappointment, wondering to herself what was the Head thinking when he suggested to use the lawyers.

After taking half the day to submit her application, all Butterfly could do was wait. And wait she did. Many days went by. A week went by. A week and a day went by. And then, a postcard arrived at her house. It was a notification from the Immigration Department. It was faster than she had expected. Some of Butterfly's friends (they could be Spiders, Grasshoppers, Snails, Ladybirds, Ants, you know, that sort. Again, not their real names) had warned her it might take weeks, and even months just to process a renewal of visa. She was getting worried. She didn't want to be deported. She had done nothing wrong to deserve that. She didn't want to return to her homeland as a Deported Illegal Immigrant. In fact, she thought things like this would normally be taken care of by the workplace.

As Butterfly made her way a second time to the Immigration Department, she dare not even put any expectations. Just in case, it wasn't as good news as it was supposed to be. Her heart was pounding. And all she could do was hope and pray. She went upstairs and took her number. This line was shorter than the other line the other day. The only thing that she could dare hope for, was that this would not be longer than the other day. Still, she brought along a book to read. That's how industrious Butterfly is. She doesn't let her time go idle.

After about 15 minutes, a batch of numbers were called. A group of about 9 people made their way to the counter. As Butterfly walked slowly to the front, she allowed the rest to walk past her. Standing last in line, she looked at each person as they inspected their passports. Soon it was her turn. The Person At The Immigration Department asked her to confirm her identification before showing Butterfly her visa and re-entry permit.

Butterfly couldn't believe her eyes. There, in front of her was a brand new visa, stamped for 3 years. Next to it was the re-entry permit, valid also for 3 years. She almost wanted to cry. She wanted to shout for joy. She almost wanted to do a cartwheel, if only she was more flexible. She couldn't thank God enough. It was a prayer answered.

Just that night before, she was reading through her contract. In one of the points, it had mentioned that the workplace was to pay for the costs of renewing the visa. As she recalled the meeting that she had with the Head a few weeks before, where she asked why she had to pay for the costs of the lawyer to renew the visa and not the previous one, he told her that the first year was a "bonus". Not knowing legal terms very well herself, despite being very industrious and very talented, she could not say much as she desperately needed to get her visa renewed then.

With a 3-year visa and re-entry permit approved, and a clause in the contract in her favour, all Butterfly wanted to do was shove them in the Head's face and say "Eat this, you... you..." Being a very modest grrl herself, Butterfly's vocabulary is understandably not so colourful. However, a plan is hatching in her head at that very moment in the year 2008. She may appear to be outwardly modest and unassuming, but make no mistake, Butterfly is one heck of a smart babe.

*Any resemblance to real-life characters is purely coincidental. Excerpts from this story may be reproduced by acknowledging the writer.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

sand in my sandal

Didn't realise how much I missed the beach until I set foot on it and felt the sand in between my toes. Almost wanted to kick off my sandals, run barefoot on that strip of beach and jump into the waters. In fact, that was it. The sandals were off. I felt the grains of sand with my toes and went near the edge and allowed the waves push me deeper. It was good being on the beach again.

Friday, September 05, 2008

is something missing here?

I have a dreadful feeling that my life here is getting boring.
Why do you say that? Everyone thinks you're having a ball of a time in Tokyo!

I have no jazz concerts to attend.
C'mon. I've seen posters of international jazz bands performing in Ebisu.
They're too expensive.

I no longer go for broadway shows and musicals.
Oh ya? I thought the Yamanote train was showing an ad on Wicked the other day?
They're in Japanese. It's not the same. By the way, it's not Wicked. It's Wikiddo (ウィキッド). Imagine watching Saturday Night Fever, but it's called Demam Sabtu Malam in Malay. Or Kucing-kucing instead of Cats.

I miss going for dramas and improvs in theatres.
Hmm, you're right... I have not seen promos for that though...

I wanna go for symphonies. Orchestras. Philharmonics. Soak in the classicals and baroques. Immerse in the romantics. Lilt to the melody of suites and sonatinas.
Don't they have 'em in Tokyo?
Lemme google a bit.
Hey, whaddayaknow, they do have some. Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. NHK Symphony Orchestra. Not bad.

How about movies?
I don't mind going for that here...
But it's expensive. And they're in Japanese, right?
Well, they have some in English. But who wants to pay Y1800 when you can download using your fibre optics broadband connection borrow from your housemate?
Are you converting again?
I'd rather pay for a ticket to the Phil(harmonic) than a movie.

How about concerts then?
Even in concerts, the Japanese are so... mild! I've never been to one, but I was just watching a telecast of the recent MTV concert, they looked like they were sedated or something.
You know how the Japanese are. They're just being polite.

Maybe this is not about my life being boring.

Maybe I just need to go back to a society which is more "real". Alive. Vibrant. You know what I mean?

I was thinking about this roughly a year ago. It was when I got this job offer and was contemplating between taking it up and living in Tokyo, and pursuing other opportunities in Hong Kong and Singapore.
So this is not about you not being able to fulfill your thirst for affordable musical thrills.

Well, I guess not. But then again, I was just at this concert where my friend was performing. He's the drummer at our church and he really blazes the drums. You should see him! But anyways, so he was performing with his band at this underground concert. That was my first and only time being in a concert here, and I must say I'm really impressed with them. They were mostly Tokyo University students, but they were so so talented!

Which reminds me, there are so many groups and bands performing every weekend at the Yoyogi Park. Knowing how much they've invested into their passion, it really shows when they perform.
The music scene is alive and well in Tokyo.

Yes, indeed.
I can actually get free live shows in Tokyo!
There you go. It's not that bad after all.

Ya, you're right. It was good talking to you!
No worries.

I am, after all, your alter-ego. Just gimme a buzz whenever you feel like hashing things out.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

doing my countdown

Too many things have happened in the last 2 weeks or so. Suffice to say, most are almost the same issues that I had to face 1 year ago - work, visa, housing. I can't share too much for now as it's a bit complicated. But I have a checklist to help me sort things out. Suffice to say, half of the things on my list are ticked off.

All of them are connected to each other and I have to be careful which end to tie up first. Leaving some loose ends may not jeopardise my plans but the end result will not be as grand as I envision it to be. Each has their own objectives and therefore is crucial to how I end this month. Each also require that I spend a fair bit of time and money, but some things in life are unavoidable.

Speaking of which, this month marks my 1 year in Tokyo. I've been keeping track of my journey here by a quarterly review. It was quite a good exercise actually as each quarter brought with it a unique set of experiences, both good and bad. Coincidentally each quarter also corresponded to the seasons of the year. It was natural then that I had a label that pretty much summed up what I went through for each season.

I was pretty stressed out earlier when I wrote the earlier posts about the blue-eyed boy. But I've done all I can with whatever resources I have for now. The only thing I can do is to submit these to God, and hopefully things will work out. Surprisingly I was really at peace over the weekend, even not knowing the outcome of many matters at hand.

For now, there is only waiting and praying. I have a feeling something is looming in the horizon. I don't know what it is. But I hope it's something good. If it is, then you will know soon enough. If I don't tell you, that doesn't mean it was not good. It's just that I decided to keep it to myself! :p